The Philadelphia Burlesque Festival will showcase more than 50 performers from around the world at its fourth annual celebration.
Burlesque performers Liberty Rose and Dottie Riot created the festival with the help of assistant producer Hattie Harlowe in 2015. Rose has been part of Philadelphia’s burlesque scene for over a decade. She started performing in 2008 and cofounded and coproduced Broad St. Burlesque, where she created “Miss Rose’s Sexploitation Follies.”
Riot became a burlesque dancer when she lost a job and decided to attend classes in New York City. She created “Dottie Riots Music Revue” in 2015, a burlesque show that celebrates different genres of music. After seeing a burlesque festival in Ohio in 2014, the founders said they wanted to bring more attention to the burlesque scene in Philadelphia.
“We created the festival to elevate the burlesque scene in the city and to elevate Philadelphia itself. This festival was the next logical step in the city’s innovative performance development,” Rose said.
The four-day festival brings together burlesque performers and lovers of the form for a weekend filled with performances, instructional classes and lectures on history and technique. The classes are open to anyone interested in the art form. Classes include “Strut, Pose and Peel: Using Panel Skirts,” “Go Slow” and “IntesiTEASE.” Participants will learn burlesque techniques from veteran performers. No experience is needed to take part in the classes.
The celebration began with an opening reception 7 p.m. July 12 at Franky Bradley’s, reconvenes at Plays and Players Theater on July 13-14 and heads back to Frank Bradley’s for the closing festival July 15.
Part of this year’s festival falls on Friday the 13th and thus will feature “creepy” and “spooky” burlesque performances. Victoria Page, coproducer of the last two festivals, said the Friday show will focus on all things “weird.”
“We’re fans of weird and creepy, which is why we coordinated the festival to land on Friday the 13th,” Page said. “VIP ticket-holders will get a chance to see our Friday-night host, who’s a magician, perform a séance reaching out to the ghost of Josephine Baker.”
The Saturday showcase invites guests to join the classes and lectures, followed by performances from headlining guests. The festival wraps up Sunday with an invite-only improv burlesque show.
Each day will feature different headliners, including performers Renée Rebelle, The Peek-A-Boo Revue, Red Rum, Calamity Chang, Raquel Reed and Mika Romantic. Fifty participants were selected to be part of this year’s festival as spotlight performers from a pool of more than 300 applicants.
Rose said that participation is growing each year, and organizers expect the same this year.
“We have been growing each year and the numbers are trending upward,” she said.
The festival makes burlesque accessible without being overwhelming, Rose said. It “showcases a number of performers and performance styles without overdoing it in one day. There are many different styles such as classic burlesque and neo-burlesque, and this gives guests a chance to show people how diverse and nuanced burlesque is.”
So what exactly is burlesque?
“It’s a performance art that allows you to tell a wide variety of stories through body and sexual positivity, and anybody and everybody is welcome,” said Riot.
Toni Elling, an entertainer who performed the burlesque circuit in the 1960s, is the festival’s featured guest and will lead a lecture on her contribution to the art form’s early history. Elling, who took her stage name from friend Duke Ellington, toured as far away as Japan, trying out stripping acts. She was one of the more notable African-American burlesque performers in the early ’60s who was in the presence of entertainers such as Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Sammy Davis Jr. She retired in 1974 and was inducted into the Burlesque Hall of Fame in 2016.
The festival and burlesque classes are open to the public. Tickets start at $34 per day for general admission. Guests can purchase a weekend festival pass for $90 or a VIP pass for $125. Classes are $20 per guest.
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