Anchorage might not seem like a town that could support a burlesque troupe, but VivaVoom Brr-Lesque has unleashed the feather boas, stripteases, comedians and variety acts for almost a decade.
In the front and center of it all is Lola Pistola, the buxom, throaty-voiced emcee who's been with the company since it started in 2004. Pistola, who grew up in Anchorage, is responsible for the programming of the troupe, which has grown to 32 members (about 17 of these perform; the rest are hostesses or "sign girls" working their way up to stage roles).
VivaVoom performs five different programs a year and has developed a loyal following. Since they began, they've sold out almost every one of their performances (Pistola remembers less than five shows that weren't filled to capacity in the history of VivaVoom). They also host special events -- "Burlesque Idol" is one -- and instructional workshops throughout the year. In the workshops, the troupe teaches "boa and gloves removal" and other striptease skills, but Pistola says the most important lesson is the importance of confidence.
"A lot of women are told they are not good enough or pretty enough, aren't slender enough or have big enough boobs or a pretty enough face," Pistola said. "If you can't do it for yourself, no one is going to do it for you. You have to know you're enough. Every body is beautiful, and we all believe that."
All VivaVoom's acts and dances are created by the performers, and the troupe has become known for the way they often give old-fashioned striptease a conceptual twist. Show themes have covered everything from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair to "End of Daze," which Pistola described as "an exploration of the many different ways the world might come to an end."
"This is our art. It's what we're passionate about, and we want it to be more meaningful and a little deeper than just, 'hey, we're going to take off our clothes,'" Pistola said. "Though that's fun too."
1. What's the best part about being a burlesque performer in Anchorage?
Lola Pistola: The best part about being a burlesque performer in Anchorage is that this town has fully supported our art for nine years! Alaskans are amazing like that. We get to be super-creative and give our absolute all to people who truly appreciate what we do. We are so very fortunate!
2. Pumpkin or pecan?
LP: That is so difficult! And fitting, because I have been quoted as saying: "I don't like to want for anything." Pumpkin is spicy and creamy, but pecan has a crunch! I always end up with a little of both on my plate.
3. What song do you listen to when you're getting ready to go kick ass?
LP: I usually get ready with some Ella Fitzgerald, so I can center myself before a show, but some nights, when I feel the need for a little fire, I have a special playlist with about 13 songs on it. There are anthems from PJ Harvey, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Muse, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Gossip, some early Soundgarden and Heart, and The Mars Volta. But the pinnacle of that playlist -- the climax -- is always "Down on the Street" by Iggy and the Stooges. After that, I can topple a mountain with a smile!
4. What's the hardest part about being a burlesque performer in Anchorage?
LP: That there is no perfect venue for burlesque.
We are somewhere between theater and live music, as far as our needs. We have performed at so many venues and they all have great qualities, but it would be lovely if one venue had all of our desires. The Fourth Avenue Theater has always been a dream of ours, as well as the running joke.
But honestly, those burlesque houses that used to thrive in the '30s through the early '60s in other (and bigger) cities were never here in Anchorage to begin with. So we make the best of what we have. And what we have right now is a home venue [Chilkoot Charlie's] which gives us and our patrons the best possible place to be, for which we are extremely grateful.
5. Your shows all have such cheeky titles. What's your favorite?
LP: That has got to be "Return of the Boobii." It was our tribute to a certain sci-fi film legacy [Editor's note: rhymes with "Bar Doors"]. As soon as we thought of that, it couldn't be named anything else!
Surprise Santa! A Nutcrackin' Burlesque Bedtime Story
When: 8 p.m. doors, 9 p.m. show, Friday-Saturday, Nov. 29-30, Dec. 6-7, Dec. 13-14
Where: Chilkoot Charlie's
Tickets: $20 at the door, The Look, and spenardsanta.brownpapertickets.com
Ages 21 and over
By Victoria Barber