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Character Portrait: Sylvia Sippl by Arnika Traill

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

A gorgeous friend of mine Arnika Traill is working towards a qualification in creative writing, and I was so happy to sit down with her and chat (for longer than we'd planned) to help her create a Character Portrait for an assignment. Once I read it, I knew I had to share it - the text below feels to me a lot like a painted portrait, but with so much more depth and honesty than I could possibly imagine, and it's humbling to have an artwork of this kind created about me. Enjoy:

"Lucinda Panties is not PC"

I’ve known Sylvia Sippl for years. Today, I’m interviewing her by appointment about her cabaret-host alter ego Lucinda Panties. Lucinda Panties is the comic matriarch of Lady Velvet Cabaret. A “side-gig” that now has its own side-gigs: including Fringe Festival shows. I knock nervously on the door of Sylvia’s modest townhouse, hoping Lucinda will answer. Though Lucinda dominates Sylvia’s social media, I’m yet to meet her in person.

Sylvia opens the door in a rush of warmth and envelops me. It’s good to see me. It’s been too long. Is my daughter really three now? How quick they grow! She ushers me through to the kitchen. Her flat is small and packed to the ceiling with bookshelves. She clears the music equipment from the kitchen table, and we sit down, nursing our cups of tea. Sylvia apologises for the mess – “You’d think a singer wouldn’t have that much equipment – but no. This is all Chris’ band gear”. Her long-term boyfriend plays in a local metal band. This explains the eclectic mix of décor-come-clutter spilling from the bookshelves. Sylvia gestures to the room behind her: “When two worlds combine!” Heavy metal meets the performing arts. I notice the skull propping open the door has been given a top hat.

We launch into the interview, and as Sylvia speaks I search her countenance for hints of Lucinda. Her eyes flash brightly, framed by ornate vintage spectacles. Her only makeup is sharp, quizzical eyebrows that perfectly match the arch of her glasses. They are arresting. I find myself locked in her gaze. I ask where Sylvia stops and Lucinda starts. “Mmmm” she ruminates in a deep, husky voice. “Lucinda is me with the volume turned up. She says whatever she wants and she does whatever she wants … when you’re wearing a wig and ten pounds of makeup, people let you do what you like.”

Sylvia skips over the topic of “plus size” woman in burlesque. It strikes me that the term has no place in describing the woman before me. Her clothing size seems irrelevant. Though I’m not sure if either Sylvia or Lucinda could be contained within a slighter frame. Her generous curves seem necessary. Her shoulders slope gracefully to frame elegant, expressive hands. Her right hand performs as she speaks about her passions. There is a cheeky snort in an eruption of laughter. Sylvia tells me about Lucinda’s upcoming show and I mentally pencil it into my calendar. As we say goodbye at the door the shoe-rack catches my eye. Pink sneakers jostle for space with a single leopard print heel – “yeah that’s pretty much my life” says Sylvia, shrugging. I can’t wait to see Lucinda Panties in heels.

Arnika Traill

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