catapult magazine

catapult magazine


Is a Burlesque show genuine theatre?


Sep 11 2008
12:41 pm

I think the “All Of Life Is Theatre” thesis blurs the distinction between the historical artform and the social/cultural phenomenon of performance. I think BBC’s comments about a frame help with that. For some, theatre is the frame, whatever the shape of the frame might be. Like any artform it is self-referential, and people are always trying to extend its boundaries. Is burlesque in a frame theatre? I think if the burlesque asks questions about itself, then yes, the frame does its job. Watch Annie Sprinkle. If you can stand it.

However, I hae me doots, as the Scotsman said. Strip the clothes off the actor and you strip the frame off the performance. Nudity has a structural literality that, I think, has a difficult time avoiding violating the norms of theatre. We’re not looking at a character any more, we’re looking at a naked actor. If the performer’s direct intent is to arouse lascivious thoughts, and to treat me as a customer purchasing the experience of arousal per se, there is no frame around that experience. I am not being asked to think about being horny, I’m just being asked to be horny. In fact, strippers hate it when the customers think about it. As a stripper once told me, they hate it when the customers look in their eyes. David Mamet’s Edmond gets at that question. The poor peep show girl just can’t get Edmond to complete the transaction, because he’s too busy thinking about everything.

So finally, I’d have to say no, I don’t think burlesque is genuine theatre. It’s not even performance art. It’s a kind of prostitution, and structurally so.