The common costume preparation for a burlesque show consists of homemade rhinestone-aligned lingerie, colorful pasties and bedazzling flashy costumes.
For the company members of Broad St. Burlesque, the wardrobe of their recent show was made up of anime-inspired bug eyes, pig noses, spider legs and giant, hooded dresses resembling the woodland creatures from the animated film “My Neighbor Totoro.”
On Feb. 21, the company members of Miss Rose’s Sexploitation Follies presented, “Hayao Miyazaki Burlesque,” a tribute to the popular feminist anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.
The show took place at PhilaMOCA, located at Spring Garden and 12th streets.
Liberty Rose – a stage name – is a performer, producer and founder of Broad St. Burlesque.
Rose, other performers and previous interns at Broad St. Burlesque – who Rose affectionately referred to as “Muggles” a-la Harry Potter – said they collectively prefer to be known under stage names, due to the importance of anonymity in the burlesque business.
“Keeping Muggle identity secret in this line of work is important for many reasons,” Rose said. “Mainly, it’s not mainstream enough to get naked in public, even if it is for art. Sometimes people don’t know we do this, and it needs to stay that way. At least until society gets over its prudish norms.”
The company members in the Feb. 21 show were Büm Büm Kapau, Margot Starlux, Dottie Riot, Hattie Harlowe, Esther Ver Millions and Petite Renard with Bettie Pagan as the go-go dancer between sets.
Rose started Miss Rose’s Sexploitation Follies in 2012, which is a series inspired by director-based films. Each show’s theme pays tribute to quirky filmmakers, translating the sex appeal of burlesque into the weird ideas of directors like John Waters, Quentin Tarantino and John Hughes.
“I wanted to do nerdy-themed shows mainly because they didn’t really exist in Philadelphia before,” Rose said. “In New York they happen constantly but I don’t know of any other nerdy-themed shows around here.”
Rose refers to this type of performance as “filmlesque.”
The performance featured numbers inspired by Miyazaki’s popular animated fantasy films including, “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke,” which all feature strong, independent young women as the lead roles – a common theme in his work.
The Miyazaki inspiration took on the scandalous traditions of burlesque dancing and combined it with a comedic twist, layered with fantasy and feminism.
Hosted by a bubbly, yet sassy burlesque dancer who goes by the stage name Iris Explosion, the show held raffles and trivia games for the audience to win prizes between acts. Throughout the set breaks, Explosion included audience participation, and her costume changes consisted of less clothing each time.
With all-homemade costumes by Rose and other company members, each set included props. The dancers portrayed scenes from Miyazaki films as the movie clips were projected in the background on stage. By the end of each act, those handmade costumes were stripped away.
“We want people to see what it takes to make this kind of show, because until you’re actually in it and a part of the production, there’s no way you could really know,” Rose said.
Büm Büm Kapau began an internship with Broad St. Burlesque last February and became an official company member in August, with her solo debut back in May 2014.
“Coming into this, I had no idea the amount of hours and creativity that goes into making a show, and even making just one number,” Kapau said. “It’s so much work, all for just one night. But it ends up being so worth it.”
The company’s twist on burlesque performances requires preparation in advance because of the abstract props and intricately-made costumes, as well as the choreography and organization of the entire production, which is all done solely by the company members.
“We want to make good, impressive things for people to see,” Rose said. “I want our audience to see the stuff we make and be like, ‘Whoa! Holy s—! How did they do that? How did that even happen?’” Rose said.
“I want them to leave with a sense of wonder,” she added.
Rose is currently in the process of working toward producing the first-ever Philadelphia Burlesque Festival, which is to be held at Plays & Players Theatre this coming May.
Alexa Zizzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.