In a sliver of Philadelphia where pasties, tassels and glitter are the main ornaments of an art form, male and female performers work together to push the boundaries.
One of the city’s seasoned burlesque performers, Miss Liberty Rose, said she believes burlesque is an art “made by women,” but men are welcome and are spicing up the scene.
“I think boylesque is an awesome thing, and especially from someone who produces themed shows, it’s really good to have a pool of male talent to pull from when casting,” said Miss Liberty Rose, who preferred to go by her stage name.
Boylesque is a way for men to take on the role of performing a burlesque number, and although it has grown significant roots over time throughout Philadelphia, the concept is still gaining momentum.
“It’s the art of the tease, but coming from a man,” said Brett J. Hopkins, or “Brettzo,” one of Philadelphia’s veteran boylesque performers. “While it’s not drag itself, it does take some elements from that.”
Hopkins is a participant in the Burlesque Battle Royale at Center City’s Tabu Lounge and Sports Bar, a competition with both male and female acts.
Every Tuesday night until the beginning of March, this competition – complete with judges, handmade costumes and of course, the thrill of the striptease – shows that both male and female performers are bringing unique talent to Philadelphia’s nightlife scene.
“I love a person whose baseball bat matches their tassels,” said Josh Schonewolf, one of the judges at Burlesque Battle Royale’s fifth out of 10th round at Tabu after Sinnamon, a female performer, took the stage with a bedazzled baseball bat in tow.
Schonewolf, although not a performer himself, has produced a handful of boylesque shows throughout the city, including Bearlesque and The Weird Beard Revue.
The 2005 Temple grad majored in communications, but gained experience in event planning a couple of years ago after hosting a dinner party at Tabu with benefits going to LGBTQ youth.
And just like gender isn’t a factor in the neo-burlesque world, neither is sexual orientation.
“When a bachelorette party of all women, for a woman who’s getting married to a woman, loves your number, you’re just like, ‘Yeah, right, you get this!’” Hopkins, who also performs in New York City, said. “Even though you’re not attracted to my body type, you understand I’m trying to do something funny/sexy.”
It’s not necessarily about connecting to an audience member or even a specific gender, but connecting to the audience as a whole via performance – which is exactly what the judges at the Burlesque Battle Royale are looking for. Judges include Schonewolf, Lascivious Jane, the director of Philadelphia’s Liberty City Kings, and Joey Martini, the emcee for the city’s Peek-A-Boo Revue.
“You are the king of boylesque in Philly,” judge Lascivious Jane said to performer Mr. Fahrenheit after his performance to The Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” where the theme for the evening’s competition was “love versus hate.”
Ryan Henaghan, or Mistor Fahrenheit, is taking the boylesque scene by storm, but he said he remains levelheaded about the competition.
“It’s not a catty contest or anything like that,” Henaghan said of the Burlesque Battle Royale. “We’re all really close and really excited for each other.”
That speaks volumes for the tight-knit community forming, with common threads in neo-burlesque. Performers occasionally lend each other a hand in making costumes, song selection and coming up with ideas for material for upcoming acts so everyone can perform to the best of their ability.
“The more performers there are, the better, because it pushes the performers to work harder,” Miss Liberty Rose said. “In order to be important and to get booked, you really have to practice and put work, time, money and effort into it.”
Each performer channels their own expertise, which can be theme-based on topics such as films or television, into his or her act and sometimes, separate productions.
“Nerdlesque,” Hopkins’ style, and “filmlesque,” Miss Liberty Rose’s classification of her productions, are just a few genres in the realm of neo-burlesque.
“The fruit that it’s going to bear is going to be great,” Hopkins said. “It’s pulling from all of these other elements, and each performer brings something different.”
Kerri Ann Raimo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.