My name is Gemma and my performer name is Seedy Frills. I chose my name because my surname is Seed so I wanted to keep that. It’s also quite personal because growing up I've had the nickname Seedy from my family and my friends, so I've always been called Seedy as a nickname. Also, when I'm backstage at a show and performers call me Seedy, I don't have to think ‘Ohh yeah, that's me’, it's just more personal!
I've been performing burlesque since 2016. I debuted quite early on in 2016 and I tend to do more of a comedy style. I started off thinking I was just going to be this Cheesecake style performer, very cutesy and very pin up. My first act actually was very Cheesecake style, it was a sailor themed act, so I was there in the nautical costume with a big life ring and an anchor- a very kind of 1940s-1950s pin-up girl kind of style. But the more I performed that act, the more I started to add little comedy elements into it. I used to use my life ring as a prop- like a giant hula hoop and at one point, I think it was by accident, I hit myself on the bottom and I was like ‘Ohh, I kinda quite like that. Let's use that!’ After that it became an element of my act. These little comedy elements just developed and developed, and since then my acts have been more comedic. Sometimes I refer to it as cheesecake comedy because it is a little bit of both, my style is developing all the time.
click here for a video of H.M.S Seedy in action!
When did you get involved in burlesque?
When I first decided to do burlesque, I didn't really know anything about it. I wasn't one of those people that did ballet and tap and dance classes as a child. But when I was about fourteen fifteen years old, I got into dancing, just going to a dance class with my friend once a week, and that kind of continued. I ended up doing, A-Levels in performing arts and dance. And I did my degree in performing arts, dance and did contemporary dance. So, I had that kind of a background, but I didn’t really know anything about burlesque.
I had done different styles of dance in my early 20s. I did quite a lot of belly dance and I used to go to a class where we had a little troop and we'd go around performing at small events, just for fun. But then I got diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 when I was 28. It was during that time I had so much time to myself, it was quite spread-out having operations and my chemotherapy and everything. During my six months of chemotherapy, when I was at home a lot, I had weeks where my immune system was low, I couldn't really go out and mingle with friends and stuff. I had a lot more time to myself all of a sudden, which I've never really had before, and it was during that time I just randomly thought one day ‘Ohh I want to get into burlesque, I want to know more about it.’ And of course, I had the time to research. I think I must have heard of the word burlesque and I thought it was like a dance style. I didn't really know anything about it, but I had time to do a bit of research and look into performers and I started watching YouTube videos of performances. And then I started to look into classes and the people who teach classes, because at that point I didn't know anyone that did burlesque or anyone that taught a burlesque class. I didn't even know if it was a thing, to be honest.
I think until you're in that industry, it's quite hard to find where the shows are. Once you are in the community and you know people, it's so easy to find a show and to find workshops and classes, but when you've got no connections at all, it's quite difficult to find things. I found some classes in London and I started looking for ones that were a bit closer to home. Then I came across Lady Wildflower’s classes, she does beginners classes and workshop, and people go because they want to learn burlesque or develop their skills and become professional performers. I feel like a lot of the people that go to her classes, do it for themself, for body confidence and just for doing something a bit different, having a bit of fun.
I went along to those classes because Lady Wildflower was doing them around Todmorden and Manchester at the time, so it was more local to where I was based. I did her beginners course and her intermediate course and then, to kind of get myself into performing, I decided to apply to her competition. She runs the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival which has a ‘Legend in the Making’ newcomers’ competition where entrants have only been performing for two years or less. This was after I'd done the courses, and so I had a very tiny experience of doing burlesque. I knew a bit about the basics and the background and some of the kind of key elements of burlesque, but not an awful lot, to be honest.
I remember saying to Lady Wildflower ‘I'm going to apply to Legend in the Making’. It wasn't a case of thinking ‘Well I'm definitely gonna get in’ because I hadn't even performed burlesque at this point, I just thought it's a way for me to give myself a time limit to get my first act together so I can then apply to something. That way even if I didn’t get in, it wouldn’t matter because I'd have given myself a deadline, got an act ready which I could try and use for other competitions and shows. But I ended up getting in which felt like a bit of a miracle to be honest. Honestly, I thought she sent me the e-mail by mistake at first and I didn't reply for a while, because I thought ‘Ohh any minute now she's gonna send me an e-mail, saying “I'm really sorry. That was a mistake”.
