An interview with...
A creation from the mind of Esther Yann a Melbourne based burlesque, drag and performance artist.
You’ve been known to express yourself through burlesque… How did you feel when you first started getting nakkie on stage and how does it compare to how you feel doing it these days?
Well I originally did my first gig as a kind of dare to myself... Then I kept getting gigs and kept seeing burlesque as a social experiment for myself, promising that I’d never get hooked. That went out the window and now it’s an everyday part of my life (before COVID!)
The first time I got nakkie on stage was in front of my mum and grandmother in an old vaudeville theatre. It was so scary and I was terrified to get my boobs out. Now when I perform I usually get naked within the first 40 seconds because I’m impatient.
What art were you interested in and able to expose yourself to in your schooling years?
Fine arts and acting! I spent years acting on stage and in film, even acting alongside Toni Collette, PJ Hogan and Shane Jacobson before I burnt out. Then I was heavily into fine arts – got a scholarship to a top fine arts and design college before I even graduated high school. Moved to Sydney and studied art at Collage of Fine Arts. Had my art on postcards and designed posters for Sydney punk shows. Wanted to become a tattoo artist but once again burnt out.
You’ve done glamour, messy, space vibes and Kath & Kim… Which feels most at home to you?
Honestly messy drag-burlesque! I like to describe my style as a mix between Pennywise the Clown and Charlie Manson. (Youtube Manson dancing and you’ll see I get a lot of my moves off him). I don’t think I’ll ever touch classic burlesque again. I did it for 2 years straight and it drew a different crowd than the club scene I’m in now. Back then I had a lot of older straight men who loved my classic, and it didn’t really vibe well with me, but now I am surrounded by my family of queer artists and we can all get freaky together!
What is one of the performances or shows that stands out as a highlight in your career?
Honcho Disko and Blanke-Pop! They’re the types of shows I most enjoy performing in. I think they’re the closest thing to the Club Kid scene in Melbourne. Everything and anything goes at these gigs. Complete freedom of expression. You don’t have to be pretty or sexy or typical.
Do you find anarchy, rebellion or politics creeping into you art?
I think anarchy and rebellion shines through a bit in my concepts. I think I am quite rebellious in how I present myself. I’ll have a scary ultra-drag paint with big wigs and clown face. Then I’ll strip. I think dragesque makes being sexy and sexual contradict itself when you present with costumes and faces that aren’t typically feminine or beautiful. If I come off stage and someone says ‘wow you looked beautiful’, then I feel disappointed. Yet when someone says ‘you freaked me out’ then that’s an awesome comment. Make them scared but make them question their sexuality too. The best compliment I got was ‘I don’t know if you’re a man or a woman, but I bought whatever you were selling on stage.’
Which public figure (living or dead) would you most like to perform in front of?
Sasha Velour! They’re my ultimate idol. So diverse and is a walking art piece. Would love to also perform for Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth. Tarantino is a huge inspiration to me.
Do you have a performance or show that stands out for you as a moment of ‘mmmmphf THAT FELT SOOO GOOD!!!’
My first gig at Honcho Disko. I got the gig by chance and was still doing classic burlesque. It was the first time I pushed myself into drag and first time doing drag makeup. I rocked up with full clown face in a tear-away suit and had the absolute time of my life.
Also my gig at Blanke-Pop! I don’t know if it was the UV paint or the DJ being on the stage, but it was so much fun. Especially merging my closing song into everyone coming onto the stage to do the group dance. Like a drug high being up there!
If given the opportunity to create Pistolina merch with any object… What would you choose?
Hmm any object… Yo let’s make it weird. And mandatory. What’s something everyone needs? Pistolina pasta? Pistolina pads and tampons? Pistolina petrol?
Do you engage in any activities outside of art that allow you to switch off the artistic brain?
I do! When I have time between performing, uni and work, I am a horse rider going on 10+ years now, I draw, I pole dance, I co-host a true crime podcast called ‘I Think My Fridge Is Haunted’, and I am an obsessive horror and gore fan.
How many costumes do you have, how do you arrange them and are they mixed in with your everyday wear in the wardrobe?
Oh god let’s see! I currently have about 20 full costume pieces that I can then mix and match. This doesn’t include the wigs, head pieces, nipple tassels OR the shoes! All my costumes are specifically made to be taken off for strip-tease so I can’t wear things that are stitched onto me etc. And because I just moved house, I am currently living within my costumes and wigs. I go to sleep looking at my drag. Can’t escape it ever!
Why is art important for you?
Not to sound cliché but it’s a massive form of escapism, it’s free therapy, it’s expression and it’s a reflection on current culture. I did fine arts for years, then acting, then burlesque and now ‘dragesque’. They’re all forms of art and expression and a massive antidepressant pill.
Check out Pistolina online!
1. Joel Devereux (Makeup - Ruby Slippers)
3. Telepathic Photo and Video Design
4. Little Shop of Horrors Costumery
5. Little Shop of Horrors Costumery
6. 3 Fates Media
7. Bella Yann