The title should help in narrowing this down. Yes, it is burlesque. And screaming chickens? Not so much, but it does aid the audience n knowing what they’re getting into. Burlesque, according to Wikipedia is “a literary, dramatic or musical works intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects.” It developed into meaning a parody, farce or exaggeration and was used by everyone from Shakespeare to Strauss. Comedy, bad puns, juxtaposing modern styles against classical ones, mixing operettas and literary works and theatrical elements are all historically part of burlesque.
American burlesque involved more acts; variety shows, wrestlers, exotic dancers, magicians, singers and chorus numbers, to name a few. The exotic or cooch dancers began to become a focus. Singers showed off their shapes while wearing elaborate costumes and eventually they were supplanted by striptease. Hence, when many of us hear the term “burlesque” we think of Gypsy Rose Lee, giant feather fans and stripping. Remember that it’s striptease and not just stripping. I have seen both and there is quite a difference since some strippers are already wearing nothing and at the most brutish of the “dances” had women slide along poles and writhe on the floors in mimicry of sexual acts more than as a dance.
I included a bit of the background so that my short and somewhat tardy review of the Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society’s 10th Anniversary Burlesque show makes some sense. Not that sense is the biggest thing in burlesque. Fun and silliness is. The show was held at the end of June at the WISE Hall and opened with a long nautical number done in a great vaudevillian and 50s style. Two women first came on stage in shimmery teal shorts and tops holding fans with silk attached (favored by bellydancers, exotic dancers and others). Then two more women came out in little shimmery skirts holding long silk veils. The four danced and then created waves with the silks. Next four women with mermaid tails danced out, “swam about” and then removed their shell bras to reveal starfish pasties covering their nipples. http://
After those four disappeared a turtle, seahorse, seaweed, jellyfish, octopus and others danced into a much more silly piece, followed by the beluga whale and two fisherman. It didn’t end with this keystone kops farce, but advanced into the stranded beluga being rescued by three save-the-whale hippie, earth flower children. This long and involved piece was beautiful, goofy, sensual and most of all fun. Not everyone stripped and most of that involved the removing of bras.
Other numbers through the night involved songs and dance, perhaps a few more pieces of clothing coming off as in one number at the end with two men in jailhouse orange and the woman guard. They were stripped down to their striped shorts. I believe they were new members who had taken a burlesque course. A proper Victorian husband and wife stood for a portrait but she had the (fake) pubic curls beneath her dress showing. The light went out and the next was the woman standing proper and the husband displaying his waistcoat and pants that went from floor to knee and nothing in between.
One of my favorites, besides the opening number, was the dogs playing poker. We’ve all seen the poster. Well, five women came out complete with ears, tails and tufts of fur peeking from their bras. They each had a spotlighted piece and then they danced, removed their bras and had them in their mouths, shaking them like stuffed toys. If I remember their pasties were bones.
There were men in power suits who stripped down and an old lady with a walker dancing it up. Another routine indicative of E. Van with its ubiquitous avian population was titled Crows, and was a great dance reminiscent of the corvids and jazz chorus numbers. In all the routines, the point wasn’t to strip and be naked, nor was there much of the striptease though some acts were sensual. In most cases bras were removed or pants and that was it. This is what brings burlesque back to its fuller roots. Music, parody, exaggeration and comedy. Near the end there was one point where screaming chicken should have shrieked in outrage and where the essence of burlesque, and good taste, was lost.
One of the more memorable acts began with bringing someone shrouded in black out to sit on a chair. This routine was introduced as being inspired by a US serial killer I believe. Then out came a slim woman in black jogging pants and pulled-up hoodie. She danced around and moved to a lingerie-clad woman who was tied up and kneeling. Then the person in the black hoodie slits her throat and removes the cover on the seated woman, tied, gagged and looking afraid. The “killer” proceeds to taunt and kills the other woman, tearing out her eye. She then removes her hoodie and long pants and tada!
I’m pretty sure the audience was quieter for this piece. I know I was. It was vulgar and horrid in all the wrong ways. Burlesque is also about celebrating our bodies in all shapes and sizes and not being critical that we aren’t all perfect models. It’s not just bad that the true essence of burlesque was not attained (where is the comedy in this) but when women are already victims of domestic, religious and other violence how does having a sexy serial killer equate to entertainment?
Besides the always-sucky sound system at the WISE Hall (making it difficult to hear what performers said or sang) this routine was the only other foul note and Screaming Chicken members would be better off to bury it forever. Still, I very much enjoyed most of it and would definitely go to be entertained again.