By: Mary Widow
Growing up, most of us burlesque beauties weren’t the prettiest or most popular people in class. In fact, most of us were nerds, outcasts, drama club dweebs, art room kids, band geeks, freaks, and weirdos (all titles we are still proud to hold!). But now, we have grown into the Beautiful Weirdos of the burlesque community. The things that made us outcasts or dorks, the reasons we were made fun of, are our strengths now.
As a child, I was skinny, gangly, wore huge glasses, and didn’t know what to do with my curly hair, so I just let it frizz out every which way. I wore massively oversized t-shirts and neon bike shorts. I didn’t care as much about fashion, as I did about playing dress-up in makeshift costumes and creating imaginative scenes. Instead of going to the mall, i’d rather ride my bike for miles and get dirty, climbing through trees and bushes.
My dad introduced me to Danny Kaye, Mel Brooks, Monty Python, and the Marx Brothers. My musical tastes were odd rotation of genres, ranging from (but not limited to) “Weird Al” Yankovic, Broadway musicals, Queen, jazz standards, barbershop quartets, 60’s pop, medieval and renaissance music, and New Kids on the Block. The Muppets were more relatable to me than any characters on Beverly Hills, 90210.
I had dorky friends. In fifth grade, we got called “the Nerd Herd” by the popular kids in our class, and we didn’t mind at all. I was never afraid to be myself, even when other kids didn’t understand me. My dorkiness never stopped me from thinking I deserved attention from the opposite sex, either. I was voted “class flirt” in sixth grade. Though, I don’t recall one single person flirting back. I mean, who could resist a gal with a bad haircut, and giant glasses who knew all the lyrics to “The Lumberjack Song”?
In my early 20s, Black Cat Burlesque formed, and my life changed forever. I found an art form where I could live out all aspects of myself onstage. I could be goofy, I could be scary, I could be sexy, I could be mysterious and powerful. Our founder, Devilicia, taught me that we can use this art form to live out our wildest fantasies, and pay tribute to all of the oddities that inspired us. My stage partner, J. Cannibal helped me push ideas further than “let’s dress up like these characters and take our clothes off.” Neo-burlesque as a genre isn’t just about taking your clothes off, it’s about telling a story, taking the audience on a journey with you.
Black Cat had a beautiful and gory “werewolf suite” where I played Little Red Riding Hood. J. Cannibal and I have a spectacularly bloody “Freddy vs. Jason” act. We’ve done odes to The Lost Boys, Phantom of the Opera, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and so many other monsters, and horror tropes. We’ve even done an epic, eight-minute act based on Sumerian mythology. In 2010, I hit my personal pinnacle of geek/fan burlesque: my Jareth the Goblin King act. Jareth is by far my most popular and most requested act to date. I love it, and I love performing it. If I retired from burlesque tomorrow, I would be proud to have that act as my legacy.
Black Cat Burlesque doesn’t perform full time as a troupe anymore (though, we can be summoned from the depths for the right occasion). I recently became a full time member of The Slaughterhouse Society, and I am constantly floored by the creativity and creepiness of the troupe. I’m happy to be continuing my career as a horror burlesque performer with them.
When I first came on the scene in 2003, we were swimming in a sea of classic burlesque revival, and we seemed to be the only weirdos in town. That is not the case anymore! I’ve had newer performers come to me and say “You guys were the first burlesque I ever saw and now I have my own troupe!” Or, “I didn’t think I liked burlesque until I saw you.” That feels amazing, and I couldn’t be prouder.
Boston itself has become a hub for Neo Burlesque. The Slutcracker, a sex-positive dance and burlesque re-imagining of The Nutcracker, and Alternatease: The New England Neo-Burlesque Festival are two major Boston events that really epitomize what burlesque in Boston is all about. It makes my heart happy to see how many beautiful weirdos there are out there, making art, being silly, and being sexy.
A few years ago, I got to perform with one of my childhood idols, “Weird Al.” It was a chance opportunity that fell into my lap, and it was an incredible experience. Everyone in the band and crew were extremely nice, and a pleasure to work for. After the show, I hugged Al and told him that I had been a fan since I was little, and that it meant a lot to me to perform with them. The picture taken of the two of us is him saying “Awww!” and hugging me back. After the photo session, Honey Pie (of the Lipstick Criminals) and I were having a drink with Jim “Kimo” West (guitar player and all around super-nice guy) and I said to him, “I really appreciate that you guys are still around. ‘Weird Al’ was MAJOR for me when I was growing up, and I found my true friends back then because we were all goofballs and weirdos, and I think what you do is really important.” He thanked me and said that the reason they are still doing it is because Al is timeless, he’s always parodying something current. He told me that a week before their Boston show, he looked up into the balcony and saw a row of 8-year-old girls holding a sign that said “We Love Weird Al!” I smiled and had a warm feeling for those girls. I was happy that they had each other, like I have my burlesque community. I was proud that there is a new generation of people who love weirdness, and aren’t afraid to admit it.
To the weirdos reading this: I want to tell you to love who you are, express yourself, and don’t be afraid. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. You are not alone! As for me, I will continue to be a goofball, a “class flirt,” and a force to be reckoned with.