All The Naughty & Fascinating Things You Didn't Know About Male Burlesque
When the word "burlesque" comes to find, the first thoughts are dancers from the old school like Josephine Baker and Betty Page, to more modern stars like Dita Von Teese and RuPaul's Drag Race winner Violet Chachki. It even became a hit movie, with the same name, starring Cher and Christina Aguilera. Yet, for the most part, this genre is considered very female driven where not a lot of people realize that men are just as vital in it as well.
There have been several men in recent years, most notably Chris Harder, who have brought the male side of burlesque to a much larger level, yet there is still a major stigma that these performers face when they are on stage. There is a fine line that is drawn, in terms of being seen as a performer vs. a stripper/gogo boy, and they walk that line incredibly well while performing to some incredible numbers and showing their skills to packed audiences across the world.
One of those performers goes by the stage name Carriage Return, and he has been doing burlesque for several years now. I spoke with him about getting into the world of burlesque, the common misconceptions one faces, how tough it was to get on stage practically naked, and how it's helped him find his confidence in this community.
What got you into the world of burlesque?
I got into this in sort of a roundabout way. I moved to NYC to go to a musical theater conservatory (Shocking. I know). I had some injuries and some bad luck and was just sorta floating around. A friend of mine took one of the intro to boylesque workshops that Chris Harder used to give, and went on to produce his own show, and eventually talked me into both taking the workshop and performing in his show. At the same time, I had another friend who was trying out a sort of mini arts symposium, where a group of us meet for 10 weeks, and at the beginning, we stated an artistic goal, and would do homework each week, and bring what we had to the group and would give each other feedback. That really helped with my first act, having a group of people there to say what they liked, what they didn't, what worked, what didn't, and have the time to make changes.
Did you have any inspirations like Dita Von Teese that brought you into this world?
I can't say I did. Partially because I didn't really know anyone presenting as a man would be accepted, and then, I kinda figured it would be the skinny/muscled people who would be hired/sought after. In fact, I remember having a talk with Chris Harder after his workshop about this. Would I be accepted?
What's the biggest misconception of men doing burlesque?
Whenever I tell someone I'm a burlesque performer, the first thing I usually get asked is am I doing drag. The answer is no. I'm going on stage as boy, even if I'm wearing makeup and heels. I have some acts that I try and play with societal expectations of "masculinity" and some that are more traditional, but I'm always presenting as a boy.
Were you ever nervous going on stage, given the little amount of clothing you had to wear?
Yes. Even now, I usually am. I mean, I'm getting ready and looking at myself wearing my g-string (or less. I have an act where I wear a coffee cup), and I just think "Man, they can see every roll, every weird piece of body hair, every mole. Maybe if I do some sit ups and pushups, right before I go on, I'll look more toned or pumped or something." However, usually once the act starts, that goes away.
Did this help you find your confidence in the LGBT community?
Yes and no. I've had a lot of people come up to me and tell me that they are really impressed at my presence and some other stuff that I often take as "Wow, we didn't expect a 'fat' guy like you to be that interesting on stage!!" I say fat because I'm certainly not skinny, and the no part is that often with the gay male community, it seems you're have to be the hottie with the abs, or be some sort of niche bear performer lip syncing to Carly Rae Jepsen. So, I've had some really amazing and accepting experiences, but I also see a lot of casting choices that seem to come from a place that I hope we can do learn to be better than.
What exciting "burlesque" things do you have coming up?
I'm actually coming off of a busy season, having done a few festivals and shows in NYC, Philly, and Boston. Right now, I'm looking forward to regrouping, especially since the festival application season starts up in December/January. That being said, I'm the current King of New Jersey Burlesque, with a crown and everything. I've worked a lot with White Elephant Burlesque WEBurlesque White Elephant Burlesque - Striptease, Vaudeville, Burlesque, Drag They have their awards show, The Silver Tusks, coming up. I've also performed with Bearlesque, out of Philly, and one day hope to have the time to go with them to P-Town. I've also been doing a lot of circus skills training and have been working on some pieces that I hope to show in 2018. And there are always last minute gigs you can pick up when a performer has to drop out, or mysteriously gets food poisoning, or "trips" down the stairs coming off stage.