On Point With: Holly Ween

Who said the realms of cosplay and burlesque must be mutually exclusive? Certainly not this founder of Cosplay Burlesque, who is as well-known for her titillating stripteases as she is for the outrageous costumes she strips out of. Additionally, her shocking stage antics and appreciation for the macabre make her an in-demand October performer–her name doesn’t hurt the cause, either. But even Covid can’t thwart all the tricks this treat has to offer. Hail Holly Ween!

Thotyssey: Hello Holly! Thanks for chatting with us today! So, I see your living room recently made an appearance as a set in a recent digital burlesque show you partook in: “Scary Stories to Tell Your Mom!” How did that go?

Holly Ween: It’s weird performing in one’s living space, but I’m getting over it. I’m lucky that none of the dogs decided to make an appearance, but I now regret deleting the take where I fell off the chair. everyone loves a good blooper.

Virtual drag seems challenging enough… virtual burlesque must be even harder to pull off, I’d think.

Yes and no. [In the case of pre-recorded numbers,] you have the benefit of being able to do things over and over again if you say get stuck. But you also have the curse of, “should I do it again and see if I do better?” Plus, you don’t have an audience to feed off of–that’s probably the weirdest part. It just feels like practice.

So October is normally your big month for live shows, given your aesthetic and obviously your name! On one hand it clearly sucks that lockdown has thwarted that, but… is it maybe nice to experience a low key Halloween for once?

I’m actually really bummed out. Almost every September I take a trip to Orlando / Tampa to visit Halloween Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. I also haven’t visited any local haunts this year, and I try to hit as many as my schedule allows. I usually gather a group to go to one of the really big scary ones for my birthday. And show-wise, I’d frequently have 15+ in October. But this year I’ve only had a couple virtual, and I’ll be doing one live in Atlantic City on Halloween itself. Its funny how fast this month flew by, even with nothing “Halloween” to do.

It’s true–these whole seven months flew by, actually! And now it’s already time to vote. In a way, this is the scariest Halloween week ever?

That’s the honest truth. My ballot is already in here in New Jersey. There’s a chance we might get hit by a meteor on November 2nd, so I keep teasing that that’s my birthday present this year. Meteor 2020: just end it already!

Before we talk about the End of Times, we’d best cover the beginning! Where are you from, and how did you begin as a creative person?

I’m originally from outside Scranton, PA (Throop), and got into cosplay around 2000. I wasn’t an art, theater, or Rocky Horror kid… which I think puts me in the burlesque minority. I really enjoyed the challenge of making these elaborate cosplay costumes, and started hitting several anime cons a year.

Then [some friends and I] went to a burlesque show and I was wowed by the elaborate costumes I saw there, which also came with a new set of challenges–removal. I didn’t know a darn thing about burlesque, but I really wanted to give it a go. So I contacted one of the cons I staffed for, and asked them if they’d be interested in a late night adult panel. They gave me a venue, and I spent the next four months assembling a cast of cosplayers and learning what I could from DVDs and YouTube. That first show had over 300 people in attendance, and we nearly shat ourselves.

Cosplay Burlesque has flourished ever since! Uninitiated folks might find it surprising that these two fringe genres: one involving dressing up, while the other is stripping off… go so well together!

We were definitely breaking ground when we started in 2008. There were performers that had nerdlesque acts and a few shows–but as far I could find, no traveling troupes or steady events. As for conventions getting behind it, that was actually simpler–most didn’t have a lot of late night entertainment beyond Hentai (animated porn) or a dance. But they were used to having a Masquerade–a contest where people would dress up and perform PG skits on stage for prizes. We just kinda billed ourselves as that, only with stripping.

I love many of your looks! I’m especially feeling that giant fish creature you sported at Branded Saloon.

The Merman! I originally built that for a Joss Whedon show, and I had to go with something from Cabin in the Woods. The whole movie, one guy is obsessed with the merman… and he finally gets his time to shine towards the end of the movie. It’s probably the worst costume I have to move in, thanks to the flipper. But I love the reactions it gets, especially when I fire “glitter” out of my blowhole at the end.

A thing of beauty! And I see you also have at least one act that involves attacking yourself with power tools and eating sparks.

Yeah! I picked up angle grinding from some sideshow friends of mine and I love it. I remember seeing performers do it at some concert in my youth, and thinking that was the coolest thing ever. I believe I’m one of the very few NYC angle grinder performers, and the only one that does spark eating (which tastes gross, and I burp that burnt metal taste for the rest of the night). I’ve also given myself a few nasty owies, so I don’t recommend people picking it up just for the hell of it.

So basically, you’re pretty fearless on stage!

Surprisingly so; I’m going to blame adrenaline. I also do stapling (staple myself with a staple gun) and chair balancing, so I’ve been told I’m some producers’ and stage hands’ worst nightmare. Will I get hurt? Will I fall and break my neck? Tune in next show and find out! But for the most part, I’m great on stage… but once I step off, all bets or off. I’ve fallen more times leaving the stage, or hurt myself back stage, than I ever have on (not counting grinder bites).

Yowza! One thing that’s always interested me about the burlesque world is that it really seems to be like a huge, international family where everyone kind of knows each other. Would you say that’s accurate?

You do end up meeting a ton of people from all over. NYC and festivals get a lot of touring and out-of-town performers, so I’ve been blessed with meeting so many great people. And I’ll give Viktor Devonne from White Elephant Burlesque a huge nod for making a lot of those meetings happen. I do miss our little home at Rockbar NYC.

Speaking of which, on October 30 you will be co-hosting (along with Viktor, Fem Appeal and C’etait BonTemps) the second installment of “Deconstructing WEBurlesque,” which will feature clips of performances from several White Elephant troopers over the years!

I’m excited for this one because I can nerd out about costume and act construction. During the live viewing on the 30th, the four of us will be viewing and talking about the acts and what went into them. I believe we’re also taking questions from the viewers in attendance that night. Afterwards, it’ll be available for download.

Anything else on the distant horizon for you?

Not terribly much, I’m afraid. But people are welcome to follow me on Facebook for stupid memes and dog pics. Also, keep an eye on White Elephant… because Viktor might be cooking up something for the holidays.

Will do! And finally: what is the greatest Halloween candy?

I’m going to go with Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins.

Yum! Thanks, Holly!

Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Holly Ween’s upcoming appearances, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Also, check out her troupe Cosplay Burlesque’s website.

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