If there were more time, I think I would have tried it. I think.
It takes a brave soul to get on a stage to do a burlesque performance, but I wanted to try a class before writing this story so I’d have a firsthand idea of what it’s actually like. Because absolutely everyone you talk to about it says the same thing — that despite a common misconception, it’s not the same as stripping, that it builds confidence, that it’s one of the most fun things you can do, and the message behind it is somewhat surprising — total acceptance. I didn’t have enough time before deadline, but the people behind the Vermont Burlesque Festival more than cover it.
Cory Royer has been producing the festival for the past six years. What started as a one-day event has grown to four, drawing performers and audiences from all over the country. This year it runs Jan. 16-19, featuring more than 120 live burlesque performers, musicians, comedians, artists and variety acts.
The Vermont Burlesque Festival brings its “Granite City Showcase” to the Barre Opera House at 8 p.m. Friday. But the festival begins Wednesday with the film “Becoming Burlesque” at Merrill’s Roxy Cinema in Burlington, followed by an opening night showcase Thursday at FlynnSpace in Burlington, culminating with “The Main Event” at the Flynn Center on Saturday. There are also classes and “The Nerdy Show” Saturday in Burlington.
“When the economy crashed in 2008, I was introduced to a burlesque show in a small speakeasy kind of venue,” Royer said in a recent interview. “It had a piece of elegance to it, a piece of raunchiness; it had comedy to it, and was just unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I was bitten.
“I love the all-inclusivity of burlesque,” he added. “I love how it doesn’t discriminate on age, size, shape, color or gender. For a lot of women, I understand it’s a confidence-builder. It’s a very accepting art form and anybody engaged always has a great time.”
Royer produces festivals around the country, with a mix of open auditions and solicitation of burlesque groups, and says the Vermont festival does even better than the one in Las Vegas, with an expected 1,500 attendees compared to 200 in Nevada last year.
“(Some) people compare it to a strip club and I don’t think that’s fair,” Royer said. “It’s much more comparable to theater, because it evokes emotion. A standup comedy show is funny but it only touches on one emotion. Burlesque can be funny; it can be sad; it can make you angry. In all my travels I’ve never seen people have as much fun than they have at a burlesque festival.”
The headliners this year include well-known performers RedBone and Foxy Tann. Ginge O’Lolli, from the Green Mountain Cabaret troupe in Burlington, will also be performing, and described the feeling of being on stage as, “always nerves beforehand, and then as soon as I hit the stage it’s empowering, (like a) runner’s high.”
Burlesque has grown more popular in recent years. Royer says the audience and participants are typically over 70 percent female, as more women embrace the positive message behind it — “I don’t need to alter my body to feel beautiful, I don’t need to get breast implants or lose weight, I am who I am and I’m going to love myself for who I am.”
“We’re living in times that are rough, a lot of name calling and hate speech, and you’re not going to find that at a burlesque festival,” Royer said. “It’s the complete opposite, it’s all about acceptance.”