Here’s an interesting science fact. When someone is wearing pasties on both nipples, and those pasties have tassels, and the person jumps up and down to cause the tassels to spin, they spin in opposite directions. This was the least of the mysteries exposed at Saturday’s headlining event of the fourth annual Toronto Burlesque Festival, at the Mod Club. (No full nudity in the photos, but not suitable for all workplaces.)
“Burlesque” in the sense we’re talking about here is a vaudeville-era term used to describe a particular type of stage show characterized by bawdy humour and striptease. Most people who know of it these days are probably showtunes fans or close relatives of showtunes fans, because the last remaining mainstream documentary evidence of the genre is the musical Gypsy.
But there is something to be said for going out and seeing what’s left of the real thing. What you miss by watching the fictionalized version of the (relatively tame) 1930s version of burlesque represented in Gypsy is the guy whose stage name is Evil Hate Monkey, and who wears fake monkey ears, a waxed moustache, and a banana peel on his dick.
There was also a performer named Olive-or-Oliver who came out on stage in pink pajamas and a bib and started doing a hula-hoop routine with eyes wide and mouth agape, toward the end of which she was wearing only the bib and a tiny rubber penis attached to a g-string so minimal it could have been made of fishing line.
The whole thing was hosted by a trio of performers who go by Sexy Mark Brown, Wry, and Ginger. Wry and Ginger, a girl/guy duo, were dressed Pierre and Margaret Trudeau, and Brown was John A. Macdonald. Together, they did comedy routines. All this mocking of ultra-serious national legends between spates of bouncing body parts seemed pretty burlesquey to us, but was it authentic?
In the audience was one person whose opinion on that score wasn’t informed only by Broadway, a woman named April March, who is now 76 years old, but who was once known as the “first lady of burlesque,” because, when she was younger, she looked like Jackie Onasis. (We saw a picture, and it’s true.) She began performing, she said, in 1952. Here is her review of the show:
“There’s a lot of old style, but then there’s a lot of new style that they didn’t do back then,” she said. “And back then, they didn’t have tattoos.”
For information on Canadian burlesque throughout the year check out Great Canadian Burlesque.
Photos by Dean Bradley/Torontoist.