Whether you call them neo-burlesque, vaudeville or just the finest, bawdiest entertainment export this city has to offer, Philly’s Peek-A-Boo Revue has been wowing audiences since 1998.
But they’ll close out 2017 with something new: November 18’s debut student showcase at Franky Bradley’s, based on an eight-week, learners’ boot-camp at the troupe’s Philadelphia Burlesque Academy in Fishtown.
Run by managing director Cherry Bomb, the boot-camp intensive was an all-sweat, no-joke hardcore class in physicalizing one’s theatrical character back-story, its development on stage, and its necessary minutiae such as make-up, costuming and choreography.
Watching instructors Bomb and Leigh teach a class makes it clear: Burlesque is no easy feat.
“I cannot fully predict how I’ll feel performing burlesque (after this class), but I'm ready for the ride of my life,” said Maria Palumbo, one of seven students between the ages of 23 to 43.
The Academy itself is now five years old, and Ms. Bomb stated that “10-plus students have gone on to perform regularly within the burlesque community, some even producing their own events.”
In a world where women must protect themselves more than ever against aggressors, Bomb is both teacher and mother hen when it comes to her students.
“I want to make sure the experience they have in class with us is as positive and encouraging as possible,” she said. “Being sexy and serious in a room full of others takes some practice.”
Boiling it down to essentials, the eight-week dance camp focused on the dramatics of burlesque — crafting a name, image and performance skill set such as etiquette, poise “and everything else we could cram,” stated Bomb. “I don't know if any of them were quite prepared for how emotional creating art can be.”
“I did this on a whim, knowing it wasn't like me,” said Palumbo, 32. “I was raised in a way that acting sexually, showing off the body, was wrong. I performed liturgical dance at my church.”
Bomb and her fellow instructors insisted that these students remain open-minded, ready to work, and stated that they got that and more from their initial boot-camp’s students.
“This group of ladies meshed well together and are so supportive of each other, it's crazy inspiring,” Bomb said.
Palumbo chose the name “Moxy Midnight” because, she said, burlesque is a living, breathing example of unapologetic moxie that celebrates and integrates the typically "dark and judged aspects of ourselves, like our sexuality."
Her character is a 1950s housewife, a woman who decides to “own her sexuality and beauty in a stigmatizing world that tries to remove and limit her sexuality,” said Palumbo.
“Instead of throwing out her ‘50s identity completely, she decides to fully embrace it while fully embracing herself,” Palumbo said. “This is powerful to me because it is an example that women do not have to choose — they can be fully sexual beings as well as homemakers, wives, and beyond.”
For Liz Corcoran, 40, an attraction to burlesque’s retro vibe (“and how it is adjacent to sideshow carnival arts, fire-eating and sword swallowing”) pushed her to the boot-camp and the character name “Bettie Loup Garou” for its noir-ish tinge.
“I’m not so much interested in being cute or sexy as I am in being dangerous or mysterious, which is kind of funny because I can never seem to pull those things off completely in real life,” she said. “So the femme fatale seemed like a natural choice for me to draw on for my character.”
Plus, Corcoran is creating an homage to werewolves in her act – something “sexy but also vicious. She’ll pull you in, but she’ll also turn on you and rip you apart. My instructors Ginger, Cherry and Sophie did an amazing job of helping me pull ‘Bettie Loup Garou’ out of me and putting her together.”
Brett Baxter, 23, of Port Richmond chose the name ‘Georgia Fe’Tische’.
For her, it wasn’t about “taking my clothes off,” but rather the playful connection with the audience, “the gleam in my eyes that would make them want me to take my clothes off.”
From her own middle name of Georgia, she went with the “sweet Georgia peach” metaphor, and focused on a character who is very proper and always feels the need to be “presentable.” However, today is a hot day and the heat overtakes her properness. She decides to let loose and risk the idea of someone seeing her cooling down. She realizes how amazing it feels and basks in the fun of not worrying.”
Bomb states that each of her seven dancers are primed and ready for Saturday night and beyond any possible career in burlesque. “I want these women to take that feeling of bad-ass-ery that they evoke in the studio into their everyday lives,” she said. “To walk with confidence into that work meeting or whatever it may be knowing that they are a cool, interesting, sexy, individual who should be celebrated.”
Catch the Peek-a-Boo Revue!
Peek-a-boo has their usual slate of holiday shows coming up soon.
12/9: The Queen, Wilmington, DE’s
12/16: Mauch Chunk Opera House Jim Thorpe, PA
12/17: World Cafe Live, West Philly.