Rebel Without a Bra: A Theatrical Burlesque Cabaret, A Rogue Preview Article

Feb 1, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Arts & Entertainment, Rogue Festival

by Red Velvet

It is almost time for Rogue Festival again–it will be taking place March 6-14 in the Tower District of Fresno. Throughout the month of February we will be publishing many Rogue Festival performer preview articles, and this one is the first! During Rogue we will be reviewing shows as usual, and we also have a Rogue Festival event page with more information!

It was my first time.

They said I was ready, but I was unsure. I was nervous. Hell, when it comes down to it, I was kind of scared. Not that I hadn’t done some things, played around a bit. But this…this was big. My FIRST time. I had heard about the nightmares, the things that could go wrong. But so much could go right.

At least there were two of us. If N’Whendy and I were co-creators, we would fail or succeed together, so at least we wouldn’t be alone.

We sat in the theater office while they told us that we would be creating a show for their May festival. Sure, we would be ready for it someday. But we weren’t ready now. Were we? They confirmed: We were ready. We were not given an option.

But everyone was so excited! It was the EXIT Theatre’s first combination burlesque-theatrical show. The theater provided us with an outside director, someone we knew who had a lot of theater experience. We breathed a little sigh of relief at that point. But only a little.

There was so much that had to be done. We had to write a show, pick music, pick a cast, choreograph, costume, rehearse. We had to create a whole entire show from nothing in about six months. Could we do it? We didn’t even have a topic! An inkling of an idea! What would we do?

Sure, we were co-artistic directors of a monthly burlesque show that regularly sold out. But this would be in a bigger theater and we would have eight nights of the same show! Could we even get an audience for eight nights? Assuming we succeeded in creating a show, of course.

We came up with the idea over coffee, huddled at a small table with pens and pads in hand, drinking out of ridiculously large coffee cups which we periodically sloshed over our scribbled notes and chewed pens.

What would be interesting, fun, and not too script heavy for our first theatrical creation? Why, the history of burlesque! We decided it was brilliant. And safe. But still…a really good solid idea. I had read tons of books and we had both watched videos on burlesque history, and I taught a weekly can-can class. We could cover various time periods, have a variety of costume changes, have some dances, and a story line that would convey the importance of women in burlesque. The audience could get excited, as we were, about the innovation that was happening on the burlesque stage from the 1860’s to the present day.

We put together a list of our critical time periods— the most important time periods for women in burlesque—and built the show around those. It was exciting! All of these historical eras with different performers, dance styles, and fashion trends. We did do some additional research, primarily for the late 1960s and 70s, known as the decline of burlesque. We talked to some burlesque icons, including a three-hour interview with one of San Francisco’s burlesque legends [WHO?] in order to accurately develop approximately 10 minutes of show.

Our original show covered (in non-sequential order): Paris can-can, the first U.S. all-women theatre company, Minsky’s burlesque, the Ziegfeld Follies, Weimar Berlin, the U.S. in the 1920s, the 30s, and the 40s, the decline of burlesque in the late 60s/early 70s, and the present-day burlesque resurgence. We developed characters and acts that were based on the well-known personas of Mae West, Josephine Baker, Betty Page, and Isadora Duncan.

It was a lot of show for a first-time theatrical burlesque production, but it felt good. We got great reviews, we had fun, and we told some stories that we thought were important. The theater asked for another show, and that show was followed by more five more diverse productions (to date.)

When I decided to revisit Rebel, I was again a little nervous. Looking at my first time—it was like revisiting a long-lost love. I hadn’t watched it since we created it in 2013. How would it look? How would it feel? Could I still savor the moments that came from the first-time thrill? Or should I use my experience to make improvements? Can you really go back to your first time?

Rebel in 2020 is not the same show; a lot has changed. We have a whole new script, new performers, and new acts, combined with some of the previous performers and acts. It is also shorter to fit the Rogue Festival time limits. But the show remains fun, innovative, and more than a little bit titillating! I hope you make it out to Rebel Without a Bra!


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