Glitter migrates “everywhere,” agrees Britches, a Richmond entertainer who specializes in sideshow acts and in the burgeoning sub-genre known as “boylesque” (burlesque performed by men). The stocky, bearded 27-year-old has been known to strip down from a tutu-enhanced tuxedo to tasseled pasties and a G-string, to the accompaniment of the song “Money” from the musical “Cabaret.”
Hawkins and Britches are two of the artists who will appear in the inaugural Virginia Burlesque & Sideshow Festival, running in various locations around Richmond, May 31-June 2. Produced by Onca O’Leary, the impresario behind a well-established burlesque festival in Asheville, N.C., the Richmond event will showcase, among other turns, a “tribal fusion” belly dancer called Karolina Lux; a Washington, D.C.,-based sideshow artist and ukulele player who goes by Mab Just Mab; and a juggler/fire eater/knife thrower named Paolo Garbanzo, whose credits include serving as an official Fool of Muncaster Castle in England.
Hawkins is bringing her “She-Demon of the Deep” routine — in which she portrays a captured mermaid, writhing in sultry fashion in an off-the-ground net. Steele Starling, an artist from St. Louis, will perform his football sendup, in which he discards a pigskin, sheds articles of workout attire, and executes acrobatics around a pole, to the strains of “Another One Bites the Dust.” The needling of a revered American pastime is wholly intentional. “It’s fun to make fun of things that people take seriously,” he says.
A progressive spin
The festival is a manifestation of the “new burlesque,” a movement that has reinvented, and impishly subverted, a risqué entertainment form that was at a pinnacle from the Jazz Age through the mid-20th century. American burlesque originally crystallized around 1870 as a showbiz formula that embraced variety acts, populist comic shtick (Fanny Brice, Bert Lahr and other comedians would hone their craft in burlesque), and topical satire, as well as dames in revealing garb. But as the 20th century progressed, the titillating showgirl became a more central ingredient, and burlesque evolved into striptease, producing celebrities such as Gypsy Rose Lee and Lili St. Cyr, before eventually losing ground as the sexual revolution dissolved taboos, making peel-it-off acts less thrilling.
New burlesque, which began percolating in the 1990s and gained visibility around the turn of the millennium, aims to give a progressive spin to the bump-and-grind tradition. Back in the day, the leg show and striptease facilitated the ogling of attractive women. The new burlesque is more inclusive: It facilitates the ogling of everybody.