Tassels & Tales is an historical web series that both educates and entertains as it tackles such burlesque-centric subjects as the origins of pasties, the history of dance hall girls & burlesque of the Wild West.
This charming little broadcast is written/researched/produced/hosted and even sung by the infectiously personable redheaded burlesque duo, The Titillation Twins, AKA Ula Vamps & Elke Hautala. Ula is a cabaret singer/dancer/comedian currently living in Boise, Idaho. Her sister, Elke, is an historian and documentary filmmaker who hails from Seattle, Washington.
We spoke with the twins about Tassels & Tales, sisterhood, and, you guessed it, burlesque…
BG: I’m delighted to be here chatting with the lovely Titillation Twins, to discuss their absolutely adorable Tassels & Tales, featured on The Velvet Revue website. But first, I must clear something up. Many burlesque acts throw around the terms “twins” and “sisters” rather loosely. But you two are, in actuality, twin sisters.
ELKE: Yes, we are identical twins from birth. So we’ve been performing together since the very beginning. Essentially, since we did an ill-fated production of Cats on our front porch.
BG: What’s the best way to tell you two apart?
ULA: Actually, I have a longer, Cher face going on. And my sister has a little bit of a rounder face. Our voices sound pretty much the same, so even our significant others can’t tell the difference if they hear us.
BG: That must make for some zany farcical scenarios.
ELKE: We’ll just let everyone imaginations run wild.
ULA: Yeah, we’re not gonna kiss and tell.
BG: So, how did you come up with the concept of Tassels & Tales and why is it important to you?
ELKE: It combines the things that we both love. Burlesque and history. We like to say we’re bringing out the saucy side of the past. We have a long history as performers and we love being able to do campy, funny things with a little bit of education on the side.
BG: Tricking the unsuspecting audience into learning.
ELKE: Yeah, don’t worry you won’t feel a thing. History is actually a huge passion of mine. Our dad is a historian, so we grew up going to every historical site on the
East Coast. We learned a lot and really enjoy it. So we’re combining that side with the fun, campy, artsy side that we both love.
BG: What was it like launching Tassels & Tales during the pandemic?
ULA: It was a really stressful time for all of us. And I really just wanted to do a project with my sister. I had just moved to Boise and she was still in Seattle, so it was actually really great to launch during the pandemic. We had the technology and it gave us something to focus on. It was a great time to create online content, because there were more people watching. And if we could make a few people laugh, especially during such negative times, we’ve done our job right.
ELKE: We’ve always loved making people laugh. It’s a big part of what we love to do. And I’m especially passionate about the education side.
ULA: Yeah, the educational side is more Elke. She kind of talked me into it. I was like, “Let’s do singing! Let’s do dancing!” But she is the older twin. She’s six minutes older, and she’s our unofficial leader. I’m totally happy with it because she’s great at organizing and all that, so we complement each other.
ELKE: We’re the two great tastes that go great together. Peanut butter and jelly.
ULA: Who’s the jelly?
ELKE: I think your jelly. I’m like the hearty peanut butter proteins, and you’re like the jelly. Sweet and a little tart.
BG: Ula, I think she just told you that you jiggle.
ULA: I’m fine with it. Did I mention I have a song that’s called Wiggle Jiggle?
BG: What drew you to burlesque?
ELKE: Ula got me to do a burlesque show many years ago. When was that? 2006? We don’t want to date ourselves. When we were babies. Practically babies. Barely of age. Just kidding but it was in our younger days. But Ula got me into doing the Titillation Twins act and we were really excited to be able to perform all over Seattle. In fact, I love to say we performed at a whole bunch of awesome, gnarly, dive bars that no longer exist. The Comet Tavern, Fun House…and probably one of the coolest venues we performed at was the Columbia City Theater with Tamara the Trapeze Lady. She is amazing. The Columbia City Theater is so cool because it’s an old restored theater where, not only did they used to have vaudeville acts, but Jimi Hendrix performed there. So we had some good historical company.
BG: Please tell me that venue still exists.
ELKE: It does, but Seattle is struggling, as everywhere, to get back to live performance. So support live performance! But support virtual as well.
BG: That said, your show Tassels & Tales is available on The Velvet Revue. Could you tell us more about that platform?
