by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
Last week, SGN's James Whitely went behind the scenes at Boys! Bois! Boyz!, a showcase of local 'boylesque' talent held March 1 at the Oddfellows Building on Capitol Hill. We left him at intermission.
The flashing of house lights beckons people back to their seats. Once again, Ernie Von Schmaltz takes the stage as emcee. The first act he introduces is Man Johnson, dressed like a leather daddy. He nails a display of masculine grace, seeming to say, 'Who says a man with muscles can't move like this?'
What really makes the act spectacular, however, is just how blatantly sexual it is. After his striptease, the very lovely Miss Minx comes onstage. You can't see her face - it's covered by a large Hello Kitty mask. She also happens to have a strap-on strapped on. Man Johnson is whipped severely and then 'takes it' from this super-sexy-hello-kitty dominatrix.
To get some insight into how a performer creates an act, I asked the Luminous Pariah to guide me from start to finish - from getting an idea to putting it onstage.
For him, it begins with getting inspired, collecting images, songs, sounds, and story ideas and then writing them all down.
'Usually, I'm most inspired by story ideas and I say, 'Ooh, I think I can create this really fun act where I start out as this type of character,' and I can see myself doing (a), (b), and (c) throughout the act,' said Luminous. 'Then from there, I will choose either something visual or audio that also goes on top of that, so either a song that would be absolutely perfect and fitting to it, or some sort of costume that I think, 'That's the one - that's the one that I need to design.'
'From there I would go and either make a sound collage to go with it or edit the music to make it exactly how I want it. All of my songs are very tailored to the act itself - there's always little sound effects or something that I add in,' said Luminous. 'Then from there I will work on the choreography. I do have a dance background; I also have a theater background and I'd have to say that most of my talents come out in the theater. I can move and I'm a mover, but I'm not a professional dancer by any means like Paris Original, or Trojan Original.
'The choreography, I like to perform it for a couple of trusted friends before I put it on the stage. And then it goes live and I just kind of stand back and see what the audience reaction is like,' said Luminous. 'And it's always in constant evolution.'
BEYOND SEX AND GENDER
Next up is Daddy Le Deviant, a female-bodied performer. Daddy wears a tailcoat and top hat, and happens to have something in his pants that he just can't keep put away. After masturbating his purple dildo for a few beats, Daddy takes it off and places it on a chair. The audience grows quiet. Daddy stands in front of the chair and faces away from the stage, eclipsing the violet member from our view. Then he begins to sit down on the chair. His tailcoat prevents us from seeing the action going on between Daddy's legs, but as he rises back up, sure enough, the dildo is gone.
'Did that just happen?' Ernie wonders aloud after Daddy leaves the stage. 'I don't know - it's theater.'
Likely the first large preconception I had shattered coming into this story was my own definition of boylesque. I simply saw it as burlesque for males, but females are just as much a part of the phenomena, as is any body type. Both Daddy and Ernie are examples, and Ernie himself was one of Seattle's boylesque pioneers.
'I get requests all the time from all over the place, on just Facebook chats, about 'I'm a female burlesque performer, but I wanna develop a male persona. Can we chat about that?' And that's been a new thing that I've been encountering - people [who] generally present as women wanting to take a step to the other side of the gender spectrum and try it out, even if it's like a one-time thing,' said Ernie.
'That's an exciting thing I think about. Well, it's present everywhere, but it's very present here,' added Waxie Moon. 'It's very encouraged and welcomed here at the Academy. We have a very full definition of the term 'boylesque.' And of course whatever they choose to explore is welcomed, right? If they want to explore a female persona and they're male-bodied, that's welcome. If they are biological women and want to explore male, if they want to do a heightened male.
'How I see the burlesque community, it's much like a house or family. I have moments where, as a male, I feel like I don't belong. There's this rich and vibrant history female performers have as their foundation. Men in burlesque do have their beginnings, but I feel that Boylesk [an alternate spelling] is just starting. Since being a part of this community, I have always felt like a guest in this 'house.' What do you do when you're a guest in someone's house? You're polite and courteous, mind your manners, and follow the house's rules. I try and do the same by acknowledging burlesque fundamentals in my acts, all the while keeping my own sense of masculinity. In the years I've been doing this, I feel more a part of this 'House of Burlesque' than ever. I guess I should start doing the dishes,' said Sir Eddie Van Glam, who happens to be the next performer to take the stage.
Eddie's wrestling act is full of fanfare. Not only is he in reality a serious wrestler, but he actually pulls off a stripteasing WWF-type performer. He flexes his muscles, shoots the stars, and strips off all his clothes. A stagehand brings him a box of Slim Jims, which he begins eating and throwing into the audience. He then ties one to his underwear, much like a pastie, and proceeds to shake it just like the burlesque performers do.
Sir Eddie Van Glam is a graduate of the 2011 Boylesque 101 class. According to Miss Indigo Blue, the curriculum of the Boylesque 101 class is almost identical to the Burlesque 101 class, with the exception of some historical content.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
It's hard to pinpoint when boylesque actually started. Men have appeared as partners in Apache dances, as actors in supporting roles within burlesque reviews - even bodybuilding is relevant history. In 1950s burlesque, there were men who would do drag burlesque and then, for the final reveal, show their chests.
