Queer Burlesque Performances Educate, Entertain

Students performed Queer Burlesque for sold-out crowds last Friday and Saturday nights. The student-produced show, first introduced to the Claremont Colleges four semesters ago, was held at Pitzer College’s Benson Auditorium.

Queer Burlesque is a collaborative, entirely student-driven effort that resembles a variety show, with acts ranging from serious and introspective to funny and energetic. Each semester, interested students attend weekly meetings in preparation to discuss ideas for acts and the group in general.

Burlesque began in the spring of 2011 as a small show in Doms Lounge at Pomona College before a crowd of around 90 people under the leadership of Julia Pashall PZ ’12 and Beki Karpovski SC ’11. The show has grown since then, but the original goals of the show still drive it, with a few changes.

According to Ang(e) Moore PZ ’13, Burlesque is meant to deconstruct, celebrate and liberate people from gender, race, class, ability and other societal labeling structures. It is intended to be a place for students to share their personal struggles with those issues and to question themselves and their identifications. Yet, it is also a place to be comfortable and, as Diarra Anderson SC ’14 said, “hilarious, intense and sexy.”

As the audience for Burlesque has grown, Anderson said the show has developed an educational aspect in which members and allies of the queer community can teach audience members about issues they otherwise may not discuss. Moore said that they wants to make sure it is an eye-opening experience that inspires people to discuss the issues and “develop a critical lens through which to see themselves and their gender, sex, race, class and ability,” rather than something that resembles an ally training.

One piece that appeared to achieve that eye-opening effect was a poem recited by Mason Weiss PZ ’15. Weiss said he was participating for the first time, and had never seen Burlesque before. He decided to share a poem he wrote last year when he came out as transgender.

Weiss wrote the poem for himself as he was grappling with his gender identity. His 63-line poem addresses what he called “universal” issues among the queer community, including trying to fit in to societal constraints and the discomfort many people feel with things that aren’t clear. He received a standing ovation during both performances, and now plans to be involved with the show for the rest of his time at Pitzer.

Weiss said that due to the collaborative nature of Burlesque, next semester’s show will be entirely different than this semester’s. Both Weiss and Moore expressed that there are changes they would like to see. Weiss said he would like to see more structure to help students put together the best show possible. He also said he wants to see new faces and more diversity within the group. Moore said they wants to go deeper into the theoretical and artistic aspects next semester.

They also expressed concern about the one-dimensionality of the bodies that were being shown—the majority of them were white, thin and female. Next semester, Moore wants to see more diversity in the kinds of queerness addressed in Burlesque as well as the students involved.

Burlesque does not exist only to address gender queerness or queer sexuality, but also to address queerness of all types. Moore defined queerness as something that works to dismantle systems of domination.

Moore said that Queer Burlesque is a unique production on campus and they is proud of the students involved for doing something and asking difficult questions. According to Moore, the performance “needs to happen.” As the show has grown into a bigger event in the community, Moore said they is not sure about how the audience interprets the pieces, so they values feedback, especially looking forward to next semester’s performance.

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