I ended up debuting at the Frou Frou Club in March 2016 and then I did Legend in the Making the following month at the Hebden Bridge Burlesque festival and I loved it. I ended up winning the Audience Choice Awards which was the icing on the cake! It was a great experience and the Legend in the Making competition has got such a high standing that it was just a great platform to put on my CV and say ‘Oh, I've done this’. Plus it gives you connections as well.
My first year I ended up doing a lot of newbie burlesque competitions to get into it and to meet new performers and producers. If you're not put off by the title of it being a competition, which I wasn't really- I just thought of it as a performing opportunity, then they are a really good way to meet new people. A lot of the time they'll have a panel of judges who are usually a professional in the burlesque industry, quite often performers themselves, and then you meet them, and they get to see you perform. I did quite a few of those newbie competitions and then spoke the judges and they offered me a job at one of their shows. It was a way of getting into it burlesque more which was nice really.
My main reason for going to Lady Wildflower’s classes was that I knew that I was going to perform. I don't know how I knew, I think it was just having all that time during my chemo when I was ill and not doing a right lot. I wasn't working then, I wasn't going out and doing things. I had a lot of time to reflect and think about what I wanted to do when I was well enough to do things again. And like I said, I didn't really know anything about burlesque, so it was really strange when I just suddenly thought I want to get into burlesque. I think what I meant by that was I wanted to become a burlesque performer, which hearing it now sounds ridiculous because I didn't really know anything about burlesque. But it was just one of those weird kinds of moments when it's like, ‘yeah, OK, this is like what I want to do’. The whole the whole time I had, in the back of my mind, this idea that I'm going to become a burlesque performer. And I suppose the performing side didn't seem that scary because years before I'd done that at uni so I'd had that kind of background and that experience. So that didn't worry me, it was just the fact I didn't really know much about burlesque, and I had to kind of start all over again really.
I always saw the elements of like of belly dance in burlesque. Things like the tassel twirl and the shimmy. And because I'd done that all before, those kind of connections were quite like, ‘Oh yeah, OK, I can do this’. It just felt quite natural, really. I think for me the main thing that attracted me to burlesque was when I went to my first burlesque show, there was such a range of performers, and you wouldn't get that if you went to, say, the ballet or a musical theatre kind of show at the West End. All the chorus girls would probably be the same, same size and same shape and all look the same, whereas everyone was different in burlesque. Even though I had a background in dance, I did my degree in dance, and I've done classes on and off over the years, I never considered myself as a professional dancer. I couldn't ever be a commercial dancer and I was never gonna be a ballerina or anything. So even though I had dance experience, I was not a dancer.
I found that in burlesque that was fine, that was acceptable because you don't have to be a dancer at all. It was kind of like finding a place for me, because I wouldn't have fit in any of the other kind of dance areas. I did my degree in contemporary dance, but I knew I was never gonna be a professional contemporary dancer. But burlesque is great because you can use elements of your own experience and your own talents, and you’re accepted. Basically, you don't have to be all the best at this and the best at that, it's just kind of about acceptance.
My relationship with burlesque took off very quickly to be honest and it was pretty much what I thought it was going to be like in terms of it being a supportive industry. I'm not saying it's like that all the time, people are always going to fall out in every kind of industry, but in terms of people looking out for each other and having each other's back.
As a new burlesque performer, I remember getting so much support from performers that have been in the industry for quite a few years. And you feel like you could drop someone a message about something, and they’ll get back to you. It’s just a really nice supportive environment, really nice to work in.
When I first started performing, I only knew a very small handful of performers. But now some of my closest friends are burlesque performers, or have been burlesque performers and have kept in touch that way. The social side of burlesque is not like anything else. If you go to perform at a show, even if you don't know all the performers, nine times out of ten, you're going to have a really lovely backstage area. It's just a lovely atmosphere and you can get on with other performers and there's no kind of like, bitchiness or competition. It's just really nice to be around like-minded people. I think it's interesting as well because I always feel like, if it's a really good burlesque show, you'll go backstage and there'll be a variety of performers. But they’ll also be entirely different from the way they look and dress to their style of performing. It's just nice to have such a mixture of different people.
