Everything You Need to Know About Fire Burlesque Performance With Missy Fatale

Fire Burlesque

Missy Fatale brings the heat to burlesque literally, both as a professional burlesque artiste and as a fire performer. Here she tells us what it’s like to be a fire burlesque performer.

Everything You Need to Know About Fire Burlesque Performance With Missy Fatale

She’s celebrating almost a decade in burlesque, after joining Sugar Blue Burlesque in Austrailia, 2008. She became a fire performer when she was invited to, having always been ‘a bit of a pyro’.

This summer she is guest starring at Black Cat Cabaret during Underbelly Festival. Who better to ask about the most dangerous and yet most exciting of complimentary burlesque skill sets?

The stupidest questions you get asked as a fire burlesque performer…
‘The questions I get asked the most are, “Do you cover your skin in Vaseline?” “No, because Vaseline is petroleum based.” And, “Is it cold fire you use?” “There’s no such thing!”’

What makes the best fire performers?
‘Someone who is truly passionate and experienced with fire. The worst thing is if a performer looks uneasy because you worry for them and the audience worries about themselves. If you respect it and can control it, that makes for a great performance.’

Tell us about your first time.
‘I wasn’t really scared. I’m a bit of a gung-ho kind of person. But what’s bizarre first time is that when the lit torch is coming towards you, all your instincts are saying no. It’s almost animalistic: fight or flight.’

The key fire performance skills are…
‘Fire breathing, fire eating, body burning, fire palms, fire swords, some basic play with sticks and vapours – where you stick a lit torch in your mouth and then breathe flames out. And I like doing fire tassels and wearing a fire headdress… But basically you can set fire to anything.’

Even a breeze is dangerous?
‘You can’t rehearse outside if there’s any kind of breeze or inside you need to make sure there’s no air conditioning and the doors are closed. If you’re holding a flame in your mouth, any air current can blow the flame down your throat and could make your lung collapse.’

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What’s the most difficult fire skill?
‘It’s the complicated transfers that come from doing vapours. You have to have a certain type of fuel but it can disintegrate. Recently, there was a host who talked for 15 minutes which was really problematic as I needed to get on quickly before the fuel evaporated. What’s difficult is that you’re at the whim of the elements.’

Can it play havoc with your health?
‘It’s still difficult to know how detrimental fire performances can be to your health, because there’s not a lot of research into it – and different fuels do different things. If you’re fire eating, you ingest about a sixth of a teaspoon of fuel every time you fire eat because your mouth has to be absorbent. So you can be ingesting a bit every day. But fire breathing is very bad for you, it can cause pleurisy and cancer of the mouth because when you fire breathe you’re literally holding the paraffin in your mouth to aspirate over the flame.’

Does fuel taste like it smells?
‘Paraffin is quite greasy. Lighter fuel tastes chemically. And yes, fire tastes hot.’

How do audiences react?
‘There is quite a big appetite for fire performers – to the layman, even though it’s more prolific now, it’s seen as an impressive skill. It feels magical and impressive.’

Tell us about fire performances vs burlesque.
‘‘Burlesque striptease is about the tease, but fire performance is more about controlling a dangerous, seemingly uncontrollable element. It can be magical.’

‘A fire show is easier if you’re naked – so it marries quite well. I often say my 20s and 30s style performances are darker, more femme fatale. The literal darkness fire requires ties really well into my characters and the kind of pieces I want to create and the feeling I want to evoke.

‘With burlesque, people never understand unless they’ve seen it and sometimes have preconceptions because of nudity. When you’re doing fire, it’s generally met with excitement. Are you in the circus? Do you have a trapeze? Do you have a lion?’

Obviously, you don’t need us to tell you that any fire work or performances should not be undertaken lightly and needs professional teaching, support and supervision.

Missy Fatale is part of Gin House Burlesque as well as the Black Cat Cabaret at this year’s Underbelly on the South Bank. Tickets from £22.50, Underbelly Box Office.

Watch our quick-fire answer to: what is burlesque?

(Main image: Chris Baker)

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