This month @primpmycostume speaks with one of LA’s biggest headliners. She has been decorated at the Miss Exotic World Pageant, is a world-renowned pin-up model, and starred in Dita Von Teese’s “Strip! Strip! Hooray!” and “Von Follies” shows. There’s a storm brewing and she’s bringing the thunder. Ladies, Gentlemen, and everyone in-between, this is Jessabelle Thunder…
Jessabelle has headlined countless festivals and shows over the past decade. She has competed twice in the Queen category at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival and is often featured as a pin-up model for lingerie brands such as What Katie Did. In 2018, she won First Runner Up (Princess of Burlesque) in the Miss Exotic World Competition at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Nevada, and has since featured in 21st Century Burlesque’s Top 50 worldwide list.
Charlotte Pacelli (CP): Let’s start with social media. Your Instagram has been an excellent source of pandemic performance inspiration. What would be a nugget of wisdom to share with any newer performers in relation to peeling burlesque costumes for the camera?
Jessabelle Thunder (JT): During this time, when most shows are still happening virtually, I’d tell a new performer to try filming themselves first, then watch it. Always remember that there are people there and you’re looking directly at them. It’s a game-changer when you stop just staring at yourself. Even though you’re on camera you’re still “on stage performing for an audience” (if that makes sense). I’d also highly suggest setting up space for filming if you don’t feel comfortable going outdoors or in a studio to film. Getting lights and background really changed things for me!
CP: We’re all guilty of a bit of staring at ourselves during Zoom meetings. I can only imagine what strip-teasing online feels like - over-analysis, much?!
Let’s move on to costume. You have a huge variety of beautiful, sparkly pieces. Can you share with us the details of the costume item you are the proudest of?
JT: I’m the proudest of the costume I won First Runner-Up with at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. I just love how much floaty fabric there is for me to play around with and twirl. It’s just so soft and simple. The underwear I really love too because I think they’re my most rhinestoned pieces. A lot of people helped my vision for that costume come to fruition and I’m grateful for it. I also love, love, love my feather fans! Oh! I almost forgot that I also love, love, love my colourful feathery costume- the headdress, the “bum nest”!
JT: Oh my gosh, I am the absolute worst at packing my costumes and props. I’m the last person who should be giving advice on this. When I travel within the United States, I just try to keep things in garment bags and on hangers. When I travel internationally, I hide costume pieces within other things so as not to be questioned by Border Patrol, if they were to go through my bags.
CP: International travel as a burlesque performer can be a minefield. Christ only knows how many cans of hairspray I’ve lost to security checks. I once had to walk through the departures lounge at Gatwick Airport with Bettsie Bon Bon wearing our crystallised corsets and shoes because our luggage was over the weight limit. Sitting in Wetherspoons casually eating a poached egg breakfast in a velvet floor-length cape and a huge feather headpiece.
Something I love about your performances is how you build energy throughout the act. What advice would you give about how to involve your costume to build momentum?
JT: Oh, great question! I talk about this a bit in my musicality workshop. For me, the music dictates what my costume will look like. For some, costume ideas come first then everything else. But for me, music comes first. When I hear certain instruments or beats it makes me think of what the structure should be, what the hardware should be (snaps, string, zips, etc), the flow of the fabric, and sometimes even colours.
CP: That’s such fabulous advice. So often people can try to build an act around a prop they want to use, or getting hung up on using thousands of Swarovski crystals and not giving equal time to the rehearsal of the act. But the best burlesque I’ve seen on stage is always really connected to the music and has nice little surprise movements that pick out musical nuances. Then the crystals become the cherry on top.
Ok, final question. If you could duet with another performer, who would you choose? What would that collaboration look like?
JT: Oh my gosh that’s such a tough question. I would love to collaborate with everyone I look up to! But two things come to mind off the bat. I’d love to duet with a legend and duet with my bestie Tito Bonito (@cubanmissilecrisis). We’ve had something in the works for a while now. The people will not be ready for that duet!
CP: That's exciting! You heard it here first, people.
If you have enjoyed her interview, you can tip Jessabelle Thunder at paypal.me/jthunder09
Thank you for supporting performers, whilst a lot of stages are still dark.