ED2023 Caro Meets ED2023 Interviews ED2023 Theatre

Elina Alminas: Pleasure Little Treasure

By | Published on Monday 19 June 2023

When I started to think about which shows to feature in this year’s ThreeWeeks coverage – and began working my way through the listings and press releases – ‘Pleasure Little Treasure’ jumped right out at me.

Initially because of its name (and some eighties music flashbacks), but then because of its really interesting narrative and themes. 

It’s an autobiographical work by Elina Elminas, about her life growing up in the first post-Soviet strip club in Estonia, and exploring the themes of patriarchy, money, power and sex. 

I spoke to Elina to find out more. 

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about what happens in ‘Pleasure Little Treasure’? What story does it tell?
EE: ‘Pleasure Little Treasure’ is my second solo show. It is an autobiographical work which is very personal to me. It took me a while to feel ready to tell the story of not only growing up without a father, but also growing up in the first post-Soviet strip club in Estonia, run by my grandmother during the criminal-Russian-mafia ruled 1990s.

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
EE: Patriarchy, toxic masculinity, growing up under the male gaze, oppression, money, power and sex are the main themes of the show – which are explored through my personal experiences – as well as broader global issues from the Soviet Union collapse to our days.

Throughout the show I explore how male egos are determined to influence and destroy the order of the world, and others, and how the majority of power structures follow the same playbooks.

CM: How would you describe it in terms of style or genre? What type of performance is this? 
EE: It’s a cross-genre performance, bordering on theatre and comedy, with drag and clowning thrown into the mix.

It’s also a multimedia show, with different mediums used for the sound, light and other effects, such as old VHS footage.

CM: Would you call it a political work – given what it has to say about patriarchy and the male gaze? 
EE: Definitely. It was important for me to create an autobiographical show that didn’t just tell my own story, but resonated with people’s lives and in which they could see the patterns of history repeating itself.

The political and historical aspects of the show mirror what is happening today, and my macho drag king character Elon Must is basically the face of a stereotypical, toxic, misogynist, full-of-himself man that, unfortunately, the majority of us have met at some point in our life.

CM: What made you want to create a show about this topic?
EE: I’ve always been told it’s kind of a fascinating topic, as very few people have grown up in the environment of a post-Soviet strip club – there were no such clubs in the USSR, all such establishments before 1991 were illegal. 

And I felt it was the right time to tell this story, because of the horrible Russian invasion of Ukraine last year and the full blown war that has been going on since. I realised something had to be said about the wrongdoings of these power lusty men.

It’s basically a show about the mentality of these Russian men – mafia, politicians and oligarchs – whose foundation and rise started in the tumultuous 1990s.

It was a very important time in the development of these institutions, mentalities and corrupt enterprises, which were created from the complete chaos of the era, whilst common people were fighting for independence and freedom of speech and looked forward towards the bright new future.

I wanted to create a show that had hope for the future, and was funny and engaging in its own way, but also depicted the state we all live in now.

CM: How does it feel to put your own experiences on stage like this? 
EE: Terrifying. I’ve never done anything like this before and always preferred to hide behind the fictional story and characters.

It took a while for me to write this, I think the idea has been brewing for about four years, but I just had no clue how to put it out there so that it didn’t feel too personal.

That’s why I decided to throw a few other characters in and be myself just as the narrator. It helped me to detach from my own childhood a bit, which – when I started to analyse – I realised was pretty traumatic.

So it was almost therapeutic to get it out there and look at these experiences from a different perspective.

CM: What made you decide to bring the show to Edinburgh?
EE: The last time I went to Edinburgh was five years ago and ever since I’ve been dreaming of coming back. It’s the most magical place on earth with so much inspiration, talent and creativity.

And I can’t wait to go back to experience it all again. Also, I think it’s just the perfect platform for this kind of show and I hope people will come see it there.

CM: What do you like about being at the Festival? 
EE: It’s the people you meet. Other artists work you get to see. It’s electric and charges your creative powers for the year ahead.

I couldn’t go on another year without it. I guess Edinburgh is addictive. Once you experience it, even with all its drastic ups and downs, you want to come back. It’s not easy though, but it’s worth it.

CM: What advice would you give to performers heading to the Fringe for the first time? 
EE: Look after yourself and try not to burn out. It’s a very tough place where you have to make sure you take care of your mental and physical health all the time.

A whole month of performing, networking, constantly engaging, dealing with good and bad reviews, empty or full houses, ticket sales, flyering, being away from home. It’s intense. It takes a lot of courage and commitment. But set goals and keep reminding yourself why you’re there.

It’s the most wonderful theatre experience in the world and be proud of what you’ve created and achieved. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. And enjoy yourself! You’re making lifetime memories. 

CM: What will you get up to when you are not performing? Do you plan to take in other shows? 
EE: I’m in a quite interesting position right now as I’m actually six months pregnant. And I will be eight months pregnant performing in Edinburgh this year.

So I’ll be taking extra care of myself when not performing. But of course I will go and see as many shows as I can! That’s one of the reasons why I’m there. But no boozy late nights for me. Sadly.

And after my run – which is only eleven nights this time – I will be prepping myself for childbirth. It’s my first pregnancy so I guess it will be a life changing experience.

No idea what to expect yet, but it’s all pretty exciting. So that’s kind of my next big project for the time being. But I hope to have a proper London run of this show around November/December time. 

CM: Can we talk a bit about your career history, now? What made you decide to pursue a career in the arts? 
EE: I have always been mesmerised by performing arts and the power and the vulnerability of it. How it impacts people and the world. Live theatre is such an intimate experience and I just love it for that.

That’s the reason why I decided to pursue a career in it and started creating my own work. I’m also a full time actor and I’ve done film and TV gigs, but creating theatre has always been my favourite of all. It gives you a complete freedom of creative expression.

CM: What have the highlights of your career been thus far?
EE: From my film credits, my highlight is getting to work with Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele and David Dobkin on their film ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga’.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity they gave me to be part of this fantastic project and to have played one of the Eurovision hosts Sasha More. I just love that film so much. I think it was the best feel-good film of lockdown and elevated so many of our moods when we needed it the most.

I guess another highlight would be my previous solo show ‘LAURA’, which made me realise I could do my own work. It was very scary to do it alone at first and I had no idea what I was doing.

But because I’ve done it before – even though it’s been almost five years – that made me feel that I can probably pull it off again at some point. Hence ‘Pleasure Little Treasure’!

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
EE: I hope to play my show for a wider audience and have a longer run and perhaps tour somewhere. I’d also love to connect and work with other artists. And I’ve also been dreaming of expanding into screenwriting, so I hope that’s going to be my next stage.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? 
EE: At the moment my life is in a place where I can’t really see beyond my due date, as it’s going to be a big lifestyle change. But I really hope to be back to work as soon as possible and get those baby steps towards my next project in motion!

Elina Elminas performed ‘Pleasure Little Treasure’ at Underbelly Cowgate at Edinburgh Festival 2023.

LINKS: twitter.com/elinaalminas 

Photo: Hana Knizova