As well as doing burlesque, I do bits of filming, bits of acting and a lot of extra work, and I quite often compare the two different industries. Working in television is very, very different. In terms of the casting for stuff it's a lot more cutthroat than burlesque. I don't really feel like I've come across the diversity and supportiveness you find in burlesque anywhere else to be honest.
What role has burlesque played in your life?
I have a lot more friendships now, most of my close friends are burlesque performers. It’s nice that we can meet up and it’s not just in a burlesque capacity- we take those friendships and do other things. The social side of it is something that's been ongoing from the very start, and I think it's kind of got me to be a more myself if that makes sense. After I finished at Uni, I didn't actually do any dancing or performing or anything for quite a few years. Eventually I started doing the odd class here and there, like doing a bit belly dancing just for fun, but I never got back into performing or anything. I think there's a part of me that that missed that. Burlesque allowed me to get back to me and what I enjoy doing, because until I started performing burlesque again, I don't think I realized how much I missed it. It's made me realise what I want to do and who I am.
How would you describe burlesque?
Honestly, I always struggle with this. Mainly because I've worked with people in other jobs in the past who’ve had no idea about it. They’ve said ‘Oh, but I've seen burlesque, the film, the musical, with Christina Aguilera’. I just have to say ‘it's not really like that’. I feel like burlesque can be anything that you make it. I mean, I love having all the history and paying homage to the burlesque legends and to where it's come from, and the kind of burlesque moves that everyone knows; the shimmy and the bump and grind. I just tend to say to people that burlesque has been around for so long and it's so varied. I don't feel like I know how to summarise it a lot of the time, I'll just say it's a live performance and it's like focusing on the art of the tease, but yeah so many elements.
I think a lot of the public have no idea what it is and because of that it's seen as something to be scared of. I think of it as a form of entertainment. And without going into details about the different styles and the striptease elements and everything, I would just say it's a live form of entertainment.
I think the public kind of sees it as something to be scared of because they're not sure what it is, or they have no knowledge of it. I think some people think it's a bit seedy [sorry to name drop!] like a strip club. I always get asked ‘do you get lots and lots of men in the audience, is it just lots of men there?’.
People also see videos of showgirls, for example, and maybe they just assume it’s just feathers in the hair kind of showgirl costumes. The ones you might see a fancy dress shop, that kind of image. I've definitely had a few people say that that's what they thought it was to me. And it can be that but it’s not just that, there’s so much variety in burlesque.
Burlesque is more than just dancing to big spender!
Is there anything that you'd like to set straight about how people see burlesque?
One thing is that burlesque it is a job. I think a lot of people think it's just a bit of fun and therefore don’t take it seriously, but you do have to work really hard. I do a lot of my acts myself. I create the music and 90% of my costumes I make myself. Everything I do to perform burlesque is all done by me, applying for jobs, the contracts, invoices, and all the admin stuff as well. I don't think people realize that it is a job. They just think ‘Oh, it's just a bit of fun that she does every now and again’. I've described what I do to people and I've quite often had people be like ‘Ohh wow, do you get paid for that?’ Like so surprised that it's an actual job.
The other thing is, I think a lot of people who think they know what burlesque is, they're the ones who are like, ‘Ohh yes, it's like dancing to like, hey, big spender’, that kind of cliché. But there's just so much variety to burlesque. You need to go and watch a good burlesque show and then you can see the variety. So I suppose there's quite a lot of misconceptions really when you start to think about it.
What role do your costumes play in your performances?
My acts are very bonkers, crazy a lot of the time, and I tend envisage the costume, when I'm thinking about the act. Quite often, I'll have an idea, like a concept in my head, and then I picture a rough image with my costume and the music, and it develops from that. I think it's really important, like I know a lot of people don't make their own costumes, but I find that there’s a nice satisfaction of making your own costume. It just makes my acts feel more personal. It represents my acts more rather than if someone else has made it. A lot of my acts are kind of comedy and silly and bonkers, so it means that I can put together costumes that fit with the crazy idea I've got going on in my head basically. Whereas if I if I tried to explain that to a costume maker, they might not really understand what I'm getting at. And I'm sure they'll make something wonderful, but it wouldn't be quite the same as the concept that I was thinking of.
