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Philly’s first Burlesque Festival — what to expect, and why the audience may be mostly women

Philadelphia is getting its inaugural huge Burlesque Festival this weekend, which will be a four-day event aimed at elevating “Philly’s flourishing burlesque community.”

But what even is burlesque, and what will this weekend’s large event be like? Here are the details:

The basics

What: The Philadelphia Burlesque Festival

When: Thursday through Sunday

Where: Numerous locations including Underground Arts at 12th and Callowhill, Plays & Players Theatre at 1714 Delancey Place and at Silk City at Fourth and Spring Garden Streets.

Who: Headliners include The Peek-A-Boo Revue (pictured above), Philly’s own multi-award winning neo burlesque troupe, as well as Sydni Deveraux, the “Golden Glamazon” of burlesque and first runner-up at 2013 Miss Exotic World, Lulu Lollipop, a veteran of the Philadelphia burlesque scene and Ray Gunn, the Burlesque Hall of Fame Winner who was crowned King of Burlesque 2013.

The events

Here’s the breakdown of the events taking place:

Thursday

A festival kickoff party presented by PinkBox and hosted by Scott Johnston of The Peek-A-Boo Revue and The Roddenberries. Tickets to the “Boylesque Bash” at Underground Arts are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

Friday

General admission: $30 for entrance to the Friday Night Showcase at Plays & Players Theatre featuring headlining performances by The Peek-A-Boo Revue, Ray Gunn and others.

VIP access: A $60 VIP ticket includes a reserved seat up front at the Friday Night Showcase, and an ice cream social hour from 7-8 p.m. where you can mingle with Philly’s performers. Plus, a “secret souvenir gift.”

Saturday

General admission: $30 for entrance to the Saturday Night Showcase at Plays & Players Theatre featuring headlining performances Sydni Deveraux, Lulu Lollipop and others.

VIP access: $60 VIP ticket includes a reserved seat up front at the Saturday Night Showcase, and a (different) ice cream social hour from 8-9 p.m. where you can mix and mingle with Philly’s most alluring artists.

Sunday

Attend the Closing Night Party and burlesque show at Silk City, 435 Spring Garden St. Tickets for this show are $10 at the door.

What even is burlesque?

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The front of a Philadelphia Burlesque Theater. 1978, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple University Archives

Burlesque, which has apparently seen growing popularity in Philadelphia in the last five years, is comically or musically exaggerated shows that typically involve some sort of striptease. Think stripping meets dancing meets early 1900s-style performing – but all with nipple tassels.

Burlesque — meaning “to poke fun at” — has been recognized as a form of performance since before the 1800s, but gained popularity in the early 1900s through the ’40s when shows were often played in local clubs. Since the 1990s when several movies about the show format were made, there became a resurgence of interest.

At a typical burlesque show, you can expect to see a variety show-type format that will feature a host that keeps the show moving but a number of different performers with varying backgrounds, whether it’s in music, dance or comedy. According to “the Doctor of Burlesque,” you can also expect “an over-the-top presentation of self” and a lack of the 4th Wall, meaning actors and performers will engage with the audience.

One of the main things that makes burlesque unique is its mostly female audience and its tendencies to bring in current social and political issues. Despite the nipple tassels, rarely are burlesque audiences male-dominated.

What to remember if you attend this weekend? Burlesque is a parody. According to the Doctor, a veteran burlesque performer and expert in New York, “parody was an intrinsic part of burlesque, even before striptease emerged.” Expect inverted social norms and things made fun of that normally aren’t.

Want to learn burlesque?

Classes will be held on Saturday at InterAct Theater, near 20th and Sansom Streets. Participants should wear comfortable clothing that allows for easy movement. All classes are $20 in cash, or get advance tickets here.

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