A graduate from the award winning London based burlesque school The Cheek of It in just 2010, Shirley Windmill burst onto the scene when she won Best Variety Newcomer at London Burlesque Week last year and with her cheeky smile and considerable charm she has been proving why ever since.
I trained and worked as an actor before discovering burlesque. I was at a hen party and Lady Cheek from the Cheek of It was running it. I had so much fun that I looked up the course she mentioned and signed up straight away. I absolutely loved it and created ‘Daisy and Doris,’ which was a cheesecake duo, straight after the beginner’s course. I then went on to the advanced course and created the character of Shirley Windmill. I had always loved British Music Hall from an early age and wanted my first solo act to reflect this. The advanced course was great as it pushed you to show something every week and so you were constantly working on it and getting feedback. I think it was the freedom to create which drew me to burlesque. The chance to have fun for five minutes and it not be too serious was really appealing. Coming from an acting background there are lots of Nos but there seemed to lots of Yeses in burlesque.
When I first started out I did lots of different nights, which was great as I saw lots of styles and found where I fitted in. What I love about the scene is there are so many takes on what burlesque is so it can be a real mixed bag on any night. I found I fitted in more with the variety scene which has some great nights like The Blue Stockings Society and Kinky and Quirky to name a few.
I have a few icons in the burlesque world. Kiki Kaboom is awesome. I first saw her when she won best newcomer way back when and she just blows me away every time. Ginger Blush and Audacity Chutzpah are way up there on my list of favourites for their comedy genius. Their acts are like mini stories and I love the characters they come up with.
I applied to the World Burlesque Games as I won best variety newcomer last year and had a great time. We had 3 heats so by the final all the performers were good friends and backstage the atmosphere was great. Winning that title gave me a lot more confidence and has helped with getting me more work so I really wanted to be involved in the festival that gave me so much.
This year my act is again inspired by Music Hall; I have had someone record the music, and had singing lessons, to prepare. I also had a striptease session with the fabulous Hotcake Kitty, to sharpen the skills and hours of sewing too! I like to create characters for my acts so I research the era and create a back story for them. The audience can’t tell this but I like to know so I feel more like the character. I’ll know everything from their father’s name to favourite ice cream. I like to think every act is a story, whether it’s a classic fan dance or a cheesecake act, the narrative is the key.
The burlesque scene is forever changing and it’s hard to say where I see it going. For me, I have developed Shirley Windmill into a full length play which was on at the Dugdale Theatre in March so for the next few months I will be concentrating on where that will go. There is also a Morris dancing act with Ginger Blush and Audacity Chutzpah that we have just created so we are flogging that to anyone that will have us!
Having made some great friends in the business I know that it’s getting tougher out there in regards to pay etc but some of the most exciting things I have seen have been in the last few months so I hope burlesque will keep on evolving and leaving us wondering what next… ? I think that’s the beauty of it.
For more on Shirley Windmill visit her website
Tomorrow will be the last part of our World Burlesque Games Special! Will you be attending?