I'm not a professional costume maker, I honestly couldn't be one! I hadn't even picked up a needle and thread before I started doing burlesque. I never did like textiles or anything like that at school. I would never sew a button onto a shirt. But then I started doing burlesque and realised when I bought bits of costume for my first act that I needed to alter the costumes to get in and out of them or to do like a reveal or whatever. So, then all of a sudden, I was cutting up a skirt that I bought from a charity shop and putting a new zip in it, and that's something I've never done before, but I could do these things. My costumes aren’t perfect. If you look up close it be like, ‘Oh my God’. But for just being on stage performing, I feel like they add to my performance really. They are part of my performance and the story that I want to tell. Quite a lot of my acts are story based, I always have a story in my head of what's going on and yeah and the costumes enhance that really.
I tend to just get random images in my head at the most inconvenient of times. It's normally when I'm going to sleep and I'm just about to drift off and then I get an idea. So maybe during the day I've been thinking about something but wasn't sure how to go about creating it, and then as I'm drifting off to sleep at night or just as I'm waking up in the morning, something will click and I'll be like ‘Ah, that's what I need to do and that's what I need to get’. But my memory is so bad that I have to force myself to get up and make a note, do a little sketch or something because I know I will forget if I'm about to go to bed- there's no chance I I'd remember the next day. I tend to find rather than forcing a costume idea, if I just kind of wait, eventually it will pop into my head and then I can kind of work on it from there really.
I usually have a general idea of what I want it to look like. When it's finished it might not exactly look like that, but I always have an overall concept, like an idea of what I want it to be and then I kind of work towards it. It really gives me something to work towards and it's never going to be exactly how I envisioned it in my head, but as long as I have that to work on, then I can work towards it.
Seedy and Doris in action
One of my acts is a My Little Pony, Grand National, silly horse race that I do on my space hopper. For that once I realized that I was going to make my space hopper into a horse and my burlesque act was going to be like a horse race, I knew I wanted to be a jockey. I wanted to have a horse whip and a helmet, but I didn't want it to just be in plain jockey kind of colours or wearing the actual jockey kind of outfit. So, I decided to add my character as Seedy Frills to it. My personality has been a bit silly, a bit bonkers, a bit out there, and so that fitted in well. Being Seedy Frills, I always like to embellish my costumes add frills and make them a little bit over the top. My pink skirt had lots of random flowers sewn to it, and then I put some feathers along the top just to have some texture. It was just a bit bonkers really and bright pink coloured, so I kind of felt like it fit with my performer, personality.
The clown costume has so many elements, it just kind of grew and grew and grew. There were two elements that my friend made for me; a striking, bright coloured typical clown costume - like a onesie, and a corset as because I would never be able to make one in a million years. I then embellished the corset with rhinestones and fringe, just as many embellishments as possible really. I wore bloomers because I thought that would be funny to have two pairs of bloomers. My underneath pair of bloomers says Frills and the top pair says Seedy. So I'd do a reveal and take my bloomers down, and people would think I’d reveal my bum, but then realise ‘Oh no, she’s actually got another pair on’, just to add to the kind of comedy elements. I think over time the more I just get ideas in my head and I'm like, ‘Oh, I could maybe add that too, and add that to it’ and then for some reason I thought it'd be interesting to have foil windmills, like the ones you stick into your plants in the garden on my bra.
I think I think I kind of start with an overall concept and then it just kind of develops over time. Once I've got that initial idea it slowly develops, and it just becomes easy from then on really. For me it's a lot of trial and error when making the costumes as well, like I don't always know if something's going to work or not because I've never really done it before. I always tend to go ahead and see if it works out and learn as I go along.
There's a really nice satisfaction of performing an act that you've worked so hard on, and you've created the costume yourself, because you've put in so much time and effort and energy into it. You've worked so hard, and you know it's exactly what you wanted it to be. I definitely think that making your costume helps a lot when you're on stage performing. It makes burlesque more personal as well, rather than doing a show where you've got a chorus line of dancers all wearing the exact same costume, which takes away that personal element.
There's always gonna be costumes that I can't make. If I want to have a corset I get my friend Julie Stubbs, to make me one, she's amazing and makes the most amazing corsets. It’s kind of a nice feeling to know that you're performing in something that you put all that effort into making yourself. And like I said, it makes it more personal to you as a performer and it wouldn't quite be the same if you didn’t make any of it.
