“I don’t need to have an audience of thousands roaring for it to be fun – I think every time I’m performing I’m getting a different reward, and that’s another reason why I love it.”
Madcap, exciting, barnstorming and brilliant, Rubyyy Jones is a bit of a wizard when it comes to the art of performance. In fact, we’d go as far as to call Rubyyy a wicked ball of lightning wrapped up inside a giant cloud of hallucinogenic candyfloss.
Hailing from Toronto, Canada, and currently based in London, Rubyyy’s the King, Queen, Jack and Joker of Burlesque, Queerlesque and Rubyyylesque. In short, she’s a beautiful onslaught of fun and adventure. But not only that, Rubyyy’s one of those zen masters of sub-conscious encouragement that teases the inner you out of yourself.
All in all, you really can’t help but enjoy her swashbuckling take on life and all the big-hearted infectiousness that accompanies it. Rubyyy Jones makes you feel good. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Rubyyy Jones…
How did Rubyyy Jones come about? Tell us about your adventures so far:
Well, I’ve been performing for quite a while but Rubyyy Jones actually came about when I was taking a break from performing. Before burlesque and cabaret I was doing theatre and dance and acting jobs – things like that. And I just got really sick of auditioning and trying to fit into some elusive box.
So I took a break from performing and I actually started blogging and writing. I wrote a lot about sexuality and erotica and things like that, which awakened that side of me. And then burlesque just walked into my life via a flatmate who was new to the art but didn’t have any performing background, so I helped her with her acts and choreographed them. It was through that that I thought…maybe I’ll give this a go!
I couldn’t of imagined when I started about five years ago that I would be doing all the amazing things that I’m doing now. And it goes a long way beyond burlesque. I do a lot of performing for events and I’m an MC as well so I perform at places like the Box and Torture Garden, and all over Europe. It’s been amazing.
I love it and I love when things are different all the time. I like routine in some parts of my life but definitely not in my work. I like that it is always different and I’m in new places and even when I’m performing the same act night after night it can be different every time.
What does it feel like to be on stage and socking it to the crowd?
Oh, I just love it! And I love the fact that with burlesque and cabaret you don’t have that wall and you can actually connect with people and see what they like and you can see what they don’t like and push it either way. I absolutely love that. Of course I get nerves and have those moments like everyone else, but performing is one of the things that I know how to do. I just feel really at home on stage.
And how much do you like to involve the crowd in your performances?
It depends on the piece how much I want to involve people. I personally don’t like pulling someone into my performance because I don’t know what they’re going to do and if I were that person I would just hate me! [laughs] I’m that person when someone says ‘oh we need a volunteer’ I’m under the table, I don’t want to do anything like that! [laughs] so I’ll really challenge and make them work for whatever response. But not actually on stage for me. I really want them to have fun.
What has been your most fun or enjoyable experience on stage? And what has been your most challenging?
Most challenging is an audience that’s a bit cold and whether that’s because the show hasn’t been great until I get on stage or whether they’re just not feeling it in general. It’s always a challenge in an act that is essentially choreographed to find a space to win an audience over. I’ve found ways of making that happen but it’s very challenging. That’s one of the reasons I like MCing is because you spend most of your time with the audience making sure they’re enjoying themselves and seeing how they take as a whole. So that’s a real challenge, but I like that.
And most fun, I don’t know. I really do feel like I have a lot of fun in totally different spaces. I don’t need to have an audience of thousands roaring for it to be most fun, so I think every time I’m performing I’m getting a different reward, and that’s another reason I love it. It’s constantly rewarding. Even the shows when the audiences aren’t into it, they are still enjoyable and you’re finding out things like ‘oh, they hated me, what I do with that’. It doesn’t happen that often thankfully, so when it does you think ‘okay, wow, that was different’ and that’s once again why I love it because you never know what you’re going to get.
Which of your acts do you like the most?
Last year I created an act called Pottyyymouth Princess in which I use this audio from a viral video that was created by the NOH8 campaign. It’s little girls dressed as princesses saying the F-word. The line is what is worse than a little girl saying fuck. And then it talks about elements of gender equality and feminism and equal pay and all these kind of statistics, and how all those things are worse than little girls swearing their heads of. But basically I made that into an act where it inter-splices with some amazing songs from the Gossip like “Standing in the way of control”, and I have yet to do that act where I haven’t had a good majority of people on their feet and women coming to me in tears and things like that.
So that act is really special for me because I created it to take a bit of a stand or push my personal politics but I didn’t have any idea how it was going to effect people and it’s been really amazing to see how moved people are by it.
And then I have an act called Shoessss where I just fuck myself with a shoe and usually that really shocks a lot of people and I like that too.
We quite like the bearded lady as well:
Yeah, that’s really good. And actually I made that act because I have this bearded lady character and actually most of the time I do her it’s for events where I read tarot cards and I’m doing walkabouts. But then I did just think well maybe she should have an act and that clip is pretty much the only time I have done it!
How much do you like to involve your personal opinions and thoughts into your act?
