Angel Burlesque is one of the newest burlesque troupes in town, having formed a little over a year ago. But they've quickly established themselves as one of the busiest. They perform first Fridays at the Deluxe at Old National Centre (next up, November 4), and hold frequent workshops and “Open Bra Nights” at Crackers Comedy Club in Broad Ripple. And, this weekend, they'll put on a series of Halloween-themed "Boo-lesque" shows at Crackers.
In the afterglow of the blowout Sin’s Last Stand performance at the Athenaeum, in which Angel Burlesque members teamed with other local burlesque troupes for a night of tributes to historic burlesque performers, I met at Chatham Tap for drinks, talk and lot of innuendo with members of the troupe. Founder Katie Angel was there, along with partners-in-crime Desda Moana, Ricki Swizzle, Pepper Mills, Brigitte Petite and Coty Foxfire.
“I’ve worked with Dance Kaleidoscope and profressional dancers for years, and all these women have grown up with teachers who say, ‘You’re too fat, you’re too fat. So these gorgeous women have crap self-images,” Katie says. “With burlesque, you’re celebrating real girls, real bodies, real women. We have performers from sizes two to 22.”
“The very first show I ever did, a woman came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I’ve always been ashamed of mybody, but after I saw your show, I said, screw it, I’m not covering up at the pool anymore,” Desda relates. “And that was more empowering than people hooting and hollering — someone learning from your show and making it a better part of their life.”
The Angel crew also holds regular workshops, sometimes leading to performances at the Open Bra nights. “We once had a 70-year-old lady in a workshop who was amazing and just strutted right out of there,” Katie says.
And sometimes that confidence-building veers into very serious territory.
“I have a long history of body dysmorphia and serious problems since age 14,” Desda says. “As part of my present for myself when I graduated from therapy, I said, ‘Why don’t I take my clothes off and show the world this body I abused and despised for so long?’ All my friends were telling me I looked wonderful and was very brave, and this was the very first time I didn’t think they were lying to me. I felt, ‘This is really what people see when they look at me.’”
They also note that the art form itself is incredibly empowering. “Aside from stand-up comedy, there’s not a lot of opportunities to completely create your own work,” Katie says.
“People can know they’re going to buy a ticket to a show and it’s all going to be original material,” Pepper says.
The existence of an overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) female form creates a different dynamic, they say.
“When I worked in civic theatre, we’d have 80 women show up for 15 female roles, and 10 guys for the 15 guy roles,” Katie says.
“In theatre, Desda or Coty and I might always be competing for the ‘sassy best friend’ role,” Brigitte says.
“And now it’s, ‘Ladies, we’re doing our own thing,” Katie says. “I talk to some people who are offended by what I do; they say, ‘I thought you were a feminist; how can you demean yourself?’ But I’ve worked with symphonies and dancers and theaters and singing groups, and burlesque is the most pro-feminine, because it celebrates real women and gives women opportunities.”
“We have a huge gay and lesbian fanbase,” Desda notes. “Half our audience are gay boys who want to come see the boobs! It’s not about drooling; it’s about being entertained and getting a style of theatre.”
The troupe also does frequent fundraisers for charity; their most recent Open Bra night brought in thousands of dollars for the Indiana AIDS Fund.
“I’m extremely proud of the time, money and energy we’ve been able to give back to Pride and gay and lesbian causes,” Desda says.
The Halloween show, “Boo-Lesque: Things That Go Bump (and Grind!) in the Night,” will feature Ray Gunn, a well-known burlesque performer from Stage Door Johnnies in Chicago.
“He’s a dancer and an acrobat, and his routines are different than anything I’ve ever seen,” Brigitte says.
“We’ve never done anything quite like the Halloween show before,” Katie says. “Singing, comedy; some really funny points, some very creepy scary points. It takes on you this huge emotional roller-coaster journey. You’re going to be bowled over.”
“A Tiffany song, a clarinet solo, zombie secretary, and a lesbian-riffic ending,” Desda continues. “Why would you not go? Boobs, sequins and Tiffany. Can’t go wrong with that.”
As for higher goals, they want to see the always-growing Indy burlesque scene pick up a higher national profile.
“Indianapolis has a lot of cool stuff, but there’s not a lot of Midwest representation when we go to the national conventions,” Brigitte says.
“This is a big glittery sandbox!” Katie declares. “There’s room for everybody, with all these troupes in town. All the groups have their own style and flavor, and they’re all doing cool and interesting things. We’ll always have something new.”
Perhaps all this talk about confidence and the appeal of burlesque can be summed up by this exchange between Desda and Brigitte:
“When we’ve been rehearsing, it’s been the first time in my life I can catch glimpses of myself in the mirror and say ‘Hey, that’s kinda hot,’” Brigitte says.
“Which is huge,” Desda says. “Very few women can say that out loud without stammer, giggling, apologizing or having a sarcastic smirk. Why should we apologize for being confident and sexy?”
Keep an eye out for more in-depth NUVO coverage of local burlesque troupes.