Wild Card Feature | Sammy Sparkles
The opening hum of a barbershop quartet serenades, “Barbie girllll… Barbie girrrrrrl. Barbie giiiiiiirl! Come on barbie – let’s go party!” A compact kids Barbie car whizzes on stage, with the glossiest of hot pink and purple rims. A Barbie-doll blonde bursts out of the car in full throttle frou-frou taffeta. A little voice-over squeaks atop the music and we meet “Princess Barbie” – she’s wrapped in plastic and indeed… fantastic. A spinning rip of the gown and sexy Barbie reveals the quintessential Barbie body – big-boobs and small waist.
“You can touch, you can play if you say I’m always yours.” As a frenetic beat ensues, the perfect blonde Barbie-doll strips, unleashes hip hop hell and the full force of feminist Barbie – the one you don’t see on the shelves.
When Mattel released Barbie in 1959 I’m gonna hedge my bets that they didn’t realise that they would become the plastic butt of all sexless doll, taped up private parts and nipple-less boobs punchlines and one swift surgically enhanced tit-punch to the patriarchy.
She’s about to unleash a whole lotta blonde bombshell Feminist Barbie onto the Astor Theatre stage. Introducing our Wild Card to the MBA Grand finalist lineup – it’s Sammy Sparkles.
Alyssa Kitt caught up with Sammy to talk about qualifications, life experience and personality having nothing to do with “sexy”.
Alyssa: CONGRATULATIONS!! It’s so exciting to announce you as a Wild Card on the home turf of Perth for the MBA Grand Final for 2019! But let’s backtrack two steps – how did it feel when your name was called for the podium?
Sammy: I was shocked! Excited! So grateful! And thrilled!
Alyssa: This is your second time competing for the Miss Burlesque WA State title. What made you want to enter the competition for 2019?
Sammy: As a true Capricorn I love me a mountain to climb! I love setting ridiculous goals for myself that push me outside my comfort zone and forced me to deliver. My main goal was to conquer my anxiety as at the State Final last time I was much too over-aroused (from a sports science perspective) and couldn’t seem to ground myself (to the point where I left my car keys on my car roof all day). This time my focus was to beat myself from last time, so although I may have stayed the same from an outsiders perspective (winning the same title), I felt like I achieved all of my goals. I had so much fun backstage and was so calm this time around, so I am super proud of myself.
Alyssa: Did you go into the competition gunning for a podium spot?
Sammy: Not necessarily. I think everyone goes into a competition with a dream to win, but we all have our own internal goals too. Like I said, mine was to not let my anxiety get the better of me, as last time I made so many little mistakes and so many things went wrong. You can’t really control if you win, but you can control what you deliver, how you deliver it and the culture you create. I focused instead on those things and let the judges worry about who was going to win.
Alyssa: That’s a really good tactic and one to remember – there are things that you can control and things that you cannot. What nerves/ doubts did you face going through your competition preparation for the WA State Finals?
Sammy: I definitely felt on numerous occasions that I bit way more than I could chew! Juggling MBWA, work and honours was a lot. Fortunately I had some help from some amazing human beings and had support from my wonderful partner.
Alyssa: How did you prepare for the competition for 2019?
Sammy: I originally went into the competition with my gown parade look already done and my traditional done too. So I was like – great – this is manageable. And then I decided my good girl routine wasn’t what I wanted to deliver (and had some helpful honest feedback about this too), so I had to create my whole traditional routine in 3 months and then I decided I hated my gown so created that from scratch too. Total Capricorn. Totally me ahaha. Needless to say there were many lists and many sleepless nights. I have been working pretty much everyday this year.
Alyssa: I just watched both your videos. Dead – such glamour, such pizzazz and such social commentary! I wasn’t expecting this of you – but I guess no-one ever suspects that of the “blonde”. You really seemed to be humming on subverting this blonde stereotype – was that intentional?
