One of NYC burlesque’s most provocative performers, Munroe Lilly has rabid fans all over the city. Combining drag/femme looks with traditional burlesque style has proven to be a winning formula for this unique artist, and in January 2018 this gurl is getting recognized in a big way!
Munroe Lilly: Hi! Happy New Year. “Failure” was amazing. I was a little worried because we were hit with that bomb cyclone blizzard that day, but the turnout was a dream. The Brooklyn kidz always show up for the queens.
Werk Brooklyn! What number did you do?
The fun thing about doing “Failure” is that there’s a focal point each month. This month was Revisions. You basically take an old number, or one you no longer do or whatever, and you revise it. I redid an old number of mine from back when I had no clue who I wanted to be onstage. To a Banks song, “Before I Ever Met You.”
That’s interesting! So okay, sounds like a good segue to get to the beginning.. where’s your hometown, and what were you like as a kid?
I grew up in a medium-ish size town in upstate NY called Canandaigua (the Finger Lakes). Its about a 6 hours drive from the city toward Toronto, Canada. It’s really pretty – not much to do, but a nice place to grow up, yada yada, all that jazz.
As a kid I was rambunctious: catching frogs and playing football, but I was also super gay! Watching Sailor Moon, pretending to be Storm from the X-Men in the backyard, picking flowers and shit. That all changed in middle school. Middle school absolutely sucked for me.
Middle school ruined all of us! When did you get into performing in some fashion or other?
I’ve always wanted to be an actor growing up. Mostly on the stage. I did plays and things growing up, and it honestly never left. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t pullin’ stunts and giving shows of some kind.
So how did you discover burlesque?
That was after moving to the city and feeling disillusioned by the business side of being an actor. My very good friend Lilly suggested burlesque. I wasn’t sure at first, but she seemed adamant that it’d be a great idea for me. So I killed and mourned my acting dream, and birthed a new one.
Like a Phoenix!
Like a muthafuckin Phoenix!
I take your burlesque name is partially an ode to that friend?
Yes, my name comes from three divas that mean a lot to me: Marilyn Monroe, Storm of the X-Men (aka Ororo Munroe), and of course my bohemian goddess, my girl Lilly.
Did you find the burlesque community to be very welcoming and helpful when you first appeared?
Weeeeel.. initially it was a little hard, because of how I was presenting. I got the feeling that a lot of producers didn’t know what to do with me. I’m giving you femmedrag while performing classic style burlesque unironically, and that might make some uncomfortable because they’re not sure what it is. So I’m truly thankful to Viktor Devonne, Sweet Lorraine, and Ruby Merchant with Les Femmes Fatales, who were the first to give me gigs and the momentum.
Love it! So how would you describe a Munroe Lilly performance to the uninitiated?
A Munroe Lilly number will be intensely sexual, slow and steady, yet dreamy. I don’t like a lot of bells and whistles. Most of my numbers are derived from my relationship with sex as an adult.
Did you have to overcome any inhibitions about nudity or sexuality when you started performing?
Not really. I enjoy being naked. Burlesque is a fun way to get me there. The vulnerability is a bit of a turn on.
Did you ever have a particular performance that you felt was the most intense for you?
I really enjoy performing for queer women of color, as odd as that may sound. Particularly during shows at C’mon Everybody in Brooklyn. I perform in Sweet Lorraine’s Shades of Burlesque show from time to time. That specific audience always seem to get me and what I’m about immediately, and they’re all in. It’s intense to be giving a lot of energy and getting the same amount right back. Performing on stage in general is a pretty intense moment.
Being a queer person of color, particularly one who performs in a provocative performance art, can have its challenges in Trump’s America, I imagine. Has anything about your performing style or purpose changed during the events of the past year?
Yeah! It intensified! This is the first time I’ve ever been completely fucked up by the results of a presidential race. Not just because it’s him of all people, but I had to let go of the idea that we as a country, as a people, are still steadfastly moving forward and finding peace. It’s like the world is at a stalemate. That more people than I thought are okay with racism, honestly. So I told myself that I just need to be bigger, blacker, faggotier than ever. Life is just too short to not do what you want.
You’re an inspiration! Do you still get to work often with your Judy MiscAllaneous DomTop these days?
Yass, my sistah Witch! She’s been pretty busy with her mortal job as of late, but we still shop and bip and bop as much as we can. I do help out a bit with her show at Bizarre. “HardCore.” It’s a lot of fun. Love her!
Yay! So some congrats are in order… first, you’re a nominee several times over for The Silver Tusk Awards, which presented to the extended cast of White Elephant Burlesque (with whom you’ve performed several times)!
Haha! Thanks! The 2nd annual is coming up [on January 17th], and I’m performing this year!
Have you won before?
I’ve yet to win, but it’s just a beautiful, fun way to get us all in one place at one time and kiki. I’m only into award shows for the lookz! Fierce dramatic fashions, and the White Elephant crew turn. It. Out.
Werk! That brings us full circle to the GLAMs, NYC’s major nightlife awards show, where you’re nominated for Best Burlesque Artist! Congrats again! Speaking of fashionz, do you know what you have planned for that night?
Oh Honey! Gold. Everything just gold. And chains.
Perfect! Okay, anything coming up you wanna mention?
The Black Panther movie is next month.
We will see you there, gurl!