This class will transform how you look at theatre and theatre history. Burlesque, at its root, is about parody. When Lydia Thompson and the British Blondes brought their brand of burlesque to New York City in 1868, American burlesque was born. The Blondes lampooned classic plays, poked fun at current events, and upended both high and low culture, all while “putting on” the other gender (as opposed to burlesque’s later association of “taking off” via striptease). Since Thompsonian burlesque introduced the shocking yet enticing (and potentially subversive) combination of feminized spectacle with parody, poking fun has been central to burlesque, and it spans form, content, and style.
This course will cover the major historical shifts in American burlesque traditions including Thompsonian burlesque, the emergence of striptease, and the neo-burlesque movement. We will watch films that document burlesque; read biographies of major figures and scholarly work about performance, theatre, and burlesque; and discuss and practice neo-burlesque with guest artists. We will think, read, write, and discuss (a lot) in this class about ‘big topics” such as gender, performance, desire, sexuality, class, race, camp, nationalism, fashion, censorship (etc.) via the signifier of the burlesque body. Understanding performance requires deeply exploring how it reflects and simultaneously constructs culture. In this condensed summer session, we will divide our lass time between discussion and practicums.