Why is burlesque so boringly unpolitical?

Convener(s): Shanti Freed

Participants: Angela Clerkin, Phelim McDermott, Stella Duffy, Madaleine Trigg, Gary Ronson, Sarah S, Katherine Warman, Fran Genono, Paul Kieve

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Brief outline of the history of Burlesque, we questioned why is was no longer political.  Some neo-burlesque can be more political, usually originating from queer or disabled performance communities.

If “Burlesque” is not theatrical, how does it differ from stripping?

Dita Von Teese has become the “pretty face/ frilly knickers” of Burlesque, introducing it to the mainstream/commercial performative arena.  The problem is that it has become reductive in terms of exposing alternative bodies and any political content.  It creates an acceptable, hegemonic veneer of stripping.  Diluting the political possibilities of the art form and legitamising the sexual consumption of women.

Where is the humour in Burlesque now?  Burlesque is rooted in Vaudeville theatre AND stripping.  Discussed context of location i.e. theatre space vs bar space and audiences wherein.

Discussion of context i.e audience/performer dynamic.  If the performer is aware of the political possibilities of the genre, they can use these to their advantage to push body/gender/sexuality politics.  We discussed artists who do and don’t do this, i.e. Matt Frazer, Empress Stah, Ursula Martinez, Dita Von Teese and the plethora of mediocre, homogenized, boring “burlesque” performers on the current scene.  We hope this is a phase and that people will get bored of this so the more challenging and interesting political performers can step back into the spotlight!

Discussed renewed popularity, how anyone can be taught pole-dancing, Burlesque.  This can be useful to get in touch with your own body and sexuality but also is in real danger of “stripping away” important feminist issues.  Creating a culture which accepts and promotes the female being consumed by the male gaze.  We were disgruntled that there seemed to be a lack of honing their craft, whereby anyone can do it mainstream.

Does the length of the performance (normally 3 minutes) limit the content?  

Discussed the power of Burlesque for Lesbians and disabled bodies regaining power through this form.  (see above)  I.e. Juliet Atlas Muz and Matt Frazer.

Discussed Burlesque elements within theatrical performance i.e Split Britches.  Also Phelim and his big Wicca penis!  (in Panic)  How does it differ when it is in a theatrical context?  What part does narrative play in pushing the political point?

Discussed the lack of men (particularly straight) in Burlesque.  When men are naked on stage it is always with friendly humour.

Discussed differences between state–side (i.e. New York Burlesque) which is rich in Vaudeville, radical politics and performance art which adds to diverse performance content.  Differences between New York festival and the London Festival of Burlesque.

Discussed the “colonization” of Burlesque and how this has been subverted by performers such as David Hoyle and Ryan Styles.  Interesting, political and radical Burlesque born from theatre and performance art backgrounds as opposed to the sex industry i.e. stripping.

Variety/theatrical performer communicates directly with audience which enables a political dialogue as opposed to supporting a culture of consumption.

Discussion around the sex industry and the current laws governing it.  The Governments new proposed laws fail to support/protect those at risk, sweeping the issue “under the carpet”.

The importance of discussing Burlesque as a part of the sex industry instead of allowing it to be assimilated into mainstream culture without a honest dialogue, political awareness and responsibility.