With her hair pinned back, corset laced up and microphone in hand, Alyson Rodriguez Orenstein was prepared to take the stage.
Orenstein stood boldly front-and-center to host a local burlesque show at Franky Bradley’s last month.
“I am a performer and hopefully a spreader of fabulosity and good times,” said Orenstein as she waited for the lights to dim and the crowd to applaud.
Orenstein is a Philadelphia-based actress, singer and mistress of ceremonies hosting burlesque shows throughout the city. She also performs in independent films, comedy sketches and other projects. The entertainer grew up in north central Connecticut and moved to Philadelphia in 2009.
Orenstein made her appearance at the local bar in January for La Maison Rose’s tribute to Queen burlesque show.
“I wanted to be an actor since I was very small. The first play I remember doing was in second grade. Somebody else had stage fright and I didn’t understand it. I figured, Well, I guess that’s the place for me.”
Since moving to Philly, Orenstein has been part of independent film and music-video projects. She also started and co-ran Touch Me Philly Productions, where she helped produce 26 unique events in the city.
“These shows ranged from pieces on rape culture and normality to concerts and variety showcases,” she said.
This led to her frequent gig of hosting La Maison Rose shows.
“It’s so much fun,” Orenstein said. “I love producing shows and doing theater. My heart has always been with the theater. This is just so fun and empowering. Everybody who gets up there owns themselves and owns the space.”
Orenstein said she’s proud of her identity. The actress recalled identifying her sexuality when she was about 11 years old.
“I’m a proud ‘B’ (bisexual), although terminology has changed so much since when I was coming out in middle school. It’s always been a big part of me and my identity, as well as my friend group and the people I care for,” she said.
Orenstein noted her involvement in the LGBT community and said she helped found a Gay-Straight Alliance in high school and volunteered at LGBT youth conferences.
Hosting the La Maison Rose shows helps her feel a sense of belonging.
“This show is great for that,” she said. “I feel seen here. This is a community I do feel seen in. A lot of communities, especially as bisexual, you don’t feel seen, or people want to make you label it further. The best definition I have heard was actually in a workshop about bisexuality. To me, my bisexuality is the ability to love men and women in different ways at different times to different degrees, and to be able to enjoy that and to recognize it for what it is.”
For Orenstein, this type of work is empowering and exciting. As the performer continued to speak with PGN backstage about her love for theater and community, the crowd continued to build and take seats for the start of the show.
“I don’t dance. I’m such a klutz-and-a-half. You can do the cutesy, ‘I’m falling over’ number once and it’s cute and then everybody is over it,” Orenstein joked about her niche in performing.
“I love to talk, as you can tell, so I figured, why not host for shows? I feel like this gives me the opportunity to be my glamorous and goofy self.”
When Orenstein isn’t hosting local shows, she’s busy with a YouTube channel called “From the Belfry,” which features music videos, inspiration pieces about women, local artists, political historical figures, rants and styling advice.
“I write parody songs and perform them for other people. I do music videos and do my own shows and it’s been a really great thing. I feel like I get a lot of catharsis with my parody writing, like frustration with government, being single — there’s so much material there. And I just feel such a sense of community,” she said.
Orenstein also helps with costumes, hair and makeup in theater productions, as well as attending Empire Beauty School in Center City.
“I’m at the top of my class and looking forward to graduating in September. Afterwards, I will take clients at Danger Salon in Fishtown, where I’ve been helping out for almost two years. I also hope to work styling for more theater, film and photoshoot-related projects.”
Orenstein said she got her start with La Maison Rose when she was asked to host once.
“And I did it just the first couple times and said, ‘You know what? If you just want me to do this all the time, I would love that.’ I get to be around beautiful, sparkly humans who are in their element. Nobody is ever sexier than when they are in their element.”
According to the performer, burlesque is more than just flashing skin.
“It’s a community of people coming together to celebrate each other. This is a celebration of bodies and music and art all together at once … with sparkles,” Orenstein said.
Live performances allow her to see the community as a whole and be seen in return. Unlike the burlesque performers, Orenstein said she does’t use a stage name for anything.
“I’m just me. I feel like I’m a multitude (of things): bisexual, biracial, trying to always take in what I can and learn from people. I’m always trying to relate to people. I’m always trying to tell a story, whether it’s with my hair and makeup, my outfits or whether it’s a song I’m writing. The most important thing we can do as humans is to tell stories,” said Orenstein.
“If we can help each other understand more about each other, then we’re that much ahead. You don’t lose anything from being able to see from another perspective . It can make you understand why people are doing what they’re doing. I just feel like I get to live and get to have these conversations in the room.”
Orenstein added that she relates to people and feels like they are on the journey. She said it’s not about changing the energy, but about taking people along for the ride.
As Orenstein continued to discuss the drive and passion behind performing, a final call was made and the minutes to the show were counted down.
“I’m blessed that I can provide something like that — a space people can come and be seen and feel joyous about themselves even if they’re not up on stage. That’s what it’s about. Feeling joyous in us, in our bodies, in our sexuality, in our sensuality. Sometimes we cry. It’s a beautiful, moving art. I love the buzz at the end of the show and I love just being able to use my name. Here’s me.”
And then she took center stage and welcomed all to the show as the music began.