Empress Stah (for ’twas she) is still ‘not like the other ones’, albeit she has been a great influence on many.
There is something very sexy (in both the literal and more recent metaphorical sense of the word) about a woman who is utterly, happily and fearlessly herself. And Stah is all that. Even in rehearsal clothes with husband in tow and pizza in mouth, sitting opposite her, the sense is most definitely one of a she-devil waiting to be unleashed.
“I was jumping out my bedroom window, getting drunk and having sex with boys from when I was about 13 years old” she says.
Just about everything a body can do, Stah’s has done.
“I used to have 16 genital piercings and 50 body piercings” she says “Just 2 tongue piercings and my stretched earlobers left.” She lifts a blob of cheese off its sourdough base with said tongue, “ It was the 90s and I kinda liked the aesthetic …”
Stah moved to Western Australia and to its clubs and cabaret scene … thence to circus. “It all just evolved” she says. “Every time I learned a new skill I put it onstage … I still do. Being under rehearsed is one of my weak points.”
In quintessentially Stah fashion, she financed her evolution working in Club X. “It was like a bookshop with booths out back. I loved working in the peep shows. If they were more prevalent here I’d still do it. It’s such easy money.” She turns palms to ceiling. “You just dance around in front of the mirror … it’s very liberating.”
At the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe that particular slice of life became art. “We did our own peep show. To an audience of about 18 people in a tiny space. It was with a company called APE – Art, Porn and Entertainment and I did a 2 hour installation performance called Moneyshot dressed as a bit of a mistress with a load of blowup dolls, whips, sex toys and a video camera …” “It was very sexy” murmers her husband. I can only imagine.
To digress for a second, the Empress and her husband are a fascinating but fabulous pairing. “I tried to be a lesbian for years … and ended up with a trans man” says Stah. “ And I did same thing ten years before,” says Graham the husband. “I wanted to be gay and ended up going out with girls who looked like David Bowie”. All of which must have helped the thought processes that fed her fabulous Queen of The Night – a show which looked at gender fluidity. As an average filth-fan of a punter, you might not have noticed that as the gorgeous Queen of the Night opened her gown to reveal a huge cock, fucked a blow up doll in the blow up ass, broke off her strap on which became a butt plug and climaxed riding the blow up cock of the blow up doll fucking it with her pussy, that this was a thought-piece on gender fluidity but, open mindedly, Stah doesn’t mind that.
“I would say I am more of a comedian and a clown … and I use my body” she pauses “ But my work is never designed to titillate or turn people on … I am not a burlesque artist.” She sips red wine. “I have all these undercurrents …” I nod. I am fascinated by this woman. I am torn between wishing I had been around when she wanted to be a lesbian and being hopelessly in awe of her creative bravery. “When I pull glitter balls out of my ass it is all about alchemy … turning shit into gold …” To be fair, the more she talks about her work the more ashamed I am of myself and the way I have thought about her ariel antics hitherto.
“I don’t mind the dirty raincoat brigade … good luck to ’em” she says reassuringly for those of us who are more base in our thoughts. “When I did the season with the laser butt plugs, although I was all ‘its about this and its about that’ , the people who actually came to see the act … they were all blokes.”
Ah yes. The laser butt plug.
Strap in people, because, for a story that ends with a woman dangling from a trapeze with a butt plug, emitting beams of laser lights, up her ass, this one takes the scenic route.
This came from Stah’s collaboration with Peaches (international star electronic muso and performance artist).
“Ah the the laser butt plug” says Stah, much in the way Frank Sinatra must have spoken when asked about My Way, “ is not necessarily about sex at all. It is in my ass … but it is about the light within …”
She was thrilled when Peaches wanted to collaborate “She’s a huge star!”
“The track for the performance – entitled “Light in Places” – came from an automatic writing session I did with Ron Athie near Ipswich” she says. Eat your heart out Cirque du Soleil. The main show was Empress Stah in Space and Woodbridge, near Ipswich, is the location of the biggest reported UFO sighting in Europe. So Stah visited an old US airforce base called Bentwaters where, according to eyewitness accounts the crafts. There were tales of big grey aliens in the underground bunkers but all was hushed up, the bunkers were filled with concrete and the Americans left … “I am on the fence about that stuff … “ says Stah “but … why not ? When Ron and I were there we were just … automatic writing … and all this stuff came out … all these words … UFO trail … woman who had been abducted … all a bit insane, but next morning I came down and said “stargasm iconoclasm, they are the words to give to Peaches” and the song – and the performance – is about transformation and the light within coming out of the body”. I opine that, were I to have a light within I would rather assume it would shine from my eyes … as opposed to my ass. “No”, says Stah, “it is all about the light coming from your darkest place. Or maybe just about having the sun shining out of your ass …”
But like Sean Connery trying to put his Mr Universe shorts behind him to become James Bond, that butt plug just won’t stop following Stah around. Puns intended. And it has not just followed her to the South Bank for a season, it has dragged her there.
“The Underbelly banking on the laser buttplug” says Stah. “It is why they booked the show. They said as much” She shrugs. What is that thing that makes people go “wow”? And it is that. And that is why I got the commission from them”. But there is much much more to the show …
Raunch – for such is the title of her latest extravaganza – is headed to The Wonderground in the main house slot of 7.30pm. “Raunch is like a Camparet rather than a Cabaret.” offers Graham the husband. So how much of Stah’s trademark sexual shock and awe are they planning on including, I wonder, given that the dealbreaker was the buttplug.
“As much as our contract will allow us” says Graham as Stah’s already lofty eyebrows dance warningly up and down her forehead. “We are just on the right side of wrong for the 7.30 slot” he corrects himself.
It is a Western, I hear. A comedy Western. A comedy Western with political overtones.
“Raunch is about starting conversations.” says Stah. “It is a show designed to entertain … but we have woven a story through it which hangs on neo-liberal ideology.”
It is described on the Wonderground website as “whip-cracking, high-flying, all-twerking”.
And all of that will be there – with badass twins My Bad Sister as the bar room hookers, a sword swallowing Madame of the Saloon, among characters like ‘The Cockfighter, The Condemned and The Unwanted. Plus, of course, Stah herself as the Bad Sheriff. “It is fun” she says – and she is laughing, so it must be “And it is sexy. We hang someone in it … we strip her naked … and we throw rocks at her …” Stah is mainly, she tells me, looking forward to “conversations to be had afterwards …” So if I might warn any of the Sisterhood of the Feminatzi who might object to sensationalising hookers or hanging naked women … to say nothing of laser buttplugs for the delectation of the masses …think twice, little Mz, before tackling The Empress on her political correctness. She will take you down.
Finally, for those of you with a technical bent where sex toys are concerned, the butt plug is not widely available. “It is in its third generation and they are getting smaller and more discreet. I told the Underbelly, right at the start … “You’ve got to give me a couple of grand in the budget to get another one made … smaller … I mean it is seven shows a week”” So what you will be enjoying as Raunch reaches a climax is a unique creation comprising three lasers in a bespoke 3D printed butt plug shape.
And does it at all irk The Empress that, with all her talents, and ideas, for all the extent to which she has broadened her audience and her appeal, for all she is in the running to get a grant from Space UK to create a whole new performing universe, for all she is working towards a masterpiece that is a show shot in the Space Station and beamed to earth in real time, they all still want to see the old butt plug?
“I’m quite happy to perform it” she says “It has not really been exploited fully and it will be to my financial advantage.” She swigs the last of the Antipodean Red in her glass “I’m doing it for the money”.
Tickets for Empress Stah at Wonderland on the South Bank available here