Sammy: Completely intentional. My whole Barbie girl routine was me playing with people’s expectations vs reality of me. I love Barbie and relate to her but there are deep rooted issues around her and they are not ok. So this for me was using my own appearance to make a statement.
Alyssa: Your Red Carpet look was magnificent! A true blonde bombshell! Tell me about your outfit.
Sammy: Omg thank you! The dress is inspired by a Paolo Sebastian look that I fell in love with. I created it completely from scratch and it took me a very long time. I could not have done it without the help of Amelia Kisses. I was going for old Hollywood 1940’s glamour with a bit of extra drama from the asymmetrical cape.
Alyssa: How did you bring your burlesque character to the parade?
Sammy: I find Sammy Sparkles is different in different situations. I felt the look required a commanding, sultry and strong presence – so that was what I was trying to emulate when I was strutting my stuff.
Alyssa: A pretty girl is like a melody – you came out in proper showgirl regalia for your traditional routine. Describe your traditional for me.
Sammy: I had created this costume in my design book last year, and then when I decided to cut good girl I thought now would be the time for this look! This routine is based off the New York Burlesque scene in the 1930’s and 40’s. I wanted to juxtapose the ‘high end’ showgirls like the Zeigfeld Follies versus the bawdier middle class bump n grind venues like Minsky’s. The first track music is actually from the 1936 movie the Great Ziegfeld as I wanted it to be as authentic as possible.
Alyssa: Blonde Bombshell all the way through to the end – was there a particular legend of the era that you were trying to emulate?
Sammy: There are lots of burly icons I love. I am heavily inspired by the dancer Cyd Charisse even though she wasn’t a burlesque performer. For this particular routine – I would say Lily St Cyr, Gypsy Rose Lee and Sherry Britton, as they all performed at Minsky’s. I am inspired by Lilly Christine and Sally Rand too. Such beautiful aesthetics, and lines!
Alyssa: How did you research for this routine?
Sammy: Over the years I have learnt along the way through Sugar Blue, friends and my own research. However I did a special lesson with the fabulous historian Dollar Dazzler as I really wanted to ensure my Traditional was historically accurate.
Alyssa: Another shout-out for Dollar Dazzler – us history buffs are worth our weight in gold when it comes to researching! You never know what gems of hidden burly gold we’re going to spew forth from our over-saturated knowledge centers!
Alyssa: You performed a Barbie-girl inspired routine for your unique. It looked like it was pure you – complete with stunning musical precision and drop dead precision dancing. Describe the act to me.
Sammy: Thank you so much! It was very me – starting with the pink from head to toe. I am and always will be a dancer, so I always like to feature it in my routines!
I think Barbie – like most pop cultural icons – is a good depiction of what was happening socially at any given time. For example, when she was created in the 1950’s she was the ‘ideal woman’’ so they made her Caucasian, blonde and with completely unrealistic body measurements as she was marketed to the middle class American family. She was created by a female and they marketed her as this almost feminist vehicle for little girls to choose their own careers and lives. But there are interesting subtle gender biases like how Nurse Barbie existed decades prior to Doctor Barbie – which unsurprisingly mirrors what was happening at that time. Even now, Barbie is becoming a bit more progressive but she still doesn’t represent everyone.
I don’t necessarily think the onus should rest solely on Barbie’s shoulders for social change – but as I resonate with her and look like her in some ways I thought she would be a useful platform to play off both comedically and politically.
Alyssa: Unsurprisingly, I loved Feminist Barbie – I certainly never felt as though I saw one on the shelves – this act was described as blistering and upbeat social commentary on social inequality – tell me your message for this act? What inspired this social critique?
Sammy: I always try to be an advocate and as inclusive as possible – but I am limited by my privilege. For example, I fully recognise that being told your body is perfect (because it is btw!) by a skinny white girl who benefits by having a body that society deems ‘sexy’ can potentially come across as patronising. And I so I made fun of myself, and the stereotypes that people place me in. There were so many areas I could have played with but I really tried to stay in my lane – so mostly I just made fun of the stupid norms rich old white dudes created. I absolutely wanted a feminist “YAAAAAAS” moment at the end so hip hop and a sick beat felt right for that moment.