Yeah, I always like to have an element of it. Some acts are much more, like the Pottyyymouth Princess, is much more literal in putting my ideas into things. But I think all my acts have an element of that.
People think Shoessss is about a foot fetish thing but shoes for me is actually my feeling of anger about people who know more about material goods than they do about their own sexuality or sensuality. So all my acts have little motivations like whether it’s obvious or not. It works for me.
Sometimes the idea comes first – the things that I want to address. But it’s somewhere in the construction this thought, and what I am actually trying to do with this piece. And it’s not actually important that people get it. People think Shoessss is crazy and people love it for that reason but then there is other times where I get to talk about it a little more in-depth, which I enjoy too.
How long does it take to create an act and practice and prepare for a performance?
I think it depends on the act. I’ve had some things come together quite quickly where as other acts have taken a while to drop in shall we say. I think now as someone who has been performing for a little bit longer who has invested quite a lot into what I do as a performer, like what my ethos is, it’s easier now because I am not establishing that, I know it through the earlier work that I’ve done.
I still have acts that I’d like to create that I’ve been thinking about for years and the right push just hasn’t happened or it hasn’t quite clicked to make them materialize. So it does depend on each one. And even after I debut something as well, which I do in a really rough form so the costume and choreography isn’t ready, but I just see what happens and see what works and what didn’t. I’ll do that a couple of times and then go ‘okay, the costume needs to be like this or that’ or I need to make these moments happen in dance, or this moment didn’t work or it needs to have a prop.
So I think for each one it’s different but one thing that they have the same is that I’ll already start performing 99% acts with a real beta version of the piece just to see if it works. I know costumes are really important but for me a piece I have to know whether the concept works first before I’m going to spend weeks crystalling something or paying someone thousands of pounds to make something. I want to know if it is worth it.
Tell us about Queerlesque:
Queerlesque for me feels like the next neo level of neo burlesque. There’s burlesque and neo burlesque. And for me, queerlesque is really neo burlesque [laughs]. But it’s something that is for me not gender specific like burlesque/boy-lesque. It’s open in that way.
For me it is inherently political in one way or another. It tends to be more true to the definition of burlesque i.e. the story telling and the use of drama and things like that. But also it’s something that is hopefully quite unique in the ways that it uses lesque arts.
I guess I’ve been doing queerlesque for most of the time and initially I was more of a neo burlesque performer and I think depending on who you are and what you do you might just say I’m doing neo burlesque anyway. But for me it’s that melding of politics and being active and being a different person in one way or another within the scene.
I ran my first queerlesque course last year and it was really amazing to see what the students came out with because I started it in response to seeing lots of different burlesque schools, and they’re all great, but seeing people that I thought you want something different, and I wanted to offer some space for those people. The work they did for their graduation show was just amazing. Really political, really individual, really entertaining, effective and just really, really special.
If you had an unlimited budget and you could design your own venue, set, design, and line up of performers, and then place it anywhere in time, what would it look, sound and feel like?
Oh, my god! [laughs]. I would say the idea of an all day brunch place that has pop up performances [laughs] To me I’m fine with it being right now because we can still do a lot. One thing is I would need to have is a full sexual entertainment licence which means you’re allowed to get naked, because you can’t do that at many places in London, so that would be unique. And I really love things in other performers that are a balance of things that are entertaining and things that evocative. So I would choose performers like that.
So that’s the performances side – what else do you get up to?
I have a day job that that I really love. And I do a lot work teaching dance or burlesque or make up, and then advising people on their acts or their shows, and I really love that side of things. I love working one-to-one with lesque performers and helping them to cultivate something that is really unique to them and polished. It’s vital for our industry because it’s such a solo thing to have people watch your work and give you feedback. I really love being a part of that so I give a lot of time to that as well.
What have you got coming next? We noticed that you’re off to Canada this summer.
Yes, it’s just been announced that I will be performing in the Toronto burlesque festival, so I’m really excited by that. And then I’m going to be in and around the Toronto area possibly performing outside of there in August.
So far this year I think almost every month, definitely nine months of this year, I’m performing in a different country every month, which is really cool. It’s an unofficial, now official, world tour! [laughs]
Some things haven’t been announced yet so I can’t mention them, but it’s such an exciting job to have for that reason. I’m doing Munich in March, January I went to Brussels. It’s amazing to be able to go and take my work to another place and country. I really love that.
I’m also co-directing a theatre production at an off-west end theatre called the Arcola in London in February. The show is called the Little Prince and it’s my first time professionally directing, which is super cool.
So there you have it darlings…Rubyyy Jones has taken over the world…and we’re all the richer for it. If you’ve enjoyed reading her story, then please run along merrily to rubyyyjones.com.
1 & 8. Sin Bozkurt Photography
2. Goodlife Crew Vienna
3. Nick Tucker Photography
4. AbsolutQueer Photography
5. Clockwork Beetle
6. Anthony Lycett
7. Paul Grace Photography
9 & 10. Feather Photography
11. Skype Stretch by Ryan McNamara