In this podcast, I talk to Heidi Bang Tidy and Lady Wildflower, co-producers of the award-winning Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival. We discuss the politics of burlesque, the history of the festival and this year’s round table discussion I Am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar featuring Myself, Dr Claire Nally and Dr Jacki Willson (and others tbc) on the Sunday of this year’s festival. I also discuss my broader research and engagement project in more detail.
Audiences have always been key to burlesque. Not just in the obvious sense, as the means of financially sustaining the form, but their obvious and vocal presence has been key to the success of many a burlesque act and has very much helped to shape broader perceptions of the form.
Burlesque audiences have historically inspired panic and condemnation because of the sexualised nature of the burlesque form and because of the bad behaviour that it was assumed that this form would inspire or arouse in these audiences, who were often presumed to not know any better. They were too bawdy, too large, too demonstrative. In short they weren’t a polite, middle class audience and this got up some people’s noses.
When burlesque trailblazer Lydia Thompson and her ‘British Blondes’ first appeared at New York’s Wood’s theatre, on September 28th 1868, the novelty of scantily-clad, saucy, subordinate women, who showed their legs, directly challenged the audience and mischievously parodied events and celebrities of the day in the manner of current day British performers such as Abigail Collins or Glory Pearl (AKA The Naked Standup), she attracted considerable critical acclaim and a large, respectable, middle class audience. However, this audience, always hungry for the latest sensation, eventually became bored. Thompson and her Blondes ultimately became a source of vilification and moral speculation and the ‘leg show,’ as burlesque had come to be known, lost its cultural cachet, becoming increasingly associated with working class audiences, in less prestigious theatres and in less prominent and salubrious parts of American cities. Continue reading
Yesterday I went on what seems to be coming an annual outing with my friend and burlesque promoter/producer Lady Wildflower to that thar London.
Having enjoyed our trip to see the magnificent Imelda Staunton playing Rose in Gypsy at the beautiful Savoy theatre last year, this year we took a trip to see the musical stage adaptation of Mrs Henderson Presents at the Noel Coward theatre.
We are both big fans of the film, starring Dame Judi Dench and the late, great Bob Hoskins as the ultimate showman, Vivian Van Damm and we were keen to see how it would translate as a musical. Reviews had been good.
As you can probably guess from our photo, we had a wonderful time.
In terms of setting, the theatre was lovely and the staff were extremely helpful. The performances were excellent, the music/songs were great and the sets were great too. I particularly liked the way in which the stage space and the auditorium were used. We, the audience we repeatedly pulled in to the action. This made the piece even more affecting, like you were part of theatre history and it was happening around you. I’m not going to lie, I cried at several points. As a historian I’d love nothing more than to be able to travel back in time and actually go to a Windmill show.
Of particular interest to me was the way the myth around the Windmill was developed and used in the piece. The notion that the theatre ‘never closed’, that in the best theatrical tradition ‘the show must go on’ and that notion of the British stiff upper lip were all invoked here. Continue reading
On Tuesday I gave a talk on burlesque & feminism to Long Eaton WI for their branch birthday meeting!
After our talk. Against a backdrop of the formidable Rubyyy Jones I initiated a couple of the ladies into the burlesque sisterhood by teaching them the art of the glove tease. The remaining ladies at the event were schooled in burlesque audience etiquette and given a few shout outs to try on. They provided a hugely supportive and very audible audience for the first time glove teasers, with regulars shouts of ‘hell yeah!’ I even heard a few ‘awoogas’!
What a lovely group of ladies, what a lovely branch – and an amazing burlesque birthday cake! Very glad to chat with them #InspiringWomen all of them.
The ladies of Long Eaton WI seemed to enjoy my talk on burlesque & feminism. They also seemed to enjoy my fan props! pic.twitter.com/1NwEyNqpEV
— Ellen Wright (@DrSmut) May 6, 2016
This week I got to speak to/with another Women’s Institute group, having been invited by the lovely ladies of the Hull WI to talk about burlesque and female empowerment.
It was a great bonding exercise and all about creating a safe, supportive space where everyone can learn a little history, have some of their expectations challenged, and some of the ladies can do something they wouldnt have thought they would do and have the full and very vocal support of the rest of their group as they give it a go.
Tonight I’m emceeing a show in a circus big top! Woop! Lets see if they can out-cheer the good ladies of Hull.
Interview with Josie and Tony on the Estuary Radio Arts and Culture Podcast.
Here I discuss my PhD and pin-up in the 1940s, and my experience of running the Cat’s Pyjamas, as well as the politics of burlesque and feminism.