Don't Feel Guilty, Enjoy!
Staff Writer Jessica Zima-Lee
Photographs Provided by Justine Thompson
For many, burlesque brings to mind scantily clad women in G-strings and nipple tassels, teasingly stripping before an audience. But, when you get tickets to “Smoke & Mirrors”* at the Hilo Palace Theater, you get so much more than a few tantalizing glimpses at the beautiful human form. Performer and founder of the Acme Hourglass Burlesque Company, Justine Thompson, aka Lady Lily La Douce, brings together a myriad of talents to Hilo this month, Saturday, Jan. 27.
Veteran and new performers come together to create a night of sensual fun, full of laughs and acts that include magicians, musicians, and pole dancing…definitely worth admissions. The performance harkens back to the days of vaudeville with its joke tellers, music, and stripping, set up in a variety show layout.
All jokes aside, this is a benefit show, with proceeds going to the Palace Theater’s installation of an air conditioning system. With the theater being over 90 years old, it has undergone many repairs and upgrades throughout the years. The Palace Theater hopes to keep things cool for its future audiences, even with performances like “Smoke & Mirrors” heating things up.
Thompson has done other charity work, using her talents alongside the Go-Go’s rhythm guitarist and singer/songwriter Jane Wiedlin. When they ran into one another at a Kona bar, Thompson and Wiedlin found out they were big fans of each other’s work and decided to combine their abilities for a worthy cause. Together, they hosted “Jane Wiedlin’s Panty Party: A Celebration of Women”, at the East Hawai`i Cultural Center in Hilo. They raised $5,000 for the Aloha ‘Īlio Rescue with ticket sales to a burlesque show, a dog fashion show, and merchandise sales of lingerie and upscale cosmetics, while also helping out with numerous animal adoptions.
Thompson gets pleasure from bringing fun and fantasy to the adult populace of Hilo. She notes that Hilo seems to be a pretty conservative town with most of its entertainment centered on the kids and family. While she believes kid’s entertainment is good and a necessity, she believes that adults also need some time to themselves. With burlesque, she enables adults to enjoy a treat in Hilo ̶ an adult night out sans kids to have a few laughs at tawdry jokes and fun letting go.
Thompson began performing burlesque in Portland after she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Theater from UH Hilo. At a club called Embers, she received encouragement to perform from those at the club and drag queens who also insisted that she needed a stage name. That night, from Thompson’s lily white skin and her love for Shirley MacLaine’s character in the 1963 romantic comedy “Irma la Douce”, blossomed her stage persona, Lady Lily La Douce.
While she now enjoys making people laugh and helping them let loose, burlesque used to be something that scared Thompson. She says, “[Stripping] was something a girl was not supposed to do. It was the forbidden thing!” And while her performances began as a rebellion, “in order to piss off her mom and dad”, she says, “They are now very supportive and proud.” Thompson’s parents, one a theater professor, the other an actor, and both graduates of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, sparked her interest in all things theater.
After looking into the history of burlesque, Thompson began to appreciate the foundation it gave to the European and American theater. While growing up, she watched many famous burlesque dancers in movies like “Gypsy” and “Sweet Charity”. She was not surprised that this inspired her move to the stage in hopes of becoming a glittery showgirl like them.
And while Thompson finds burlesque very freeing as a woman, it took her a while to get to that point. As she points out, so many intelligent and beautiful women are frightened and scared of their own bodies due to others informing them of what beauty is. Thompson states, “They only take one bite of cake instead of enjoying themselves…It’s their guilty pleasure. But pleasure should never be guilty!” She encourages people to take pleasure in life and embrace their bodies for what they are saying, “We can be funny, brave, strong, and sexy, all at the same time!” As Thompson feels empowered through her performances, she encourages the women of Hilo to keep standing up and making their own life choices.
Though she’s had push back from others insisting she lose weight and get down to a particular size prior to performing, Thompson decided not to wait and performed as she was. She says it was a hard wall to break down for herself, but if others like the beautiful and Rubenesque performer Dirty Martini could do this and succeed, then she could too. When she heard the cheers, screams, and shouts, the fear that had entangled burlesque drifted away and became fun.
While some may look down upon Thompson for what she does and think she’s just a stripper, there is much more to her, and to a burlesque performance. She challenges these individuals to see how easy it is to be “just a stripper” and cinch themselves into a corset, create choreography for multiple songs, and entertain an audience for two hours straight. She performs and entertains with the hopes of “bringing joy to people”. She says, “That’s all I’m really trying to do.”
Thompson sees how burlesque gives so many people an avenue of release. Her group’s goal is to be inclusive, not exclusive. She says, “Whoever you are; we’ll accept you!” She does however warn that, “Burlesque is not a job. It’s a really expensive hobby.” So while she encourages those interested in letting loose to join, Thompson wouldn’t go up to people and say, “Just get naked! Everybody loves you!” Burlesque requires a certain skill set to perform well and make it look easy.
Burlesque is something that works for Thompson, empowering her through the character creation of Lady Lily La Douce. With this persona, Thompson “can do whatever and say whatever” she wants. She found if Justine couldn’t to do it, then Lily could.
Lady Lily La Douce suggests that if you’d like to indulge in a “guilty” pleasure, “Why not treat yourselves and enjoy a burlesque show!?!” Tickets can be purchased at the box office or over the phone at 808-934-7010, M-F, 10a.m.-3p.m.
This is an adult show, you must be 18 and over to attend.