BY ADAM KENT-ISAAC
Where? When? How did this happen? And what exactly is burlesque anyway?
For readers unfamiliar with this form of entertainment, burlesque’s roots lie in jazz-age cabaret and vaudeville and incorporate music, costume, dancing, and, yes, stripping. Once primarily enjoyed by lusty lads drunk on bootleg gin, burlesque lay dormant for a large chunk of the 20th century, then was revived at the beginning of the 21st to be enjoyed by an audience considerably more diverse.
“It involves a striptease, but it’s not simply relegated to that,” says Jada B., founder of the Bloomington Burlesque Brigade (B3), the only such show in town. “It also involves satire. The dancing and routines are usually comedic. We’re making fun of femininity on a big scale, by hiking it to extremes so that it’s a throwback to the over-glamour of the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s.”
Formed in March 2009, B3 performs at a variety of venues, including Uncle Elizabeth’s, The Bluebird, and The Bishop. Some who attend don’t quite know what to expect, Jada B. says, but those envisioning a bachelor-party atmosphere will be surprised. “It used to be that burlesque was much more male-oriented in terms of the audience, but today it’s at least fifty-fifty, and possibly skewed towards the women.”
Yes, there is also male burlesque, or “boylesque.” In fact, the Stage Door Johnnies of Chicago, a well-known male troupe, have collaborated with B3. But men are more likely to show up as supporting acts, like Rembrandt & McGillicutty, a local vaudevillian comedy team, and musician/comic Stacy Vance. Women are the main attraction.
Part of the appeal, says Jada B., is the fact that it’s fairly age-inclusive. “It’s a different kind of glamour model. You don’t age out of burlesque. In fashion and movies, a lot of people do. But in burlesque, the older you are, the more energy you get from the crowd. Some of the original legends are still performing in their eighties. There are all different shapes and sizes.”
How does one get involved? “Do a lot of research first,” says Jada B. “Come to our shows. We usually have call-out meetings where we give informational stuff. We have workshops coming up in the next few months; next fall is the next time that we’re going to have open auditions.” For more information, visit bloomingtonburlesquebrigadeb3.blogspot.com.