Sheila Wolf, the post-gender Überfrau of Berlin Cabaret, needs little introduction. A walking piece of art, she blurs the line between male and female, fantasy and reality, queer icon and happily-married-heterosexual-dad-of-a-tween-daughter. It’s hard not to stare at her breasts, especially since they are often entirely visible in the sheer mesh dresses she favors, capped with jeweled nipple pasties. Most women would die to look as perfectly coiffed and glamourous as she does. Every single night.
But Sheila is not just a stunning glamazon and underground luminary, making small talk and sipping Asbach in the corner of a red carpet event. She’s also an internationally renowned burlesque artiste, an incomparable compère, and the illustrious impresario of the most highly anticipated haute varieté in Berlin. This Sunday, the red velvet curtains will part at the Wintergarten for the fifth Vaudeville Variety Revue and Sheila promises it will be more queer and over-the-top than ever before.
I think everyone will agree that you’re a true Berlin original. How did Sheila Wolf get her start? Did you always play with makeup and clothing as a child? Or was there something that directly inspired you to begin dressing in women’s clothing?
Hahahah… yes I am truly an original natural-born Berliner… and I started my “hobby” 13 years ago. As a child, I never played with makeup, but as a teen I had this extrovert rockabilly style. That is one reason why I feel comfortable in my vintage/rockabella style. Years ago, I found an online diary about a trans person and I was really interested to do that too. Also, I designed brochures for a travesty group and loved the transformation. I am always inspired by colorful culture in my hometown!
Sheila has a special look. She’s sophisticated and has a vintage glamour. Is there someone who inspires her look? A film star?
I have a lot of inspirations. I am always looking around and love the good old times. But I also love the new trend of drag queens like RuPaul. They bring an amazing vintage look on stage again. Of course, I adore Dita von Teese. But I also love Bettie Page, Marilyn Monroe, and the burlesque legend Tempest Storm. My transformation is more a tribute to women in general.
Drag is so meta. It seems to me more the art of femininity than an actual impersonation of a female. As RuPaul said, “I do not impersonate females! How many women do you know who wear seven inch heels, four foot wigs, and skin tight dresses?” What do you think of femininity and drag?
I see myself as a female impersonator. In the ’50s and ’60s, female impersonators were big stars and played in big theaters. I adore the variety of fabrics a woman can wear and that’s the reason why I am leaving the gay club culture very fast and heading over to burlesque. You can meet adorable performers, male or female, in amazing costumes with a head full of creativity. I love that. If you asked me 12 years ago why I was doing drag, the answer was, “Because I want to take some holidays from my male job.“ But today, my answer is, “Because with this job, I have the chance to meet amazing artists all over the world every day!“ That’s amazing and I love it.
One of the things that is so interesting about you is that you’re very open about being a heterosexual man with a wife and daughter. You just also happen to be a drag queen. Do you think traditional gender roles in society are passé? Is there any importance in differentiating between men and women?
In my family, gender roles don’t play an important role. We have a lot of wonderful gay and lesbian friends and of course we mix them with straight family friends. I hate the traditional gender roles because they are from the past. I can’t understand why some people are so aggressive against homosexuality. The most important thing is the person as a human being with all shadings. It’s so easy to be respectful, but in this time, people all over the world seem to forget that.
Do you make your own dresses or do you have a few favorite shops?
I do a lot of costumes by myself. Most ideas are inspired by things I’ve seen all over the net. I am putting rhinestones all over my catsuits or airbrushing myself into a gremlin character or a neytiri from the movie Avatar. Of course, I have favorite designers and shops. In Berlin I love the burlesque made-to-measure shop redcat7. Sammy there is one of the people who sews my dresses. And also the unbelievable designer HEDOLUXE is one of my favorites.
Vaudeville Variety Revue is one of the top burlesque events in Berlin each year. How did it get its start?
Oh, I saw a lot of burlesque in the last 12 years. I travelled around and saw all the festivals in Europe. I mean, not all, but I think the most important ones. I am a big fan of variety. I like burlesque but after seeing four wonderful-looking women dance and strip to the same music, it bored me a litte. I thought it should be more queer, more cabaret, more artistic and more BERLIN in one show. And so I realized this in 2014 for the first time. It was a success and grows since that first time. Today, I am happy to say that I think the Vaudeville Variety Revue is the most colorful show in Berlin. I mean, the Berlin Burlesque Festival is also a wonderful inspiration. But I try to get all the worldwide headliners in my show mixed with comedy and music.
What can we expect for the upcoming Vaudeville Variety Revue?
The theme for the next show is glamour and femininity, without losing the queer humor. With Dave the Bear and Immodesty Blaize, I have the luck to present two amazing award-winning artists. They are world stars in burlesque and amazing entertainers and I am so excited for Sunday. I will also present Sonny Vargas, the producer of the Prague Burlesque Festival and Marlene von Steenvag, the producer of the Berlin Burlesque Festival with her new act. Also this time, the show is hosted in German. I try to hear the critiques of my audience and integrate it into my concepts. Next time, I think I will have an English show again but you will never know. The lineup is growing day by day… if I could, I would entertain people six hours but that’s not possible… ahahaha…
What’s next for you after the show?
Planning the next show for October 15! I’ve had a lot of wonderful offers for the next lineup. I am also invited to the Bordeaux Burlesque Festival, as well as I will host the Swiss Burlesque Festival and the next Stuttgart Burlesque Festival. Bring it on 2017!
Vaudeville Variety Review is at the Wintergarten Theater on Sunday, March 19th. Buy tickets and find out more on the website or the facebook event page. More about Sheila Wolf is on her tumblr or her website, Queerlesque.