'The history of boylesque is a lot like the history of burlesque in that there were countless numbers of performers that we know nothing about,' said Indigo. 'So one of the cool things is to unearth a new photograph or a story, from someone who heard from someone else. Because the art form was a little bit racy, there's not a lot of documentation.
'Probably one of the most important contemporary boylesque performers in our community is Tiger, who is a librarian, a go-go dancer, and an irreverent boylesque performer, based in New York City,' Indigo continued. 'And he's the first male-bodied person to win the King of Boylesque or Mr. Exotic World, at our community's annual convention. The history also includes performers like John Sex and that whole amazing super-Queer history of men onstage presenting their sexuality as women did in burlesque, with defiance, standing onstage alone.'
'Of course, Chippendales would be a part of our history too. That's a more known history - it's less about personality, but it's certainly male striptease,' said Waxie. 'At the time of Chippendales, like in the early '80s, so this is like when male burlesque or boylesque is really hyper-present - you know, it's on the Phil Donahue Show. There were shows like Peter Adonis' Travelling Fantasy Show and there were competing shows that were smaller that kind of got eclipsed by Chippendales, [which was] building nightclubs all over the place.'
Up again is Fosse Jack in a fedora and green suit. It's a longer performance than his last one: Seattle's Limelight Loverboy is doing a tribute to his namesake, Bob Fosse, to 'A Snake in the Grass.' His reveals are engaging and his movement is fluid. Fosse's a pro. It's quite clear he's been doing this for a while. He, like many of the performers I interviewed with, was around before the initial 2009 boylesque class. So I had to ask myself, where are those Boylesque 101 pioneers?
THE CLASS OF '09
'We had started to get enough people who were interested in participating in the Burlesque 101 class, who wanted to explore masculine-gendered striptease that it made sense to dedicate an entire course to it,' said Indigo. 'As soon as we put the call out, the class filled.'
'It was the right timing,' said Waxie.
'Right before the economic plummet, and there was a lot of optimism and excitement, and a lot of sex,' added Indigo.
'A heyday,' said Ernie.
'Everyone was having so much sex,' said Indigo.
'It was like Berlin,' Waxie added.
'Exactly like Berlin,' said Ernie.
'It was fun to research a relatively unknown history,' said Waxie. 'And also to contemplate what makes boylesque special and what makes it different than burlesque.'
'I got so excited,' said EmpeROAR Fabulous!!!, 'but none of them stayed.'
It's true. Most of the graduates of the initial 2009 Boylesque 101 class just don't seem to be around anywhere.
'Many of them are already performers and continue their own performance stuff, and several moved away,' said Indigo. 'And several are still involved in the community in technical roles.'
'That class did start to bring more attention and more people in. The boylesque scene has grown, along with the burlesque scene here,' said Fabulous.
A SONG IS BORN
Next up is EmpeROAR Fabulous!!! performing an original song and striptease. He's not called the Exposing Composer for nothing - he studied music at Cornish. He wrote 'Look This Good' four years ago and says the lyrics 'came tumbling out of me rapidly.'
'The hook came about when I was in my second hour of putting my face on, when I took a cigarette break,' he recalled. 'You gotta work so hard to look this good/I think you do and everybody should just popped into my head. I continued getting ready and more lyrics and melodic lines were popping in my head, lining up with elements of the costume I had been designing. I was unfashionably late to the event I was primping for, as I couldn't stop writing,' said Fabulous. 'I find so much inspiring fierceness in the burlesque, drag, and club communities, and this song serves as a love letter to all those who serve up some serious look.
'I'm working on some very long-term pieces that are expressing a lot of deep emotions I feel that just dance, that just theater, just striptease, and just music would not be able to express on their own to my satisfaction,' said Fabulous. 'To have so many mediums to express myself is a blessing.'
TO THE BIG APPLE
Taking the stage again is Waxie himself, doing his purple maneater act. As the curtain rises, he is covered completely by the biggest feather boa I've ever seen. You can't even see him. He plays with it, makes it walk, and up it comes - and there's Waxie, dancing in heels and a leopard print dress. He's fierce, sexy, and fun. With that signature wink, he casts the boa behind him and begins to strip, nibbling each finger of his long black gloves and slowly pulling them off. Once the dress is off, he humps the boa. Finis.
Waxie, Luminous, and Paris and Trojan Original will all be attending the second annual New York Boylesque Festival next month. It's a pretty big deal, and not just because it's in New York.
'I think that the New York Boylesque Festival will probably drive some more ideas of where it's going to go,' said Indigo. 'Because it's a gathering really of people who are doing related art but from totally different perspectives and when you put that stuff onstage together and everyone can see it, it starts to create all these sparks of possibility.'
It's what happened at Teaserama in New Orleans in 2001, which Indigo sees as 'the line in the sand' of when the neo-burlesque revolution began to take off.
