Telluride Theatre: Burlesque, A Unique Fun-raiser

Telluride Theatre: Burlesque, A Unique Fun-raiser

Telluride Theatre presents “Burlesque,” a fun-raiser for the nonprofit. The happening takes place at the historic Sheridan Opera House, 9 p.m. nightly. Wednesday, March 28 is the sold-out “Cheap Thrills.” Friday and Saturday, March 30 and March 31, is Calendar Girls Burlesque. Tickets (still available) are $40, $55 and $137.50 for a VIP table seat. Get your tickets here or by calling 970-708-7629.

Starting out as a class eight years ago for 11 women, Telluride Theatre’s annual fundraiser, “Burlesque” has grown into a winter of education, creation and rehearsals, culminating in home-grown performances.

The week of events resurrects the raucous and raunchy variety shows of Telluride’s vaudeville era and features dancing, comedy and beautiful local women. Forty+ ladies are participating in Burlesque this year. (And a few brave men.)

The Beginning Class had 22 women of all ages learning the art of Burlesque throughout the winter. Over eight weeks of classes, the ladies learned to shimmy, shake, strut, strip and tease. Their graduation event is CHEAP THRILLS.

Sasha Sullivan & Melissa Harris have taught the class together for all eight years.

“Burlesque has become a celebration of the feminine, a way for women in town to bond, have fun and explore a different side of themselves,” states class founder and show director Sasha Sullivan. “The women who take this class all take it for different reasons. But everyone comes out changed. We all do. Burlesque taps into the sensual, beautiful, individual, feminine side of ourselves.” 

The CHEAP THRILLS night showcases their work in class: each student creates a character; devises her own piece; and even makes her own pasties.

On Friday March 30 and Saturday March 31, THE HOUSE OF SHIMMY SHAKE, the “advanced” women of Burlesque – some who have been performing for seven years – present a new, original Burlesque show, CALENDAR GIRLS.

Journey through a full year’s calendar and all that a year brings: holidays, seasons, celebrations…

Sexy funny, outrageous BURLESQUE.

“Five years ago, we started doing the advanced show to give women who wanted to continue to perform the opportunity. It has grown and grown… and now we create our own polished performance each year.” Sullivan says of CALENDAR GIRLS BURLESQUE, “This year audiences will be in for a treat as they are transported in a raucously wild way through a whole calendar year. We have everything from the changing of the seasons to National Pancake Day… the 4th of July to dancing Peeps. The show is just full of fun, surprises and amazing performances.” 

CALENDAR GIRLS BURLESQUE features over 20 local women and is directed by Sullivan.

Burlesque: A brief history

What’s the difference between a burlesque performer and a stripper?” Burlesque shows often include stripping, but your average strip club will not include any burlesque. But my favorite answer to this question (courtesy of A. Randy Johnson) is “strippers make money; burlesque dancers make costumes”.

The word “burlesque” comes from the Spanish or Italian word “burla” which means to mock, trick, or joke. The original use of the word burlesque was seen in the 16th and 17th century to describe parodies, and grotesque or ridiculous imitations, often of authors or artists of the time.

Victorian burlesque was essentially musical theater parody of popular ballets, operas and plays. For example, Shakespeare plays were common subject for these burlesque shows. Attractive women were included, often dressed as men, but the shows were only moderately risqué in style. At this stage there was no nudity or striptease involved in burlesque. The Victorian burlesque humor was more similar to that of the English pantomime than the burlesque you see on stage today.

When did nudity first become part of burlesque?

In the late 19th century, shows featuring what we now call “striptease” started appearing simultaneously and independently in both America and Paris. In America, stripping was seen on both the vaudeville and burlesque circuits, with the trapeze artist Charmion famously performing a “disrobing” act on stage in 1896 later caught on film by Edison. In Paris theater such as the Moulin Rouge, there were acts featuring scantily clad women dancing and in tableaux vivantes (“living pictures” where performers do not move or speak). It was in this environment in the 1890s that an act was first performed during which a woman slowly removed her clothing … looking for a flea!

In the 1920s and 30s striptease became a predominant part of burlesque. In American burlesque shows, such as those put on by the Minsky brothers, high-profile “star strippers” such as Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, and Blaze Starr were featured. In the 1930s, in England, Laura Henderson started putting on nude shows in the Windmill Theater (although the law would not allow the performers to move) and Josephine Baker danced in a banana skirt, semi-nude, at the Folies Bergere in Paris.

Prohibition and a crack down on burlesque theaters started the decline of burlesque in America in the 1940s. In England in the 1950s there were still touring striptease shows to try to attract audiences back to the declining music halls. The 1960s, in both England and the U.S., saw the introduction of topless go-go dancers. However, by the 1970m, burlesque had all but died out everywhere.

The 1990s saw the formation of the “Neo-burlesque” movement, which pioneered the revival and updating of the traditions of burlesque. The neo-burlesque scene now attracts performers from a range of performance backgrounds.

This quote from Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

“Neo-burlesque acts can be anything from classic striptease to modern dance to theatrical mini-dramas to comedic mayhem.”

Where striptease is involved, which it most often is, the emphasis is on the tease rather than the strip and most often performers only go down to G-string and pasties rather than full nudity. Although neo-burlesque performers are often inspired by a nostalgia for the glamor of the old days and enjoy honoring previous burlesque performers in their acts, neo-burlesque is taking its own evolutionary path as newcomers to the scene bring their own perspective and approach.

Today burlesque is nothing short of an art form.

As Telluride Theatre will prove once again.

Telluride Theatre is dedicated to creating a thriving theatrical presence in the Telluride region by producing original company-driven professional work, culturally relevant community theater, and year-round education programs. We create theater that lives in moments of truthful human connection, promotes joyful celebration and is an open dialogue, accessible to all audiences.

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