In the interest of full disclosure, Jim Thorpe’s Pa Burlesque Festival pissed me off before the first dancer almost exposed a bare shoulder. We were truly excited about the opportunity to review the 2 day “festival” with performers from “around the world” at the Plays and Players theater off Rittenhouse. We were generously offered full accessability to the performers, with the sweet vantange spot of photographing the show from the backstage wings of the beautiful theater, and that if we arrived an hour before show time, could go backstage and shoot the performers as they prepared for the show. We had planned for a real Bruce Davidson documentary style photo essay. We arrived an hour early as we had arranged, and were directed to the dressing rooms. It was perfect. Backstage chaos in a maze of exposed brick dressing rooms as girls applied false eye lashes, laced each other’s corsets and wriggled into mounds of yummy fabrics. This was going to be a truly amazing photo essay exploring the world of classic burlesque from behind the scenes.
Denied. The organizer who had cheerfully volunteered the all access photo-op, informed us that although we were there an hour early as we had arranged with her, we weren’t allowed to photograph the girls getting ready and that we should go to the audience and shoot from there, accompanied by a stern warning not to get in the audience’s way. Great. An hour early to sit in the audience with my camera? We can do that anywhere even without generously posting a free blurb before the show to help publicize the event. Not to mention that since we didn’t have seats, if the place filled up, we were shit out of luck. Luckily for us, it didn’t come close to selling out.
Philly is a community saturated with one of the country’s most thriving burlesque communities. In preparation for this article we began asking the local performers about the “PA Burlesue Festival”. Almost none of the Philly dancers knew about the event, and the one we found who did had serious issues with the contract she was sent in order to apply. Was this the problem with the performance? Possibly. I find it difficult to believe that these were the best dancers Pennsylvania and “the world” has to offer. There were two girls did stand out in the sea of mediocrity. Scarlet Starlet was flawless. Beautiful girl, beautiful dancer, lovely costume, cute, classic Vargas style piece. Deana Danger did a 1920’s inspired performance that equally lovely, but in general this was an evening that was all fluff and no excitement.
Burlesque was meant to entertain. It was a combination of comedic sketches, acrobatics, music and erotic dancers. It’s supposed to make you laugh till you cry: part beauty, part drink and dancing on the edge of total debauchery. This was none of that. The costumes were gorgeous, but most of the dancers totally unimpressive. The MC for the evening was boring. A Rubinesque woman in a bad wig and a beautiful costume who announced the performers with all the personality of Melba toast. Long awkward pauses were punctuated with occasional references to some fat guy in the front row who apparently is a fan. I’m not sure why. The naughtiest the show ever got was the mention of a red glittery paddle which left those of us who adore Philly Neo-Burlesque craving an evening with the Rigor Mortis Review.
We’re not totally dissing the PA Burlesque Festival, but before they decide to hang their 2 inch heels in this town, they need to reach out to our Philly girls for a little real flavor, as well as a packed house. When a city is accustomed Burlesque bad asses like Miss Rose Burlesque, we’re gonna need a little more than a pretty face in a nice dress. On the other hand, the scantily clad tattooed chick cleaning the stage between acts was awesome. She’s welcome back for a cheese steak anytime!