Interview: The Lalas Burlesque Show
The renowned Los Angeles-based revue stops by Saturday night for a nearly sold-out show at Hollywood Casino Columbus
When Erin Lamont, creator and choregrapher for the Los Angeles-based burlesque revue The Lalas, and I sat down a few weeks ago to interview, I asked how her vision for the now internationally-renowned touring show originally surfaced.
“Well, it got started on accident, so saying I had a ‘vision’ for it makes it sound really fancy,” she explained with a laugh. “Honestly, my husband and I live in Manhattan Beach, California, and when we were dating we were living together. And, we’d go to happy hours on the weekends, and all that kind of thing. Right down the street from our apartment at the time was a martini bar. We went, and they had a burlesque happy hour. And, it was just…I looked at it and thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. I could do so much better than that! How cool would it be to hire a couple of girlfriends that are dancers in the industry, and I could walk down, make a little bit of money, and get some free drinks?’ [laughs] So, that’s kind of how it started.
That was on a Friday, and then on Monday, I called the owner after I found [their] phone number. I called them and I just lied and said, ‘Hey, I have this burlesque show, and you should totally check it out!’ We auditioned, and he loved it. And then we started performing there, you know, once or twice a month for six months.”
Lamont’s artistic résumé runs impressively deep, with her work being prominently showcased in commercials for Vidal Sassoon, Fiat, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Skechers, and in prime TV network vehicles like CSI:NY, Little Women: LA, Suburgatory, and the People’s Choice Awards.
Before The Lalas blossomed, it took root as an unassuming passion project for Lamont and the talented women she worked with in the industry.
“It wasn’t this sort of grandiose decision of, ‘Oh, my gosh, let’s get on stage!’” she reflects. “It was more of me wanting to create something of my own as a choreographer with dancers I wanted to work with, and ‘let’s have a good time and see what happens.’ And, it started out very small, and I had one little roller bag full of wardrobe from Target. It wasn’t a big deal, and it has obviously graduated since then, but it was like that for about two years – just kind of as my outlet. Working in L.A. and being a choreographer, you know – it’s a lot of hustle, hustle, hustle, ‘just get the job, just get the job.’ And then this was, ‘It’s Friday night and I’m with my four girlfriends, and it’s going to be a blast!’ It was more of an escape and more of a little baby of mine.”
An unexpected booking from beyond L.A. city limits would soon change everything.
“On a whim, somebody called me – a talent buyer from Albuquerque – and said, ‘Hey! Six dancers, ‘x’ amount of dollars, 800 people.’ And, I’m, like, ‘Holy shit! Yes!’ And, that’s when I started to really get serious about it. Now, it’s just taken on this whole persona, and we have a huge following, and there are so many rhinestones! [laughs]”
To say The Lalas keeps Lamont perpetually busy is an understatement, given her intensive involvement in every aspect of its production.
“I’m just constantly recreating the show, because no two shows are alike,” she reveals. “Just this week, I have, like, six things I need to sew that need to make it on stage for Friday and Saturday. I’m just always changing it, always finding new ways or new ideas to make people laugh.
But on my end, I’d say I work about 80-100 hours a week. It just depends. So much of that is the hustle, and the phone calls, and the, you know, the shopping and the creating – I make all the costumes. It’s trial and error – and a lot of error! [laughs] I’m not a seamstress, but I’m figuring it out! A lot of that is behind-the-scenes, so, if the show’s starting at 8:00 in Ohio, at 8:01, I’m having a glass of wine and enjoying the show. [laughs] I worked for that, you know?”
Lamont is also quick to give due credit to her cast of dancers, noting that they not only invest a tremendous amount of time and physical energy into the show, but that they have ownership in developing it collaboratively with her as a reflection of their personalities.
“The dancers are so chill, and this is their job,” Lamont says. “One of the two hosts that rotate – one of the lines that one of them says, ‘This is our job that we get to do for fun!’ Because, as a dancer, God bless these women, because they’re constantly auditioning, and they’re often the background for the artist, for the most part. When you’re on a TV show, you’re not the main feature where there’s 20 of you in the exact same costume. And, so, The Lalas, for each of these women that you’ll see on stage – I take their personality, and…yeah… I’ll break you down…[laughs] No, no! But they’ll go, ‘I like this color!’ Or, ‘I like this song!’ And, we create their solo together. And, I’ll be, like, ‘Wouldn’t it be silly if…’ And, then I fill in the blank, and I choreograph it accordingly, and we build from there. It’s really cool to see their personalities on stage, because it’s just so different.
