I think we all have those body issues and those ideas about what our body should look like. But I think the longer I’ve been performing the less fucks I give about what my body should look like and the happier I’ve become just being me.
When you’re performing a routine, what’s your aim? Are you trying to make people laugh? Are you trying to make them hard? Are you just throwing it out in the universe and letting it do its thing and people just respond however? Is there something you’re shooting for?
I usually shoot for shock value. That is my end result. Like, if I can get people saying, “What the fuck?!” or “Yeah, that’s so amazing!” That’s usually my end goal.
I know some performers go in with the intent to tease and to be sexual. Personally that’s never been my goal behind it regardless of whether the act is sexual in nature. The end result for me is very much shock value; shock and awe.
I think it’s important though for audiences to take what they want out of it and not to force a specific reaction from them. So, I think it’s good to go into the act with a clear picture of what you want to convey but not to be disappointed if it doesn’t necessarily convey that. Because the audience is going to take what they want from it. Some will be shocked and some will be like, “Oh, that again? Boring!”
So, talking about the sexual aspect of it. Is it fair to say that if somebody goes to burlesque with the idea of, “I’m going to get off on this,” that they’re missing the point?
I definitely think they’re missing the point. But sexuality is fun. Sex is fun! And it should be disinhibited. That being said,a lot of the members in our community are uber-feminists and have no problem putting a patron in their place if they do go in with problematic behaviour. So, that’s always fun to see. If someone goes in with the intent to be sexual or to sexualize the performers that usually gets dealt with in burlesque’s way, which is either the host calling it out or the performers being like, “Ha! Fuck that!” A very clear redirection.
Watching burlesque – particularly the burlesque you perform – there appears to be something transgressive about it; a bit of a fuck you to the status quo. Is that an accurate assessment? And if so, how important is that element to burlesque and what it’s trying to achieve?
Yeah, it’s totally a fuck you. It was initially created as a satire. It satired the upper class, it satired politics, it satired lots of things in its own way.
And of course there are different types of burlesque. There’s classic burlesque which is very much like the Moulin Rouge; like the crazy chorus, the can-can lines and stuff like that. And then there’s neo-burlesque which is very much rock-n-roll. It’s very gritty. It’s edgy. It’s in your face. It’s an expression of who you are or whatever you’re willing to convey or wanting to convey, beyond just simply taking your clothes off.
It appears that over the past several years, male burlesque has really taken off – even though historically it’s generally been presented as a “female” thing. So, what made you – a queer kid from Alberta – go all-in on this?
Burlesque is totally predominantly female – originally female-oriented – and I think the surge in male performers… I think it’s the times changing. The concept of the patriarchy and masculinity and what that entails is always under scrutiny. And I think, personally, it was a way for me to reclaim my identity.
And – not as a read – but as a gay man and an artist it was like, “What can I do?” I’m creative but I don’t necessarily identify with being a drag performer. I don’t really identify with being a visual artist. And this was something that I really enjoyed, being from a theatre background, and there were lots of friends who were in this community. So, that’s how it all transpired, really.
You mentioned drag, where you see these characters or alter-egos. I’ve heard some drag performers describe drag as letting them express an already-present but perhaps generally-hidden part of themselves. And of course, in burlesque you see a similar thing – particularly with you as Beau Creep. To you, how much of it is a developed character vs. this is a part of Brennan that maybe only gets to come out during that moment when you’re on stage?
The two of them are very parallel. I think Beau is just an over-exaggeration of whatever encompasses Brennan. I think the only big difference is that Beau is a lot more unapologetic.
Have you ever been able to use it as an opportunity to put someone in their place or tell somebody to fuck off that you wouldn’t have done otherwise?
100 percent. Absolutely. A lot of these characters rely upon the endorphins you get while you’re performing. Chemically, you’re different because of the rush you get when you perform. You’re so much more quick-witted. You’re more unapologetic. And that’s totally led me to be sassy and to tell people off and to deal with hecklers. You see people heckling and you see how fast the host and performers are at responding. And then you see yourself in that situation and you’re like, “Wait! How did that come to me so quickly?”
A lot of the burlesque I’ve seen has been rooted in the queer community; not particularly that all of the performers identify as queer but that the performances are happening in queer spaces. What is it about queerness and burlesque that make the two so congruent?
Before, we talked about reclaiming your identity and feeling content with your body and with yourself. I think that kind of goes against what mainstream values are. Mainstream values are very shallow. They’re very superficial. And similar to how drag parodies femininity, burlesque really does parody the glitz and glamour. It parodies what people wouldn’t deem to be beautiful but creates an environment where it is beautiful.
Most performers I know identify as queer because when you’re queer you’re putting yourself in a space where you’re able to connect with people who have similar experiences, regardless of sexuality or colour or gender. It’s a lot more open and accepting. And because the queer community holds that philosophy, I think that’s why burlesque itself has become so queer-oriented.
It might be almost the same question… but especially in Edmonton, burlesque performers have really come along drag queens as the type of performers you expect to see at queer parties like “Fruit Loop” or “All Tease, All Shade.” They’re often mixed or you might even have a drag burlesque performer. How closely related do you see the two?
I love the two communities. I wish they were more intertwined. I wish there was more acceptance between the two communities… I would love to see the two of them be even more in-sync. A lot of burlesque performers actually see what they do as a type of drag.