'We got to see each other perform and got to understand what was happening in different regions, and the possibilities that the form could take, and I think a similar thing is happening now,' said Indigo.
'New York can be hard to impress and very critical,' said Paris. 'So performing in New York is like putting your work to the test.'
'It really represented the male talent in the industry well and showed off not only that there are great performers but that there are a ton of people eager to see it,' said Trojan of last year's festival.
'There were no catty, competitive vibes. I also felt an excitement in the air surrounding the fact that we were all part of boylesque history in the making. Never before had a festival like this taken place,' said Paris of last year. 'I left the festival feeling validated as an established and respected member of the boylesque community.'
THE NIGHT'S FINAL ACT
I don't want it to be over, but the last act is once again Jett Adore. He comes onstage in a large fur coat. Like before, it's not just his outfit that makes him classy. As he glides effortlessly across the stage, any Gay girl or straight boy will swoon. He's that good. And he's that sexy - a wink and a smile, and your reservations are out the window. By the end of the act, he's just cupping himself - damn.
'I would say that Seattle has one of the healthiest burlesque scenes in the world right now,' said Luminous. 'Seattleites know that there is this revolution brewing and they want to celebrate eroticism, they just haven't been shown how to do it in a way that's safe and still exciting.'
'It's wanted and desired,' said Eddie of boylesque in Seattle. 'It's arrived.'
GLIMPSING THE FUTURE
So what's next? Where is boylesque going?
'To Waxie's apartment,' said Indigo.
Indigo, Waxie, and Ernie shared a laugh and Indigo looked toward Waxie.
'I don't know, darling, where are you going to take it?' she asked.
And that's just it. It rests in the hands of the performers. From what I've seen tonight in Boys! Bois! Boyz! it's going in all sorts of different directions. There's boylesque, boylesk, burlesque, draglesque, queerlesque, gorelesque, bearlesque, nerdlesque, and probably more, but it's not so much the names that matter.
'We're all just one big stripper family,' said Fabulous.
'My goal is to add more substance as far as story goes. I think it's fun when the costumes are really grand and the music is perfect, but I also think that if you're going to take between three and five minutes of someone's time, you should give them something to think about - you should give them a story to follow,' said Luminous.
'I try to have a good community sense, especially since I was elected the Mayor of Seattle Burlesque,' said Fabulous. 'It's hard starting out. Two of the things that I've wanted to do with my term are to try to provide some opportunities for newer performers, and to continue to raise money and awareness for the Burlesque Hall of Fame.'
'Often, when there's a first generation of artists, their whole vision is to perform and be artsy and do their art, not necessarily to teach,' said Indigo. 'They're consumed with creation and presentation and not necessarily conveying education. But as there are more performers, there will of course be more performers who have the skill and the inclination to share their information.'
After all of my interviews, I've learned a lot about the neo-burlesque revitalization, specifically in regard to boylesque, but as part of this movement, there's a lot to look at holistically.
Boylesque is truly a frontier. It's new territory in a sense, even though it appears already to have a history of sorts. As Indigo said, for as long as there have been women taking their clothes off in public, there have been men taking their clothes off, too (you know what I mean). While boylesque may be a new term, it indeed seems limitless as both a definition and an art form.
To learn more about burlesque in general, check out the Burlesque Hall of Fame at www.burlesquehall.com. It's the nation's one and only burlesque museum, in Las Vegas, that began in a little house on a goat farm in the desert. Currently, it doesn't have a home, which is why Fabulous is coordinating fundraisers for it.
'As a fringe art form, it's very important for us to have that, for our legitimacy and to continue to have a place for our living tradition, to thrive and be recorded,' said Fabulous.
To see the Luminous Pariah, visit the schedule page of his website (www.theluminouspariah.com) and/or check him out at the Nude Midnight show at the CanCan every Saturday.
Paris Original will be performing at Disney After Dark at the Columbia City Theatre March 15, 16, 22, and 23. Visit his website at />www.parisoriginalboylesque.com.
EmpeROAR Fabulous!!! is producing SKINema, at the Rendezvous Jewelbox Theatre on March 21. Learn more at: www.emperoarfabulous.wordpress.com.
Waxie Moon will be the only local performer at Kings: A Boylesque Extravaganza, at the Triple Door on March 27.
NOW IT'S YOUR TURN
Interested in taking the plunge? Whether it's boy, bur, bear, gore, nerd, or anything else you might come up with, get in touch with Seattle's very own Academy of Burlesque at www.academyofburlesque.com. The next Boylesque 101 class will be scheduled when the Academy receives enough interest in the class, so e-mail them already!
After everything I've learned and everything I've seen, I still have a few unanswered questions. Could there ever be a branching off between more feminine and more masculine acts by male-bodied performers? Will one form of boylesque inevitably become more mainstream than the others? When will the revolution Luminous spoke of happen here in Seattle? Why do male burlesque performers wear pasties? To find out, I'm taking the plunge myself. I'm enrolling at the Academy of Burlesque - and you should too.
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