Documenting Burlesque is a long-term art project of mine so I have dedicated a whole page here to my thoughts on it. I have already had one major solo exhibition in 2010 and the body of work is just growing. If you just want to look at photos then skip to the bottom where there are some links.
When I talk to people about Burlesque it becomes apparent there are mixed feelings on the subject. There are always one or two people against it totally. The usual reason is something to do with exploitation and such. Although there may be examples from friends or the media that put promoters in a bad light, my own personal experience reflect a different story. Others are not sure, they are not against it exactly, more uncomfortable with a whole night being centered around stripping. The majority understand that on a basic level its all just a bit of fun for adults. Its about the sharing in the fun and has more in common with a theater night than the lonely lunch time strip clubs of London’s east end.
For a start the whole set up of burlesque is civilised. There are maids who tidy the stage after each act. There evening always has a host or hostess to control the action and get the audience involved. Often there is other entertainment, comedy or music. The audience itself is made up largely of women, all dressed impeccably in the style of the evening. Men seem to be part of a couple or awkwardly attached to a group of women. Rarely do you see a group of lads on their own. Many performers return to their table to watch others when their part is finished.
There is a lot of creativity involved in burlesque, and with more performers than ever before, it is interesting to see the variations and transmutations that occur between acts. There are traditions, the Isis Wings, the Balloon Act, the Maid outfit, but they serve as a starting point only. Many performers I know are constantly reinventing themselves with new acts, borrowing elements from a real variety of sources including performance art, circus, and fetish. Props, costumes, stories, music and more are seemingly conjured from thin air. In reality lots of hard work, ingenuity and reclaiming of craft skills are behind these elegant transformations.
Another big element that is different from traditional striptease or lap dancing bars is money. At the smaller shows no one is doing it for the money. The promoters barely cover costs, the performers work for between 30 and 100 pounds, and headline acts don’t make much more. Performers sometimes travel vast distances to be seen and support staff make normal wages too. This proves to me that the drive behind these evenings is creativity.
For a few hours at least we all get to relax and enjoy the show, and there is value in that.
I have had a large solo exhibition titled BEHIND BURLESQUE in 2010, at The Memorial Art Gallery, Hastings.