And that was my goal with “All Tease, All Shade.” There are some communities, like in Seattle, that have a very inter-meshed drag and burlesque scene. I would love to see more in-sync cohesion between the two communities in Edmonton because, in a way, they really do the same thing but just differently.
Kind of like one big island of misfit toys…
Absolutely. This year, for the first time, we have a drag performer from Calgary performing at the festival. We’ve always been open to different types of performers such as drag performers or clowns – just really out-there performance art that doesn’t necessarily need to be burlesque but is there to entertain and provide a commentary on society.
Your performances as Beau Creep seem to exist in a space occupied by both the masculine and the feminine. In what way is burlesque – particularly neo-burlesque – playing with gender? Or is it simply upending it – releasing the performer and the audience from the binary concept of gender altogether?
From my personal experience, I’ve used gender, masculinity and femininity to create something that is a little bit less predictable and, again, to reclaim my own gender and engage with the clichés and the norms that my gender carries – like saying a man can’t stand on a stage in makeup unless he’s a drag queen.
Especially in the queer community, I think there’s a really dissected idea of what can be considered entertainment. It’s either the hyper-masculine, which is that cliché of muscled-up, oily strippers who are not feminine at all or, on the other hand, drag queens who are tucked, plucked and hyper-feminine. Creating that middle ground is something that I’ve really enjoyed doing and has allowed me to reclaim or own my own identity.
And I think the broader burlesque community does play with gender. We have a lot of females providing a commentary on or satirizing the patriarchy; playing with those cliché masculine roles or those predominantly male gender norms and kind of saying fuck you to that.
It’s no secret that our community suffers from body-image related issues at a higher rate than our hetero counterparts. So, the idea of getting up – and getting pretty naked – on stage while sporting less than an Abercrombie & Fitch model physique might be quite daunting. That said, in prepping for this interview, I read a Mic article which had this really great quote from male burlesque performer James & the Giant Pasty:
“In burlesque what’s sexy or attractive or interesting is not one particular type of body, but rather the confidence in displaying that body.”
How would you respond to that, perhaps keeping in mind the person sitting down somewhere reading this article who feels too fat or too skinny or just not particularly sexy enough?
I think that’s a perfect way to describe the community. There’s so much hatred or discontent for our bodies. Like how we gotta get our “pride body” on. Things like that. And those are seemingly innocent and we can joke about them but I think people do go home and look in the mirror and judge themselves based on how they feel they should look.
And for me personally, I love performing because despite whatever body type I fall into, whether it be normative or not, I think we all have those body issues and those ideas about what our body should look like. But I think the longer I’ve been performing the less fucks I give about what my body should look like and the happier I’ve become just being me.
When I’ve scene burlesque in Edmonton, I’ve seen all kinds of body types – many of which don’t fit the stereotype of the type of body we’re told is acceptable to be on-stage in various states of undress. To what degree, for you and some of the performers in your circles, is that messaging important? The message that, “You’re beautiful. Bodies are beautiful. ALL kinds of bodies are beautiful.” Is that a very intentional part of the message?
Absolutely. I think that would be the number one message. Regardless of how you would describe yourself or how you look, you have a community that is open to you… as long as you’re not shitty. You can explore your sexuality and explore your body and your creative side – whatever you want to achieve by exploring burlesque – and have a safe space to do so.
And although audiences may not always be safe, you have a host that will never make fun of you and performers and a community that would never make fun of you; and if they do then they’re not truly a part of that community.
I think a lot of the local performers who don’t necessarily fit that cliché of what’s expected of a female body that is involved in exotic dancing… I mean, they know and they’re well aware of the labels society puts on them. But at the same time they have embraced that and they’ve used that as one of their biggest selling points – it’s something that sets them apart.
For the person reading this interview who thinks to themselves, “Hmm… this burlesque thing sounds pretty cool,” how can they get involved? What’s a step they can take right here in Edmonton?
Well, there are a lot of resources. I’ve mentored lots of new performers and although that’s not always necessarily my main area of interest, I do love fostering growth within the community.
There’s the Edmonton Burlesque Centre, which has classes every couple of months. At the festival this weekend there are going to be workshops with features from all around the world. We also have a whole bunch of local pioneers in the community coming to feature in the festival and do workshops as well.
And then throughout the rest of the year there are always workshops and lots of performers who are totally willing to mentor and help inspire people who are wanting to get involved. And you can always just reach out to a performer. I would be surprised if any of the performers would just say, “Whatever.” People are generally very willing to help or point you in the right direction.
And, finally, on to the big event… give us the pitch for the Edmonton Burlesque Festival. What can people expect to experience?
There are go-go dancers. There’s alcohol (of course). Hors d’oeuvres for people who’ve bought VIP tickets. There’s a vendor area with shirts, boas, pasties if you’re feeling crazy… Anything to get starting with burlesque. Anything that’s rhinestoned to fuck. And that’s before you even hit the theatre.
And in the theatre, you’ll experience new performers, male performers, female performers, drag performers, and clowns. There will be super-polished performers and super-raw performers, performances to music and performances to spoken-word. There’s literally something for everybody.
You can buy tickets through the Edmonton Burlesque Festival website.You can get weekend passes or individual night passes. And although the volunteer sign-up is already over for this year, throughout the year we’ll be looking for volunteers for next year, which is a great way to get your feet wet if you’re interested in getting involved with burlesque.
To purchase tickets for the Edmonton Burlesque Festival, or to learn more, click the banner below: