A Genderless Moment with Electra Powerhouse
Following the 2019 Mardi Gras celebrations, the gender debate remains a heated topic lacking understanding across Australia. To help explain beyond traditional binaries of male and female, a voice of the Canberra community uses burlesque and drag performance to broaden this mindset (Here is a great read on identifying gender).
Electra Powerhouse, a genderless space, has spread their unique brand of entertainment from the Capital, all the way down to Melbourne. Electra stands for equality, expression and challenging the norm. After making contact, we got Electra to touch down on Earth and take us into the realm of alternative expressionism and what it means to identify as non-binary in these arts.
Where did the name Electra Powerhouse come from?
I started thinking more carefully about what I wanted my art to be and what I wanted the audience to take away from my performances and came up with ‘powerhouse’ in the shower! I choose “powerhouse” as I wanted audiences to feel the power in my pieces and to keep me accountable to the kind of artist I want to be. ‘Electra’ is an ode to my favourite queer activist musician, Dorian Electra.
“Electra is the expression of my non-binary identity.”
Why did you get involved with drag and burlesque performance art?
I got involved about two and a half years ago. I started taking burlesque classes on a whim after experiencing some severe mental burnout. I had burnt out from filling my plate with doing things for other people and working on activist campaigns. I decided I needed to take up something that was purely for me and for fun. I never expected I’d fall in love so hard with burlesque and become a solo performer, let alone still be performing two years later!
What is it that you want people to understand?
Most of my performances have some element of subversion. Whether it’s subverting the traditional idea of burlesque beauty by performing as a bald cyborg alien or redefining sexuality as an Asian person. I’m taking the audience with me on a journey that might cause some discomfort, but that’s ok! We can go through it together and I promise it’ll be good in the end!
“I like to explore what people usually expect from burlesque and drag and take it further, into the unknown.”
As Electra Powerhouse, you identify as non-binary. What is it that drives you to have Electra identify this way?
I identify as non-binary in my personal life as well so when it came to Electra, I couldn’t really feel comfortable hearing people use ‘she’ backstage in reference to Electra. I don’t really get many chances to explore my gender and expression in my personal life too much, so having Electra be this genderless alien from outer space is kind of a release for me. On stage I can create whatever I want – there are no limits. I love turning the weird and traditionally ugly into something that the audience actually finds sexy.
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Let’s talk about make-up and costuming… where do your very wild and out-there ideas come from?
I’m really inspired by sci fi and futuristic concepts and aesthetics. I’m a massive nerd, so my references are naturally TV shows, movies, books and visual art I enjoy in my muggle life. I really like creating ‘alien’ looks because there’s no limit to what you can create and it’s quite naturally gender neutral. I’m also very inspired by other performers and artists doing incredibly different things in their work– people like Viktoria Modesta, Sasha Velour, Is She Hungry, Dorian Electra, Alyssa Kitt and Raquel Reed just to name a few.
I also like exploring femininity from my perspective as a non-binary person. If I’m doing a feminine inspired drag look I want to be feminine to the extreme – put on so much makeup it’s almost ugly, or create a makeup look that makes me look like a doll.
“I feel like exploring these extremes can help us better define what feminine means.”
Many turn to drag performance as an outlet, a way to live an inner, hidden life that may be their true selves. Does your art help you release parts of you?
Absolutely! Performing in drag helps me become an exaggerated version of myself. In a way, it allows me to express my desires, thoughts, and emotions away from my private life. My inspiration for acts usually come from my experiences or feeling about something.
In terms of burlesque, for years I struggled with body confidence. But since starting burlesque I’ve become incredibly comfortable with my body. The scene is filled with amazingly beautiful and talented performers of all sizes – some of the best in the country are larger in size and it’s amazing! In burlesque currently, what your body looks like doesn’t hinder what you’re trying to communicate to the audience. And there will be a way to make you look sexy no matter what your body is like. It’s quite a progressive feminist space. So in that way burlesque for me is a release in body confidence.
Is there any ideas you have that could help solve the gap of misunderstanding for the LGBTQI community?
I think queer art can go a long way in terms of educating those with the struggles of our community as well as providing an outlet for those who experience it. Sometimes people need that kind of connection to really understand what another person goes through. However, being a queer artist can be difficult as our struggles that give us inspiration can also hinder our success. Supporting artists by paying for their art, going to shows and sharing their work and giving them the respect they deserve is a fantastic way to combat this.
“We are a diverse community with a variety of struggles and allowing a space for us to express our thoughts, emotions and tell our stories can be a very powerful form of activism.”
What would you say to someone out there right now, who is in a situation where they feel they want to express themselves?
Absolutely do it! I understand it can be daunting at first but once you start, you realise that it’s not as scary as you thought. The community is very welcoming and supportive and love seeing new faces. Get involved in the community, take a class, come to events and shows, meet people who can teach you and help you grow.
Finally, there are many still debated topics surroundings gender, same-sex couples, sexual performance art etc.. What would you like to see happen in the next five years in regards to these issues?
I’d really like to see non-binary, trans and people of colour getting the same kind of mainstream success that others have been having recently. Shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race have given lots of exposure and appreciation to some drag artists, but I am yet to see many weird artists become as successful and widely known.
It would be nice to see performers supported more by audiences. We all work so hard and the underground entertainment scene is so underrated. More people at shows means more pay for performers which would be nice seeing as the time, money and effort we put into our work outweighs any compensation we get. Some of us rely on the scene for work and treat it like a job but get paid far less than minimum wage!
Finally, I’d like the stigma associated with burlesque to be broken down more. It’s still seen as degrading or scandalous but in reality all of us work on our acts to ensure the audience is entertained so they laugh, gasp and be wowed. It’s an art – just like dance, comedy and theatre are.