Th elements of my clown costume actually fitted together really well because we had quite a few meetings and there was a lot of discussion about what I wanted and how I wanted it to zip up and down. I did actually alter the onesie little bit when I got it, the zip was fine, but I decided it was catching on my shoes, which I wouldn't have known until I got it. So I altered the bottom of it a little bit just to make it make it more personal and make sure it wasn't gonna be hard work getting in and out of. And then of course, I embellished it anyway. Once she sent it to me, I added a tassel, I covered it in rhinestones, and then handmade hundreds of little tiny pom poms, which took forever and then hand stitched them onto the onesie. So in that case we worked together. It was a good collaboration and there were still a lot of me in that costume as well because I added so much to it. I suppose that's the difference between me going and talking with her about what I wanted and going a couple of times for costume fittings, rather than just having a rough sketch of a drawing, sending it to someone, and that being it until you get it. This was very much a really good collaboration. We met up a few times, and if there was something that wasn't quite right, then she she'd alter it for the next time. It worked because it was a collaboration and I altered little bits of it to fit my act.
I’d struggle with am entire costume being given to me. I wouldn't know that costume. It's not a part of me, I've not worked with it, I wouldn’t have a personal element.
As soon as I put on my costume, and I'm backstage doing my makeup, that's when I start to feel like I'm in character. When I'm full on in my entire costume, ready to go and perform, that's when I'm most like Seedy Frills, in character and ready to go. In relation to the costume, I don't think it would feel the same if, for example, I left a piece of costume at home and I had to borrow something off someone. It just wouldn't feel quite the same and that's the same with makeup as well. I always do my own makeup and I'm not a makeup artist, but luckily for me, my acts are comedy so I'm happy to do like crazy blusher. When I'm a clown, I have the Red Nose and my eyebrows have got bigger over time. My makeup started off being quite comical, and it’s got bigger and bigger- so more clown like. That’s my Seedy Frills look. There's been shows in the past, especially when I started performing, which included a makeup artist backstage to do your makeup. Normally I would love that because I love being pampered and being sat there while someone does my makeup, and it's always so beautiful. But it's not very me. It's not very Seedy Frills. So I would never feel like I'm in character. So, yeah, I do feel like I need to have my own costume and I need to do my own makeup a certain way to feel like it's me and it's my personality. Like I'm Seedy Frills and I'm ready to go and perform.
Once I performed a few times, I started to get a feel of what my character was and who I was, and my makeup got a little bit more emphasised each show. I'd always put a bit of pink blusher on, quite a bit of pink blusher to be more comical and pin up cheesecake like. But then as Seedy Frills became more comedy and that became more of a clown, I ended up putting a lot more blusher on. The eyebrows as well started off slightly more emphasized, but then they got a little bit bigger and bigger and bigger. Once I got to that stage, it was like ‘Yes I'm Seedy Frills now and ready to go’.
Did it take a certain amount of time for you to know who Seedy Frills was?
I think so. I mean, to be honest, it probably happened quite quick. I think you need that first year or so, those first few performances, to find out who you are and to feel confident in your performance- confident in your character, your makeup, your costume and everything. It is like a learning curve. You do realize things over time, you might think ‘Ohh I'd be better if I put this in my hair’ or something, and you develop over time.
I suppose it just takes a little bit of time at the start to get to know who you are as a performer. I do think it's always a bit of a work in progress anyway because over time you learn what's working and what's not working, and what you need a bit more of. And yeah, it just takes a little bit of time before you’re like, ‘OK, this is me now’.
Is there a particular costume or prop for that stands out to you when you think of Seedy Frills?
For me it's Doris my space Hopper. Most people know Doris more than me, especially when I started creating the act. A lot of people thought I was called Doris, it was so confusing! I used social media to promote Doris calling her my partner in crime, a kind of comedy duo act. I made such a big thing about it that everyone knew and came to love Doris. Doris is just a space hopper, but to so many people she’s like a personality. She doesn't even look like a horse a lot of people though in the past people have said she looks like a sheep! But yeah, she just kind of fits together with my jockey act really well.
