The First to Wear the Crown
2010 Rita Fontaine – Miss Burlesque Australia 2010
Welcome to our new blog series, wherewe interview past winners to hear their stories.
The first Miss Burlesque Australia competition was held in 2010. Rita Fontaine had just moved to Sydney from her hometown of Brisbane, where she regularly appeared as one half of The Gamble Sisters. Rita’s fiery, tantalizing and charismatically unique performances saw her place third in the NSW state final behind Briana Bluebell and Danica Lee. Her performances were unmistakably show-stopping and Rita was awarded one of the two coveted wild card spots into the Grand Final.
In the Grand Final for 2010, it was not yet mandatory to perform the classic routine and Rita chose to perform her neo and unique acts. Her neo-burlesque routine was a Julia Gillard parody where she stabbed Kevin Rudd in the back with a voting ballot – it was politically satirical, witty and comically savvy. For the unique performance Rita pulled out her drag king character Johnny Castrati, who wooed the audience at the Enmore Theatre with a miniature piano and love song. The performance sealed the deal but with only one point between herself and 1st runner up Briana Bluebell, the first year all came down to the gown parade. While all the other performers appeared in their crowns for the gown parade, Rita had brought her own plastic crown and wore it proud. When her name was announced as the first Miss Burlesque Australia, the humble little plastic crown was hurled into the audience and was replaced with the real deal.
Alyssa Kitt caught up with Rita Fontaine to talk about what she’s been up to since winning the first Miss Burlesque Australia competition in 2010.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I see my time on stage as continual achievement rather than having had specific milestones. Every performance involves the artistic process of overcoming fear. Continual work in both the commercial and underground performance scenes has given me rich experience and development as an entertainer and as a human. I have danced for some famous people including politicians and television stars, and I have toured and starred in Australia’s biggest shows and tours.
I’ve not chased further accolades but certainly chased being an MC. Dancing is wonderful but using my words is most fulfilling and the challenges which came with EMCeeing the MBA tours were like skydiving! They were both nerve wracking and thrilling; an adrenaline rush. I’ve gone on to MC shows with the Australian Burlesque Festival and Woodford Folk Festival, Vanguard at the Powerhouse and lately some work with Bombshells Burlesque. I see every show as an achievement.
“Every performance involves the artistic process of overcoming fear.”
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a number of projects. I have always worked in costume design and made the occasional costume for myself or other artists.The demand has grown so much that I launched as a brand and website called www.crystalqueen.com.au. I’ve had a successful first year and have some exciting prospects on the horizon.
My second project is the unearthing of retired artists from burlesque and other live performance styles, particularly the queer and controversial, by way of a documentary and talk show. I have started film projects in the past which focused on interviewing artists and trying to reach a wider audience than is reached via the small stage. I am always asking myself ‘How can I help Australian artists achieve more exposure?” and “How can I use my skills and burlesque sensibilities beyond the format of the revue?” These projects have not always come to light. But I am determined with this new format. If at first you don’t succeed…
As for my burlesque, I will continue to perform with ebb and flow of my ambitions, playing with neo, classic and gender styles – the way I like it.
How did competing and winning Miss Burlesque Australia impact your burlesque career?
The choices I made after winning were considered unusual to some. There was an expectation that I would create super-commercial work and seek only the highly paid opportunities. Especially since I have the costume making abilities and commercial look to give me a competitive advantage.
But let’s be honest… There was not so much of that around in 2010 and I had moved to Sydney to unleash and explore my queer side. I have always been proud, competitive and a bit braggy but I am driven by art, not status. Winning MBA opened doors and gave me an excellent introduction to a wider audience. It gave me the opportunity to help others and to win the spotlight. Winning this competition means different things to different winners. It is an awesome tool. It’s the winner’s choice on how to wield it. It’s an epic opportunity, not a definition. How you act in that year as Reigning Miss Burlesque will determine a great deal if you win.
What advice would you give to a first time Miss Burlesque competitor?
I advise competitors to consider how they will use the accolade. Don’t waste it. Use the branding it gives to to seek out every opportunity. There are more opportunities now. If you want to go overseas with the title, go for it. Girls have been forging the way to BHOF for a few years now – it’s a train you can jump onto. If you want to headline festivals, use your title. If you want to use it as a platform to attain media attention for anything else you do, use it. If like me, you want to use the opportunity to transition into other styles , be strong and go for it.
But if you don’t win, you should brand yourself and seek these opportunities anyway. This is not a paint-by-numbers game. Think outside the box.
What are you looking forward to seeing from Miss Burlesque Australia contestants in 2018?
I thrived in the original competition format, but others didn’t. Now that competitors only need to perform two acts, I look forward to more finessing of ideas. Also, we have a new wave of artists coming through and previous contestants have had time to reevaluate in the break year of the competition. But if I may be bias… I hope to see an artist who brings new flavor to the classic tease and surprises us with a queer or political edge in their 2nd act. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “be yourself; everyone else is taken.”
We’d like to thank Rita for her encouraging words and wisdom. We are also very pleased to welcome Crystal Queen as a bronze national sponsor for the Miss Burlesque Australia competition in 2018.