No Books, Just Boas: Burlesque University

A vamp, a coquette, a clown. A corset, a boa, and a little glitter.  Just a few of the elements necessary to create a spectacular burlesque number.

Perhaps you read my recent article, Skin & Spectacle: T.O. Burlesque Festival Coming to Town?  The piece focuses on the upcoming Festival and the dynamic trio bringing it to the stage.  But for all of you burlesque virgins, I thought you might appreciate a little cheat sheet about the art form. What can you expect to see in a performance? A striptease? Sometimes. A comedic act? Um, sort of. Girls? Yes! And even boys!

Burlesque is often considered a comedic and provocative stage show, and the history of the form can be traced back to the late 1800’s and the American vaudeville stage.  The neo-burlesque scene began to make a comeback just before 2000 and gained international popularity.  The performers offer a diverse take on the form, but there does seem to be  few fundamental elements that characterize most modern day shows. I chatted with Coco Framboise (of the Coco Framboise School of Burlesque) to gain some insight, and here is what I learned.

Burlesque performances often begin with a character and theme. Much like other performing arts, the character drives the performance forward. Most often, these characters are vamps (think femme fatale, 1940’s film starlet), coquettes (flirtatious woman, with girlish charm), or clowns (not so much the red nose and big shoes, but more so the humour).

While the stereotype of a striptease is often associated with burlesque, it is not really a necessary part of a performance. Miss Framboise suggests that there is a “certain level of disrobing in a show, but it may or may not be presented as a tease”.  Instead of clothing coming off in a slow, seductive manner meant to entice the audience, the strip may be a comedic moment meant to play with the audience’s expectations, which often leads to the big reveal. Miss Framboise describes the big reveal as “final flourish” or a “revelation of skin, comedy or effect”.

But most importantly, and what sets artists apart from one another (and makes one a  star), is the signature gimmick.  The gimmick can occur in the beginning, middle, or end of piece, but it is a moment of unexpected wit.  It can be the use of common prop in an innovative way, or the undoing of a corset in an impossible way, but it is the emphasis on a quirky, clever surprise (and often, what the audience remembers most).

Now that you have a cheat sheet in hand, step away from the computer screen and put all of your new found knowledge to good use.  This weekend, in conjunction with the Festival, the Coco Framboise School of Burlesque will present Toronto Burlesque University. Led by a a number of international artists, including Miss Indigo Blue, Jett Adore, and Evil Hate Monkey, you can look forward to a sexy Saturday, showing you how to shimmy, shake, and perfect a few “glorious grinds”.

Burlesque University on Saturday, July 23rd, 10:30AM -6:00 PM

Lower Ossignton Theatre (100A Ossignton, 2nd Fl, Studio A)

Coco Framboise is a sought-after burlesque artist with a strong international reputation.  A pint-sized dynamo, she is known for her out-sized stage presence and large signature props.  Frequently performing across North America, Europe, and the UK, she takes audiences on a thrill ride from the saucy to the surreal to the sublime.

Coco is on the production team for the Toronto Burlesque Festival and the dean for the affiliated Burlesque University workshop weekend featuring international star faculty.  She is also the visionary pioneer of the Coco Framboise School of Burlesque offering the most extensive burlesque curriculum in Canada.