Journalists are supposed to quote the real names of people they interview for articles. But when it comes to quoting burlesque performers who theatrically flaunt their bare flesh for all, they will strangely guard their legal names while hiding behind the cover ( or as they might say the "mysterious allure" ) of a clever stage name.
So for this advance column on the 4th Annual Windy City Burlesque Festival, you'll be hearing from local striptease queen "Red Hot Annie." Annie is not only the "C.E.Oh!" of the Chicago burlesque troupe Vaudezilla, she's also an executive producer of the festival which takes over Stage 773 from Thursday, June 19, to Saturday, June 21.
The majority of festival performers are from the Chicago area, but there are also North American entries from Canada, California, New York and Georgia. European performers from as far away as France, Italy and Sweden are also in the mix.
"The great thing about modern burlesque is that it really is an art form that appeals to women." Annie said, adding that's not just leering men who go to burlesque striptease shows. "It's largely produced by women, the majority of the performers in the show are obviously women, and then really the majority of the audiences are women."
This made-by-women-for-women theatrical ethos has in many ways warded off criticisms that might have come previous waves of feminists who might have condemned burlesque as degrading or objectifying female sexuality. And as Annie points out, burlesque nowadays embraces a wide variety of body shapes and forms.
"What makes burlesque important as a modern art form is that it is super body-cognizant and female positive," Annie said. "You will see a wide range of types of women represented in the show, which is unusual when you're talking about taking off your clothes. That's one of the things that I think helps draw a female audience because a lot of women when they go to see a show, they can relate to the performers on stage. They can go, that is a performer who looks like me."
There's also a growing queer sensibility in terms of participants and approaches, too. Annie points out that Vaudezilla has gay and straight male performers, and that one of the headliners this year is male.
"Russell Bruner is from Portland, Oregon, and he will charm the pants off you as he's charmingly taking his pants off," Annie said, also excited about other headliners like Jeez Loueez, who heads an African-American-focused burlesque troupe in St. Louis and the award-winning burlesque performer ( and jewelry designer ) Iva Handfull from Seattle.
So whatever one's sexuality may be, Annie said all be welcome at the Windy City Burlesque Festival.
"Hopefully whoever is taking their clothing off on stage, in an ideal world they are doing it in a way that's creative, or builds a sense of anticipation or surprise," Annie said. "The audience's interaction is critical to burlesque. You really want that audience riled up and rowdy regardless of what their orientation is."
The 4th Annual Windy City Burlesque Festival runs from Thursday, June 19, through Saturday, June 21, at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. The Anything Goes! Burlesque Show is 8 p.m. June 19 and 10 p.m. June 20 and 21. The Classic Burlesque Show is 8 p.m. June 20. The Pop Culture Burlesque Show is 8 p.m. June 21 and the Naughty Burlesque Show is 11:59 p.m. Saturday, June 21. Tickets range between $18 to $25 for individual shows, while a $125 all-festival pass is also available. For more information, call 773-327-5252 or visit www.windycityburlesquefest.com or www.stage773.com .
What about 'Love'?
The ensembles of Windy City Performing Arts ( WCPA ) performed a concert titled "It's About Time" last year for its contribution to Pride Month, focusing on the hoped-for passage of same-sex marriage in Illinois. Now that the marriage equality is a statewide reality, the Windy City Gay Chorus and the women's ensemble Aria are focused on "Just Love," the title for this year's Pride concert.
"There was kind of a double entendre by using the word 'Just.' The fact that this is 'Just' as in 'Right,' and that our love could be recognized," said WCPA artistic director Paul Caldwell about the chorus' first concert under the new state law. "This is a celebration of love and many different kinds of love."
Hence, there are songs about different stages of love, including one about being jilted. There's also the parental mother-and-son song "I Love You More," which is an excerpt from a larger choral work called Tyler's Suite that was commissioned following the suicide of spied-upon college student Tyler Clementi.
"From the time that he was a small child, whenever Tyler and his mother would part or say goodnight, one of them would say, 'I love you' and the other would say, 'I love you more,'" said Caldwell, adding that the Windy City Gay Chorus plans on performing the full Tyler's Suite in March of 2015. "It's a song written by Ann Hampton Callaway for Tyler's Suite reflecting on the fact that now that they have had a final parting and she loves him even more. It's a duet between a mezzo soloist and a men's chorus and it's ravishingly beautiful."
Windy City Performing Arts' choruses Aria and Windy City Gay Chorus perform "Just Love" at 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday, June 21, at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1650 W. Foster Ave. Tickets are $20. Visit www.windycitysings.org or www.brownpapertickets.com for more information.
Note: Scott C. Morgan is a member of the Windy City Gay Chorus, albeit on a leave of absence from the organization.