Henrietta VIII is a burlesque performer based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada who brings a unique twist to her performer identity: many of her acts are history-based. Henrietta was kind enough to answer some questions.
What history are you most interested in?
For sure the Tudor period. I’ve been obsessed with that period (even having 6 Tudor themed tattoos…) since I was in high school and read a David Starkey book on Queen Elizabeth I, and even got a chance to do an internship during my time living in the UK at Anne Boleyn’s childhood home.
How did you get involved in burlesque performing?
I went to a bunch of nerdlesque (nerdy burlesque) shows run by a group called PeepshowTo and one of them was opening pitches to non-performers for their upcoming Simpsons show. So, my friend and I decided to pitch a Patty and Selma act and got accepted. From there I met so many wonderful people who I am lucky to still call my friends and it has gone from there.
Tell us about your unique history/burlesque hybrid personas.
I really enjoy playing with gender and performing as either a male character or a character predominately not seen as sexy. Henry VIII was the first time I did full on drag and I LOVED it because he is known for his hyper-masculinity and I really got to play with that. With Christina of Sweden, I was playing a woman, but she liked to play with gender roles as well, doing activities deemed masculine in her era, cross dressing, and she was widely believed to be queer. To me, it’s a challenge—creating a historical act that not only is fun to watch if you know nothing about the character, but also truly represents the historical figure and their accomplishments.
What has some of the audience response been like?
For my Henry VIII act, people went crazy partly due to the fact that Henry VIII is such a notorious character who people know (or think they know) a lot about and because I had a lot of cameos of other burlesque performers playing his wives, and I had the best costume accessory-a bedazzled codpiece. Christina of Sweden isn’t very well known outside of history nerds so that one the audience enjoyed for the appeal of the act but I don’t think they got all of my references.
What other historical figures would you like to perform as?
The hardest part about doing historical burlesque is the costuming. Most historical figures have lavish costumes that have to be custom made so that comes into play when choosing a character. So if I had tons of money to use on costume I would LOVE to do a Catherine the Great number where I toss aside different men throughout the act. I love playing with gender ideals and because back when women were supposed to look the other way when their husbands cheated on them, and not have any dalliances of their own. While Catherine used her power and good looks to have many different relationships with handsome men of the court, like many kings throughout history using them to strength her power (and sometimes to hinder her reputation).