A gorgeous burlesque performer that remains very classy and well-spoken? Yes, that's Calamity Chang!
1) Can you share with us a bit about your background and any info about your ethnic heritage?
I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and we left when I was eight years old for Bolivia, then we headed to the United States when I was thirteen. I speak Mandarin fluently and some Spanish the little that I remember from Bolivia.
2) Of course we must ask: how does a person decides to become a burlesque performer? What were your greatest influences when starting out?
I can't speak for other performers on what drew them to burlesque, but for me, one half was about the theatrical spectacle of the costuming and the other half was about the potential for political deviance and statement making via the disarming art of seduction. When I first started I was influenced by early punk music. My first act to ever appear on stage at The Slipper Room was to “China Girl” by Iggy Pop. I like to use my “Asianness” as a visual tool to challenge stereotypes. Nowadays I am more drawn to classic burlesque for inspiration like the Chinese performers in the 40s - Noel Toy, Mei Ling, and a myriad of other forgotten Asian performers. On this note I have to say that Shanghai Pearl in Seattle has done a tremendous job in bringing a lot of them back out in the spotlight and getting them the recognition they deserve at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.
3) What kind of artistic background do you have (dance, drama, etc)? Are you self-taught or did you follow specific courses?
Most of my artistic background are in digital media specifically in interactive design. I was one of the dotcom kids but without the millions in my bank, ha! I have a MFA from Columbia University in Digital Media and a BA in English from Cornell University. I focused primarily on postmodern fiction and creative writing. I don't have any theater background at all except for the three years that I belonged to an all-girl improv group in college. I learned a lot from the other girls in the troupe. They were all so much funnier, looser, and free associated much funnier and faster than I did. A couple of them were Linguistics majors so they were always so witty, clever, and absolutely brilliant. I learned very quickly by watching and learning from them.
4) Tell us about all the steps required when you're creating a new stage routine (costumes, music, choregraphy, etc.). Is there a team around you or are you 100% in charge of production/creation?
I wish I had a team like the House of Calamity to design and make costumes for me! Unfortunately no. I don't know anyone who isn't 100% hands-on with the costume, music, and choreography.
5) Would you say that there are more Asian performers on the scene? Have you ever been victim of racial profiling in the business, in your opinion?
There are more Southeast Asians in the scene than Asians such as Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. I feel like I know all the established performers of Asian descent cause there are so few of us. As for racial profiling, of course I am sure I have but that's okay because I am using the race card so to speak with a name like "Calamity Chang". Even though it's a pun on "Calamity Jane", I am heralding my Chinese heritage as my unique factor and yes, I am challenging race ideas by being out there. People are going to profile and judge based on appearances no matter what race you are. We all do it and if someone were to tell me they don't factor in external visual cues (clothing, tattoos, skin color, etc) to make snap decisions about someone for better or worse, I'd say they are full of shit. The resolution for me is how are those preconceived notions altered or challenged once they see my performances.
6) Do you still have in mind more tattoo work? What would you like to express more by any possible future designs?
The next tattoo I want is the fox spirit popular in Japanese and Chinese folklore. In Chinese folklore, the fox spirit is always a female who can adapt human form and seduce me through their beauty and intelligence. Usually they trick men for not-completely nefarious reasons, usually because of love. In Japanese culture, the kitsune is revered for their intelligence and cunning.
7) Would you like to wear more traditional fetish fabrics (latex, rubber), for example? Do you have other visual themes in your mind to explore regarding photo modeling work?
I am new to the world of fetish modeling as my background has been strictly burlesque and showgirl oriented. However, I do have a couple of acts that touch on the nun-ploitation films of the 70s (ie: Satanico Pandemonium, Lover Letters of a Portuguese Nun) and I have an act that references the military fetish look from "Night Porter". Both of these looks are attractive to me as well as the Victorian equestrian fetish look. I would want to explore those themes in a photoshoot.
8) Is there a thin line between your artistic personality and your own private life? In other words, do you wear baggy sweatpants on your free time (if you have free time!!!)?
This is a funny question because I do try to separate my "civilian" closet from my "burlesque closet" - I think that's unusual from other performers based on what I've seen. When I'm not out as "Calamity" I like really sexy and edgey rock and roll clothes. But if I'm going out as Calamity, I wear more 1940's dresses that are feminine and flowery. Generally speaking, my uniform in the summer is denim cutoff shorts with a tank top or a pretty dress. In the winter, I live in leggings and a good sweater. As for sweatpants, I only wear that when I'm deathly sick!
9) What could have been your most challenging photo shoot, to date? Is there a line that you won't cross?
I won't do adult films. Contrary to popular rumors, there was no real sex in the infamous threesome sex scene in the NC-17 film SHAME by Steve McQueen that I appeared in last year as "Late Night Lover #1". The film was artistic and not an adult film. It is about sex addiction and it's actually quite depressing! In still photography, I won't show "pink". It's not that I have any judgments against adult film stars, I actually follow quite a few of them on Twitter. It's just not something for me. I'm more interested in the "tease".
10) How do you see your career in 5 or 10 years from now? Are there more videos and movie work in your future, for example? Or dream projects?
I would love to be involved in a large scale Asian-themed show in Las Vegas. Something that is a regular gig, 5 to 6 times a week. I'd do it only if the creation of the show involved smart Asian artists so it's not like we are doing "yellow face" but I also don't want a show to be so self-serious that its didactic and overbearing.
11) What can one expect when attending a Calamity Chang performance for the first time?
A lot of fun and a well curated and smooth burlesque show, and some Asian jokes in there. ;)
12) Would you ever be interested in visiting us in Montreal to work with the Cult Sirens crew?
I just found out I am accepted to perform at the Montreal Burlesque Festival at the end of September 2012, so I would LOVE to work with the Cult Sirens crew!