ULA: Yes, velvetrevue.com is an amazing website that was created to help support performers during the pandemic. Started by a collective of fire performers and burlesque performers in the Virgin Islands, this performance-based site is dedicated to all different styles. It includes cabaret, burlesque, pole dancing, drag, aerialists, flow arts…and they started branching out into series’ like Tassels & Tales. They have another show called Poetry and Pasties.
BG: We do love alliteration.
ULA: It is subscription based, so all the videos are on demand. But they also do live stream events. Every Monday night, they have a live stream variety show. And they’ve done some crazy events like Burlesque Battleship where every time a battleship gets sunk, an item of clothing comes off.
BG: Perhaps they should introduce Burlesque Risk. The 10-hour strip. Can you tell me something surprising about you?
ELKE: I got to talk dirty to Anthony Bourdain. Okay, it’s not quite as exciting as it sounds, but it is technically true. I used to give tours for Underground Seattle which are funny, historical tours where you literally go underground and talk about the city. Well, I did the naughty ones where we tell all these dirty jokes while giving the tour. And I actually I got picked to give that tour to Anthony Bourdain for his show, The Layover. And I got to check off one of my life goals: Talk Dirty to Anthony Bourdain.
ULA: Mine’s not quite as exciting but something surprising about me is that the only type of dancing I was ever really good at was the pop-and-lock style of dancing and breakdancing. Also I am super into Gospel music and I really hope to record a Gospel album someday.
BG: Besides Tassels & Tales, what else are you up to creatively?
ULA: I have some pretty cool shows planned. I have a part fashion show/part performance that’s coming up in August, which is going to be really cool, so if anyone’s traveling, come on down to Boise!
ELKE: I’m a filmmaker by trade. I actually do documentary films. I’m working on a project that will be playing at some film festivals coming up soon. It’s a historical based project as well called The Train I Missed.
BG: What is it about?
ELKE: Actually it’s a super serious topic. It’s really different from this type of comedy based musical stuff that I do with Ula. It’s about a Holocaust survivor who goes back and journeys through his experiences as a young child, where he was saved by an unknown resistance member. It has an unusually uplifting ending and really focuses on how the community came together, even though it is a tough subject. It’s very important that people learn about this type of history. So that we have a roadmap for the future with which we can overcome the challenges of the past. You can find out where our next screening will be at: www.heartstonestudios.com.
BG: Who are the some of the performers that inspire you?
ULA & ELKE: Dolly Parton.
ELKE: The woman that America can all agree on.
ULA: One of the people that really inspires me is Meow Meow, a cabaret performer from Australia. She’s super amazing because she does tons of audience participation in her shows, which is something I really am trying to incorporate into my acts. As far burlesque performers, I’m really inspired by Ruby Joule. Jolie Goodnight is also an amazing singer who really legitimized the singing-strip. Lillian DuJour because she does the whole “age is not a number” thing. I’m really into that.
BG: Love her.
ULA: And I’m being mentored by Saphira as well. She’s also a singer and she was one of the people who spearheaded World Burlesque Day.
BG: Saphira is a friend of Burlesque Galaxy. We adore her.
ULA: She is amazing.
BG: So what would your ultimate dream performance be like?
ULA: Of course that includes Elke. My dream performance would be a big multimedia show that combines what we both love to do. So Elke, as a filmmaker, will bring video and visuals. Maybe a whole movie set in the background. Have a movie playing along with, of course, amazing sparkly costumes, musical numbers that combine silly songs with pop culture…
ELKE: I totally concur. I went back to school to become a filmmaker and it’s something I’m super passionate about. It’s amazing what people are getting into these days with technology. I just heard they’re doing a production of Chekov that is interactive in a way that hasn’t been done before. I think immersive theatre is very exciting. I say multimedia, I say immersive. It’s the future, it’s exciting, let’s do it.
BG: Hooray. What a lovely note to end on. You want to just give one final plug for your adorable educational show?
ULA: Sure, so you guys need to go to velvetrevue.com and check out (singing) Tassels & Tales for showgirl history!
BG: Brilliantly done.
Tassels & Tales can be seen online at The Velvet Revue, the “independent, performer built, streaming and video-on-demand platform” where viewers can enjoy anything from drag to aerialists to comedy to, you guessed it, burlesque.