It’s a sexy show – it’s burlesque and not Disney – so, it’s always trying to find the balance between flirty and fun and sexy. But, also hilarious. These women are the best dancers in L.A., and they work constantly. So, I’m in constant rotation with the cast because they’re so busy. So, anytime I can get them, I’m, like, ‘Yes! I’m so excited!’ [laughs] ‘Black out that date! You’re spoken for!’ [laughs] It’s that kind of thing. It’s definitely grown.”
While The Lalas have built a burgeoning reputation and construct their art form with a strong philosophy of womens’ empowerment, Lamont says she contends with outdated views of an all-women’s burlesque production from sources that seem improbable in 2019’s entertainment landscape.
“The biggest challenge or obstacle I face is usually the casino or the talent buyer that will bring in a male revue show, but won’t consider burlesque, because they’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s racy…we don’t know!’ You know? I just stalk people and hustle, and I make a lot of phone calls, and I feel like sometimes people just book me so they can shut me up – ‘Fine! Whatever! Just do the show!’ [laughs] Just to avoid, ‘Hey! It’s me again!’ I think it’s just the mentality of people I’ve had to overcome. Because once the show gets booked – if the show gets booked, because there are states [that] won’t hire us. They won’t book us.
Like I said, they’ll bring in the male revue shows, but they won’t hire us. And these are women, so, that’s kind of rare to have that kind of mentality as a woman in the marketing industry, in a casino, saying no. It’s usually the men. They say, ‘Oh! Well, we couldn’t put a burlesque dancer on a billboard! We’d get such…blah, blah, blah!’ And, then, I’ll say, ‘Well, gosh! The Thunder from Down Under have their twelve-packs and their little booty shorts on a billboard. Why can’t we do the same thing?!’
So, it’s that I’m constantly having to go over. But, like I’d said, we’re doing so well, and we’re almost sold out for a show in November for a place we’ve never been in Northern Washington, so, people are catching on. And, so, even if they have that resistance or that mentality that the show wouldn’t do well, the numbers don’t lie!”
But wherever The Lalas do go, they’re quickly gaining traction with their audiences – even if many are unsure of what to expect from the show at first.
“I had finally got the show into this casino in the Midwest,” Lamont recounts. “And the host at the beginning of show within the first 10 minutes while talking to the audience asked them, ‘Who here has ever seen burlesque?’ And there were about 650 people in the audience – and two people raised their hand. I’d never had so few! Usually, there’s, like, at least 10. [laughs] But, they ended up being the rowdiest, rowdiest crowd! And, the average age of that crowd was about 50 years old, and they were partying their asses off the whole show – just screaming and hollering. And, I had a lot of people come up to me after, and they’re buying the merch – the sweatpants, and the t-shirts, and the tank tops. This lady was buying pasties and that kind of thing, and she was just in love with the show. She said, ‘I’m an accountant, and this is, like, what I want to do!’ [laughs] And, I’m, like, ‘That makes me so happy!’
A lot of people message us on social media after and say, ‘Oh, I’m going through this really hard time, and this was my first girls’ night out with my girlfriends, and you all were amazing!’ And, they keep coming to our shows because all the shows are different. You know, it’s a lot of love, and it’s all good – and it’s usually from people who have never seen burlesque before. So, that just makes me happy that other people can laugh and smile and do something because of me. That’s why I keep doing it. It feels really good.”
If you’re considering buying one of the few remaining tickets to see The Lalas in Columbus this weekend, Lamont is emphatic in her guarantee that your Saturday night will be more than well spent.
“It’s fact, and I truly believe it, that we’re the best burlesque show – and we’re the only one that tours as much as we do,” Lamont explains. “These women are the best for a reason, and it’s not only because of their presence on stage and their work ethic, and all those kinds of things – it’s also that the show is fun and sexy, and these women are approachable. They’re funny, and silly, and sexy, and they can be whatever they want. It’s all about girl power.”