Welcome back to Part 2 of my exclusive interview with Burlesque star and Mompreneur Marlene von Steenvag. Marlene is the CEO of The Berlin Burlesque Academy, co-founder of The Berlin Burlesque Festival and celebrated as Germany’s Queen of Burlesque.
What sparked your interest in the Art of Burlesque?
I always wanted to act, but I came from an academic background, so it felt like I should not do that. At the end of my studies in Literature and Linguistics, I was offered to do a PhD and I thought that if I did this, then for the rest of my life I would just be carried around by my head separate from my body. So I thought about what I really wanted to do. I was too old for German Acting School, so the best option was to go to the UK and I found a school I liked and successfully auditioned.
To help finance my studies, I worked part-time in a restaurant. One day, the owner, who knew I was studying Acting, asked if I could create a programme for a Friday night performance. With just 5 days to create an act, I decided to sing text by the author Bertolt Brecht. And to make my performance more interesting, I started to change my costume and thereby created the character Marlene Von Steenvag! The experience made me realise that I actually liked this type of performance more than simply acting. It triggered my love of creating shows and opened my eyes to other forms of performance. I knew if I really wanted to develop my art, I needed to go to Berlin, so that’s what brought me back to Germany.
What motivated you to start your own business?
When I moved to Berlin, there was hardly any Burlesque, so I designed shows and started creating Burlesque events. Then, people came and asked where they could learn Burlesque skills. There was so much interest that I actually founded the Burlesque Academy when I was pregnant! I stopped performing at around three months pregnant and then I started offering classes and established an agency for other performers to offer classes. I enjoy teaching – it’s a real pleasure to share the knowledge, I’ve worked so hard to gain.
I love Burlesque as it makes me so free and happy in my body – when as a child, I was so self-conscious. This liberation is something I want other people to experience.
To give both Berlin and International Burlesque Artists a higher profile and broader audience, I founded The Berlin Burlesque Festival in 2013, which I manage with my business partner Elsa Edelstahl. The festival gives the opportunity to artists to perform in two beautiful locations, to meet other performers from around the world and showcase their skills to a different group of Burlesque lovers.
What’s your biggest entrepreneurial challenge?
Dealing with unprofessional people on a professional level. It’s a small and highly competitive industry dominated by highly creative people which can cause its own issues.
As such, we have even created a course to help people learn about the business of Burlesque should they wish to create a career in the industry. The course includes finding ones USP, the art of story-telling and even writing invoices, doing taxes plus professional behaviour.
What inspires you to get out of bed every day!
The desire to create art and performance that makes the world a more beautiful place. Whether I make breakfast for my child or whether I have a nice time with my husband or I teach or I plan a show, that’s really what I do.
What do you do as a special treat for yourself?
I take time for myself. There is real joy and calm in having nothing to do, not needing to talk or think, just being with myself.
What does the word ‘style’ mean to you?
Style is unique to each individual, It’s nothing to do with fashion or any kind of rules. It’s just what one person decides to implement to represent oneself. My own style is definitely very feminine. Simple dresses in quality fabrics matched with beautiful jewellery, I do love eye-catching accessories.
Who is your idol?
Actually, I don’t have one. I don’t believe in idols, but I do have people I admire. I think one should try to create the best version of oneself, not the second best of someone else.
What’s your life motto?
Fill your day with passion.
How do you balance entrepreneurship and being a mother?
My husband respects my work equally to his own, which is I think the key. Since I’m often working at the weekends, he is equally involved with the family. I also have a close network of people who can help, such as friends or babysitters as I don’t have family close by. When it’s busy, I sometimes simply work at night. To help with such a multi-faceted company, I also have co-workers in each area of what I do or indeed a business partner in terms of the festival. When I work with people, I always try to make sure they share the underlying feeling and that they are happy with what they do. I try to give them as much freedom as possible to decide because that makes them feel strong and confident and leads to the best outcome.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs and women in business?
Surround yourself with the right people. If you have good people around you, you can manage everything, you can go through every crisis and you can celebrate success together.
Huge thanks to Marlene for sharing her thoughts and giving her time. It was a true pleasure to spend time with her.
Berlin Burlesque Academy
Griefenhagener Str. 64
10437 Berlin (Prenzlauer Berg)
Marlene von Steenvag will be performing during the closing party of The Berlin Burlesque Festival which takes place from October 17th – 2oth in Berlin’s Heimathafen and The Wintergarden. Grab your tickets NOW!