About the author:
You certainly can’t tell from Ursula Martinez’s prim and proper costume the magical shenanigans she unleashes with the help of a square red handkerchief in La Soiree. The mischievous look on her face is the first clue that this Spanish-born, British-based performer is going to give Gypsy Rose Lee a run for her money in this adults-only burlesque show, now playing at off-Broadway's Union Square Theatre. Below, cabaret artist Martinez explains the origins of her hilarious striptease routine and why she’s been willing to take it all off around the globe for almost a decade.
In 2000, I was having a dinner party at my house with a small group of friends, most of them fellow performers. We got completely hammered on homemade cocktails and ended up taking our clothes off, dancing to Sister Sledge and doing silly things to make each other laugh.
The next day, through a hungover haze, I recalled the shenanigans from the night before. I remembered that at one point, I got out my disappearing handkerchief trick (the only magic trick I know). I remembered that I made the hanky reappear from an item of clothing, which I then removed. I remembered that I did this repeatedly until I was completely naked. I remembered that I then made the hanky reappear from a truly magical place!! I suddenly realized that I had inadvertently created an act. That is how my infamous Hanky Panky routine, a unique fusion of magic and striptease, was born.
In 2004, producers Brett Haylock and David Bates saw me performing the act at an eclectic comedy event and asked me to join a new burlesque show they were making for The Edinburgh Festival. It was an overnight success, and we were soon touring around the world. We have been to many wonderful cities including London, Sydney, Stockholm, Chicago, Paris and Montreal, and now, nearly 10 years later, we are here in New York City performing at the Union Square Theatre.
It’s a strange life, being a touring artist. I love being on stage and I love the privilege of being paid to see the world. But on another level, I’m kind of in the wrong job. You see, I’m also very much a homemaker. I love getting up early to water the plants, rearrange the bookshelves and start organizing the next dinner party (may I stress they don’t always result in kooky antics). I know this doesn’t fit in with my raunchy, ballsy onstage persona, but at the end of the day, it’s just an act…literally!!
Despite the conflict I feel between wanting to be at home and wanting to be on stage, for the moment I have clearly made my decision. After all, a girl’s gotta earn a buck! (Forgive my attempt at Americanisms, but it’s too fun to resist.)
But in addition to the glitz and the glamour and the standing ovations, there is another very important ingredient that makes this touring malarkey work for me. And that is: company!
I am a highly sociable person. I love being around fellow humans. I am a social co-dependant, a playmate junky, a friend fanatic. (I guess the dinner parties are a bit of a clue).
Because we are a fairly large group on tour (approximately 14, plus local crew that join the show in each new city), we have a ready-made social life. Whatever you want to do, whether that be going straight home after the show for a cup of tea and a natter, or wandering off to a late night strip joint, you can nearly always find at least one other person to do it with. Being part of a touring company is perfect for a social addict like me.
And believe or not, we pretty much all get along, even after 10 years. Why else would we still choose to hang out with each other outside of work? We even spent Thanksgiving together. (Thank you Wau Wau Sisters.)
And I guess here’s the thing. It’s a cliché, but after so many years together, we know each other really well and we are bit like family—a circus family, albeit a slightly post-modern version! But unlike “real” family, there is no moral obligation to spend Thanksgiving together, or any other day of the year for that matter. But we choose to. And it really works for me. Those bookshelves will have to goddamn wait. I’m havin’ a blaaaaaast!