When the New York Boylesque Festival launches this weekend it will be something of a milestone in the evolution of the burgeoning revival of burlesque: the first event of its kind to focus solely on male performers.
“Since New York was the frontrunner in the neo-burlesque movement, we figured it was good to also spearhead the boylesque movement,” says Daniel Nardicio, who is organizing the festival with Thirsty Girl Production’s Jen Gapay.
Men have been appearing at burlesque festivals all over the world since the burlesque renaissance began in the 1990s. But in the last few years there’s been something of an explosion of boylesque acts in cities like Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco. Here in the Big Apple, performers like Go-Go Harder and The Evil Hate Monkey are getting more and more exposure.
Harder’s Intro to Boylesk course has helped create a sense of community for up-and-coming male performers. But it wasn’t always this way. “For years we couldn’t understand why I was the only guy we knew who was doing real burlesque stripping alongside those fabulous women,” says Tigger, one of New York’s original male burlesque stars.
Johnny Porkpie, co-founder of New York’s Pinchbottom Burlesque troupe (which includes both male and female performers) credits Tigger for pressuring him into launching his own burlesque career. He says the number of male performers on the scene has grown along with the interest in burlesque in general. “There were plenty of fabulous go-go boys and drag performers, but you would rarely see them in a burlesque show. Now, there are more guys than you can shake a stick at—if you’re into that sort of thing.”
Tigger says that explosion of male performers is what has made the New York Boylesque Festival possible. “I’ve been hosting my annual ‘Man: A Tease!’ boylesque show on Coney Island for six years and there simply weren’t enough kick-ass men to fill a whole festival,” he says. “But boylesque gets bigger and better every year. The time is now.”
This weekend’s festival will bring together veterans like Tigger and Porkpie with more than 30 performers from Seattle, Toronto, London, Baltimore and beyond—and newcomers like GoGo Gadget and other graduates of Harder’s class—for two nights of showcases at Tamany Hall and Rebel, and a day of classes and lectures at The Gershwin Hotel. Nardicio says he’s particularly psyched to see the new blood and out-of-towners like Chicago’s Hot Toddy.
“I think men are being more openly objectified,” says Toddy, “Which I applaud. I also think it’s bringing humor to the male mystique and image.”
That idea, that boylesque is about more than just sex appeal, is something most performers are quick to point out. “There’s something for everybody,” Porkpie says, “Even those not attracted to the featured gender. I’ve seen many a straight boy or lesbian wince when a male performer was introduced, only to be the one cheering loudest at the end of his act.”
Gadget, one of the festival’s newest performers sums it up best: “Burlesque/boylesque is such a beautiful and empowering performing art that incorporates both theater and dance— and sometimes a variety of other skills and talents—that it really should reach just about everyone.”
Click through for photos of the stars of the New York Boylesque Festival!
The First Annual New York Boylesque Festival runs April 27 and 28 in New York. Photo via Bart Mastronardi