For quite a long time, that was the act that I got the most bookings for. Again, making Doris was trial and error, like how I was going to attach material to a space hopper without popping it? So that took quite a long time to figure out. I ended up doing a bottom layer of fabric and then a top layer. And then I found this horses head and I stitched it onto the top layer, and then I hand stitched feather boas all the way around the space hopper. It took ages that first time I did it, absolutely ages, but once it was done, it’s was like ‘Yes, I've done it. I feel like really good’.
If I made Doris again, I think I would do the feathers and I would just try and make sure it would still bounce. Because, I know it sounds silly, but you don't know if it's going to bounce once you've got all this stuff around it. It’s hard to make sure there was enough fabric to keep the space hopper fully inflated inside. It became scary when I started getting international bookings and I had to keep deflating her to carefully pack and bubble wrap her inside a suitcase and then take her to Germany or France or wherever. And then I'd have to get her out the suitcase and pray that she, inflated and was OK. It's a lot of stress, a lot of worry and I'm always so careful as well. I'm always saying to people like the stage managers ‘Please, I sound like a Diva, but please would you just sweep the stage floor before my act’ because I'm always worried that there will be one time that like she pops. Absolute nightmare!
No one had actually seen Doris until just before I performed with her that first time. I think a few people knew that I was working on something, but they wouldn't have known it was a space hopper until the first time I came on and performed. The first time I performed with Doris was for a really friendly burlesque competition, and I knew most of the performers, so it felt like a really fun gig to do. Knowing a lot of the performers, I got great feedback afterwards because they felt like they could come up to me and talk to me about it, so that was really helpful. I think they thought it was hilarious and it was a bit of a shock because they didn’t think I was doing an act on a space hopper.
Do you think your burlesque costumes will change over the next few years?
No, I think there'll be similar in that they'll still be quite bright and bold and colourful and bonkers to fit with the act, if that's what the act is. I mean I'd love to have more money to spend on costumes, even just the embellishments for the costumes. I would also love to be able to maybe spend more money on some of the more expensive things like the corsets. I feel like there's an element that's always going to be very similar throughout my costumes.
Apart from my apart from my recent Hippo Act, I think all my acts actually have my name somewhere in them. So my Sailor act has, Seedy Frill written on my life ring hula hoop. And then for my race act, my jockey helmet has Seedy on the front in sequins and Frills on the back. Even my clown act has Seedy written on my bloomers, so there's always that connection. I actually started writing Seedy Frills on my outfits because I remember Lady Wildflower saying that I should write my name on the hula hoop so the audience would remember my name. That was a really good tip because I was just literally starting off, so no one knew who I was, and then it continued on to some of my other acts as well.
Most of acts always have some kind of frills or embellishment or a lot of fringe. And pom poms seem to be a big thing for me as well. I've got big pompom on my helmet for my jockey act. I’ve got millions of Pom poms on my clown act, so I think in the future there's going to be very similar elements that are very Seedy Frills. I don't think I'd create an act where people will be surprised and be like, ‘Ohh no, that doesn't look like Seedy Frills. That's like a totally different look’. I think it's always going to be very similar for me.
Do you think the burlesque scene will change in the future?
I'm hoping it's gonna change for the better, I feel like at the moment it's quite difficult. Like I said before, a lot of people see burlesque as a hobby. There are performers that have burlesque as their hobby and for them it’s as just a bit of fun, which is fine, but burlesque takes a lot of work and there's no jobs going for the people who do it professionally. It's up to the producers who they choose and there's not a lot of money in burlesque for a lot of people. Some shows are doing really well and selling out, but since Covid, I feel like some shows are struggling, like really struggling to sell tickets. They might sell out by the show, but in the past that would have happened at an earlier date. If producers don't have the same budget, they might use performers that have a lower fee, or performers willing to work for next to nothing and I do feel like sometimes it's taking away from the performers who are taking burlesque seriously and wanting to do it as their professional job. So I'm hoping somehow that might kind of correct itself, I'm not really sure how though, I really don't know.
Personally I'd like to do a lot more international gigs, I feel like that's gone a bit quiet since Covid. It’s also partly because of me, I'm not really sure that I want to be doing lots of traveling around at the moment. I actually only did my first burlesque gig since Covid last September, September 2021, and then even after that, my next one was maybe not till the month after. It's been a slow process trying to get back to regular gigs, so I'm hoping that in the future that it'll be a bit more back to normal in that sense, that would be nice!