Interview: Selene Luna

Selene Luna Photographed by Peter Palladino
Above: Selene Luna. Photo by Peter Palladino.

“Selene Luna lives in a building once inhabited by Lucille Ball, and whatever magic Ball left in the walls seems to have rubbed off. Luna radiates old Hollywood glamour, and it's not just the kitten heels or the torpedo bra. She's got a quirky humor reminiscent of the red-haired comedian, made naughty by a touch of Bettie Page sensuality and the girlish charm of Betty Boop. It's that kind of presence that has made Luna one of the most recognizable faces in the city's burlesque-revival scene”.

Selene is pretty irresistible, I must say. I’ve known her for years, but I really got to know her while performing with her in Margaret Cho’s Sensuous Woman show, and she has as much charisma and charm backstage as she does onstage. Besides being one of my favorite performers and an intensely glamourous lady and an all-around lovely person, she makes me pee laughing.

Selene backstage at the Sensuous Woman. Photo by Me.
Above: Selene backstage at the Zipper Theatre, hamming it up for the cellphones.

How did you get interested in burlesque?
I feel a bit like a cheater because it kind of fell in my lap! It happened really fast and I wasn't even expecting to have any sort of career in it. I've dabbled in everything in the interest of surviving as an artist, in LA the whole time. I was born in Mexico but grew up in LA from the age of 3. I had been going to Velvet Hammer shows but I never thought I wanted to be up there. Out of the blue, Michelle called me about a show in San Diego and asked me if I wanted to do it. I like to scare myself so I did it. I would say that my first couple performances sucked! but I think I got the hang of it, mainly because I had amazing influences around me, with my friends who had already been doing it for five years. I had great mentors. And I got hooked.

What does burlesque mean to you?
Off the cuff, it means anything goes, let's have fun, and that's what got me hooked. We had such a blast, one of the greatest times in my life, so many adventures! Nobody took it seriously. We were just good friends who felt the same about makeup and costumes and just wanted to play.

Selene Luna Photographed by Chris Voelker
Above: Selene at play. Photo by Chris Voelker.

What was your first experience with live burlesque?
Right before the Velvet Hammer formed I saw the International Girls of the World at Kate Valentine’s cabaret in the early 90s in LA. I was a magicians assistant at the time. That was my first sighting of the neo-burlesque movement, as opposed to an old movie of burlesque. Shortly after that Michelle and members of IGW became The Velvet Hammer.

What is one of your favorite experiences so far?
I am very very fortunate to be able to say I've had many amazing experiences! One that stands out is when I got to share the stage with Tura Satana in a VH show. At that point I was like, I can quit now, what else is there? I was starstruck like a little kid. She held my hand, and we took a bow together and I was trying not to lose it. When I planned my tribute to her at Exotic World I was so freaked out and nervous about it that I couldn't even talk to her about it even though we had had a friendly relationship. After I did it she came backstage to congratulate and hug me and was really nurturing about it and I realized I could have gone to her for input!

Selene Luna Photographed by Mark Berry
Above: Selene in her Varla outfit. Photo by Mark Berry.

Do you travel to perform?
Yes and this ties in with memorable burlesque experiences. Because of burlesque I have been able to travel a lot, which is something I never considered would be a part of this little burlesque career. I've performed on international stages wicih has been a dream come true. I never imagined I would have that opportunity in my life. It's pretty amazing how it has caught on internationally—like, you actually want to see what WE do? Cool!

Who inspires you most, and why?
I've met so many people who inspire me. This is a little bit out there but an inspiration that really stands out in my mind is Vaginal Davis. Vag is absolutely one of the early performers in my life who really inspired me to be clever and entertaining and generous onstage, and really taught me about stage presence and letting go and being as wrong as I want to be, to have an artistic experience. Whenever Vag comes to the stage it’s unlike what anyone else can do, totally outside the box.

What is your favorite aspect of burlesque as it is now?
Tough question, but I can say one aspect I like is the awareness in people appreciating such an old art form and bringing it to life again. Really, it's been sweet watching people come together globally. The best part about it is the new generation of people being exposed to this old art form that was really edgy and racy in its day and, the women who did are finally getting their props, better late than never. They’re getting a second wave of celebrity.

What would you like to do or see next in burlesque?
I actually am semi-retired. If some incredible show comes up of course I'll go for it, but I've moved on in a way. Iv'e had the great fortune to see just about every show possible; I can't think of what hasn't been done. I'd love to see more consistent attention to production quality and lots of innovation. There’s a core group of gals who can do that "having a case of the fuck-its turn out to be entertaining."

Can you tell me a bit about your best-known act?
My most well-known act is one I really do like to share the story behind. It’s my baby number where I come out of a vintage baby pram. One of the reasons I have so much fun with burlesque is that the flip side of my life is that I pursue a conventional acting career and burlesque allowed me to really express myself and experiment and make little statement without shoving stuff down their throats in a way you never can with conventional acting. I was inspired by silent movies. I was doing a lot of research for my one-woman show focusing on the history of little people in show biz. During the silent movie era little people were employed in films a lot more than they are now because you could be more politically incorrect. In some films they’d have a little person dressed as a baby tportraying a burglar or jewel thief in a wacky Keystone Cop type of thing. The ongoing theme in these movies, which were cranked out like crazy, was that a little person would team up with an average size lady, they'd pretend he was her baby and he'd be smoking a cigar. Those bits cracked me up. So that burlesque numer was my play on that. I come out of the carriage with the cigar. I really wanted to tap into that aesthetic. It's my tribute to little people's contribution to films. It still can be fun for people who don't get the reference. It really tickles me when people are offended. I just thought it was cute and enchanting, but there's always someone in the audience that doesn't know how to react to me and I kind of get a rise out of it like I'm punking them. The first time I did that number an entire table of people walked out. Did they think I was tricked into doing it or something? isn't that more much insulting than anything about the number could be? As far as I'm concerned we're making lemonade! I feel lucky to be doing what I do. I've had more positive reactions than negative and that's what matters.

What's next?
I'm working on a new TV Series with Margaret Cho which will be on VH1 in July. It’s just Margaret and her eccentric friends having adventures! It includes three guys called the Glam Squad: Jon Stapleton, Charlie Altuna, and Jon Blaine. It's the five of us running around getting into hijinks and I've never had more fun in my life. Margaret could not be a more fun and easy person to work with. She's really taken me under her wing.
I am taking a break from my one-woman show. It’s hard producing independently, even with the great support system I have. Margaret is really encouraging me to do standup, which it something I used to do at the Melrose Improv in the early 90s. It was the wrong time for me—it was like the ultimate boys’ club, like a used car dealership, so gross and weird. Now Margaret has come into my life at just the right time and made things happen. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Selene's Website


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