It’s Burlesque..


For a while now I’ve been mulling over whether or not writing about this part of my life is a good idea. I’ve been thinking even harder about whether or not it’s a good idea to write about it here. In my experience, people can be a little judgemental about Burlesque and people who perform in this area. Then I thought ‘screw it’. This was a huge part of my life, one I wanted to make a career out of actually, and something that I feel relates directly to the world of storytelling. So here we go…

When I was 18 and very into Marilyn Manson, he was involved with Dita Von Teese and, interested in seemingly all areas of his life, I googled her and thus fell into the world of Burlesque. It looked glamorous, it looked sparkly…. but what was it? Was it just fancy stripping? Was there only type, one road one could travel along to be involved in this world? What was it? And so began my obsession with a long forgotten but once scandalously popular form of entertainment. The first thing I knew of Burlesque was the strip-tease element of it, and the first thing that appealed to me was that this was a form of art in which any woman could express herself. The message was ‘all women are beautiful’, regardless of age, weight, ethnicity, physical handicaps, etc. No one is excluded, no one is made to feel that they don’t belong, that they’re not pretty enough, slim enough, tanned enough.

I started reading everything on it, from books by burlesque performers about the craft, to any old magazine and news clippings I could track down on the internet regarding the history and creation of the form – and what a rich and interesting history it has, present in both world wars and popular during the Victorian era. I wanted to know, is burlesque just about stripping though? The answer is of course, no.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Burlesque as “an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody.” Well I loved parody, and I set out to create some acts of my own. Here are just a few examples…

Burlesque 4

“Alice on Drugs” was my first real character, and proved popular in terms of bookings around Cardiff and as far as Bristol. I’ve always loved Alice in Wonderland but as I grew older the suggestion of drugs became apparent (chasing a white rabbit, eating mushrooms that seem to warp her perception of size, eating and drinking things simply because they’re labelled for her to, and waking up and finding it was all a big, warped, dream). The story within this routine was one of Alice stumbling across some labelled, seemingly innocent treats whilst in pursuit of the white rabbit and the dire consequences of consumption…

Burlesque 3

“We Quit!” was a debut performance from my double-act ‘Bit’s ‘n’ Bobs’. This was performed for Christmas using the Kevin Wilson song ‘Ho Ho F***ing Ho’. We asked the sound technician who edited our music to cut a sleigh bell sound over the most offensive swear words in the song, to add a nice seasonal sprinkling of farce to the whole thing. The theme of this routine was that we were extremely angry elves, working in freezing conditions for no pay and ridiculous working hours. We wave Santa off on Christmas Eve, proceed to destroy his workshop then ‘strip’ out of our elf uniforms in an act of defiant resignation from our jobs. We were afraid we’d gone too far, but the audience were in uproar laughing throughout… phew.

Burlesque 2

“Zombie Prostitute” was by far our most popular show as a double-act, and we were consistently performing this at a variety of venues at the request of the person booking us. Named after, and inspired by the Voltaire song ‘Zombie Prostitute’, the story was vaudevillian in essence, with elements of cabaret and was a highly farcical take on the world of prostitution and the notion of the ‘gentleman’. I took the role of the ‘gentleman’, as seen in the above picture by my glorious moustache. The routine was the story of the gentleman being snubbed by a prostitute, who effectively turned out to be a zombie, and with each grab the man made for her, a piece of her became detached as though it was rotting off. It was a little grotesque, but hey, it was originally for Halloween.

There are numerous wonderful Burlesque performers who create beautiful feather-fan dances and other classic routines, but what I focused on and took joy in was the creation of the story of my character for any given routine. Even in the construction of a strip-tease I would take months over it, rehearsing over and over until each element of the story was coming across. It had to have a clear narrative, my character had to have a goal, it had to be a parody of something and above all it had to be funny.

I loved being a part of this world, of getting to create my own stories and performing them to a huge variety of people and am so sad to longer be a participant of it, but I can share my experience and perhaps shed a bit of light on an art form that is constantly unfairly scrutinised for its tongue-in-cheek sexual characterisation by the media. Instead, I now watch as much as I can, including ‘amputee’ burlesque and male burlesque like the Dream Bears. It’s a wonderful, but sadly misunderstood world of rich characters and even richer performances, with each event taking the viewer through a variety of mini-stories. Viva la Dita!

Burlesque 1

 

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