Alyssa: What makes you want to set fire to the patriarchy?
Sammy: So many things. At the moment I am appalled that this is 2019 and there is still public debate on what women can do with their bodies. Rape culture, LGBTQIA+ rights, minority representation, socioeconomic disparity, toxic masculinity, mental health awareness and discrimination – I could go on all day unfortunately.
For the most part, I am so exhausted that I still have to discuss with people why I am a feminist, what that word actually means (equality!) and why it is still needed. I am so privileged and protected in so many ways, by my geography, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, heteronormative seeming lifestyle and education and the amount of discrimination, harassment and dangers I deal with on any given day is sometimes debilitating. And I am one of the lucky ones!
Alyssa: Amen!!! I think utilising the burlesque stage as a platform for social change is absolutely one of our duties as intelligent performers.
Your music was an excellent compilation of Barbie hits with voice-over – did you work with an audio producer on this track?
Sammy: I didn’t actually I just winged it! I had written the script months earlier and decided to use my own voice – as I felt like it was important to do so. I absolutely refused to use aqua’s barbie girl as it has been done before and I wanted to use tracks that spoke more to each specific barbie
Alyssa: What makes this act different in the world of burlesque?
Sammy: To me, this act is burlesque. That is, a satirical take on pop culture with an underlying political message. I have not found a barbie girl routine (and there are many!) that went the direction that I did, so I hope I brought something new in that way?
Alyssa: Well – we’re not quite done with the competition just yet… a little thing called the freaking Grand Final coming up. But – did you have a favourite section of the competition?
Sammy: Oh this is a toughie! I love all three – driving around in my barbie car is VERY FUN though. It has a horn and MP3 player and EVERYTHING
Alyssa: How did you represent the different facets of Sammy?
Sammy: I tried to stay true to me, I have been a performer for a long time but I think developing your burlesque character definitely takes time. I don’t like to create a routine for the sake of it – I will sit on concepts and let them brew for years sometimes to ensure that it is in line with what I want to say.
Alyssa: How are you going to prepare for the Grand Final?
Sammy: I hated my traditional choreography so will be redoing it, I was trying too hard to be ‘unique’ with my boa reveal and lost my Sammy essence! I wanna bring back the fun and the bawdy bump n grind that I was originally going for. I have some little changes to Barbie Girl but I think that has to be it as I won’t have time.
Alyssa: No biggie… just rechoreographing! It’s good to use the feedback from the State Finals to build your acts bigger and better going into the big final showcase! Did you enjoy your MBA Journey in the State Finals?
Sammy: Loved it! The Perth Burlesque community is so amazing, the artists are SO talented and they always bring the house down every year. The audience always make you feel like a star! It was so wonderful to see my best friends SLAY the competition too.
Alyssa: What did you love about the competition – would you recommend other performers apply?
Sammy: I love how MBA pushes you and I absolutely recommend people give it a try. It pushes you creatively, professionally and personally. You also make so many new friends!
Alyssa: What have some of your other career highlights been?
Sammy: Being booked to perform in Hollywood and Singapore were the most amazing experiences! My favourite part is meeting such incredible and special humans all around the world that I never would have been fortunate to meet if it weren’t for burlesque.
Alyssa: What’s your overall style of burlesque – where’s your comfy place on stage?
Sammy: Hmm my overall style depends on what I want to say in that particular routine, but I am comfiest when I can move and do whatever I want. I think that’s what I love so much about Burlesque, for me it is freedom.
Alyssa: Give me three words that sum up who Sammy is as a performer.
Sammy: Sparkly, Fun, Effervescent
Audiences can catch Sammy Sparkles on the Miss Burlesque Australia Grand Final stage in August 24th at the Astor Theatre in Perth. Get your tickets here!