Burlesque


Last Saturday was the day of celebration for Wife Megan's 30th anniversary of the day of her birth and she, being the woman I married, wanted to go see some good, wholesome burlesque. You know burlesque, right? It's that quaint throw-back to a more innocent time, when men were men, women were women, and occasionally they all agreed to meet somewhere with dim lighting to reveal their knees to one another. One of the things I love about living in New York is being somewhere that such nostalgia for the frilly sins of the past exists. Any town that's a friend of anything remotely related to vaudeville and old-timey fun, is a friend of mine, as I always say (or will, henceforth). Furthermore, I specifically love burlesque. It's theatrical, it's joyous, and it usually incorporates lots of humor and props with its boobies. What's not to love?

So we went to The Slipper Room.

We stayed for many acts and several hours.

We left late, and they were still going strong.

Most of us will never be the same.

So from a theatrical perspective, it was a roaring success. I mean, if I can perform in something that really evidently changes people, I consider that a pretty big success. The specificity of that change is something that's even trickier than the change itself, given that all live performance is by its nature collaborative and interpretive. So personally, if you got something out of it, I got something out of it too. This reflects my attitudes on a lot of things. Like . . . dance. Or . . . board games. Or . . . other occupations of one's quest for joyous experiences. Let's not be judgmental about anyone's pursuit of happiness, even if they spell said pursuit "happyness." Hey: Rock on. It brings you joy and, on some level, that makes me happy.

Now there were some things I witnessed Saturday last that did not, per se, make me happy. The responses I had were more along the lines of being made to feel surprised, or confused, or scared. Very, very scared. But others really enjoyed some of these things, and no one got hurt or maligned beyond repair (though of course some audience mockery is part of the idiom), and so we can all look back on it and laugh. Sure, some of us may have gone home and gone directly into the shower, do not pass "GO!", do not bother removing one's clothing. But here we all are, scarless, and with a generally broader view of our fellow man, woman, and all others.

A broader view in a smaller world, I should say. I knew one of the performers -- had performed with her before, in fact. Her stage name is Miss Saturn, and she is a dynamite hula-hoop artist. She is also, it turns out, somewhat uninhibited in her display of God's gifts. When I performed alongside her, it was at a benefit for Friend Melissa's company, Kinesis Project. She hooped it up, I clowned around, and afterward she suggested we work together again some time, but I never followed up. Now I'm left to wonder if following up would have led me to The Slipper Room. It would not have been an entirely unwelcome opportunity, assuming I would have been able to stick to my personal preferences for the content of my act. During Saturday's experience I also had the unexpected mystery of feeling I recognized another performer: one "Harvest Moon." As it turns out, I don't. She's not who I mistook her for, but she has nevertheless reminded me that secret identities are as common in this city as free newspapers.

Some may view my appetite for nostalgia with disdain, but what can I say? I like sentimental sweetness in my indulgences, and could have used a bit more at The Slipper Room. After each break, the acts grew progressively more risque and shocking, and I grew less and less interested. Of course, if I were to run a contemporary burlesque show in New York City, I've no doubt I'd have to make similar allowances. After all, what we saw was probably closer in overall effect to us as the burlesques of old were during their time. These shows were shocking, titillating not just in sensual ways, but in visceral ones. The atmosphere should be one of reckless abandon and in this sense there was nothing inapt about my experience Saturday night. It was just that I had walked into a circa-1930s Berlin burlesque, when I had been hoping for a circa-1889s French one, I suppose. C'est la vie! I regret nothing!

Looking back, it occurs to me that there's an awfully fine line between anticipation and dread, and that line is going to be set at different places for different folks. A friend of mine recently sent me some writing research that discusses the role of feedback loops in sexual experiences. The gist of it was that "healthy" sexuality involves a feedback loop of increasing focus on arousal, and "unhealthy" (or perhaps, unhelpful) sexuality involves a neurotic, self-evaluative loop. Both increase the focus, but one allows you to engage, and the other rather prevents it. If we accept that sexual feelings are erotic in the broader sense, this is a very interesting way of looking at what we as performers inspire in our audiences. Will we fill them with eager anticipation, loathsome dread, or something of a different ratio altogether? In my opinion, neither is bad, just a different effect. And whatever effect, it begs the question: What, if anything, will we make the payoff?
 
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