Burlesque is a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects. The word derives from the Italian burlesco, which itself derives from the Italian burla – a joke, ridicule or mockery. Wikipedia
You’re probably wondering why I’m leading off this article with a definition of burlesque. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been receiving updates and press releases about attending Wizard World Chicago this weekend, yet no one ever mentioned Gorilla Tango Burlesque. And let me tell you, they should have!
Kelly Williams, Marketing/PR Coordinator with Gorilla Tango Burlesque actually reached out to us first letting us know that GTB would be at the convention and offered to answer any questions we had or provide us with further information. To say I was interested in finding out more is an understatement. So I put on my cub reporter hat and went to work.
I admit I knew nothing about Gorilla Tango Burlesque. Honestly, my only experience with anything burlesque-related was the knowledge of who Dita Von Teese is and the closing musical number in Rocky Horror Picture Show (which is probably closer to cabaret).
Gorilla Tango Theatre has two locations in the Chicagoland area, Skokie and Bucktown (near the intersection of Western and Armitage). They offer all kinds of shows including burlesque, drama, comedy, improve and kids shows. They work with different companies producing many different shows. As they say on their website, they’re kind of like a movie theatre but for live performances.
Eagerly, I spent a day trying to figure out what to ask and Kelly, who was extremely helpful, forwarded all my questions onto Dan Abbate, the CEO of Gorilla Tango. Dan answered all my questions and opened my eyes:
Melinda: Where did the idea to do nerd-themed burlesque parodies come from?
Dan: Gorilla Tango has been producing a variety of different shows from classic theater, to improv, to kids shows, to sketch, etc. etc. for over 10 years. About 2 years ago we decided to try and create a merger between our very successful parody genre shows with burlesque (a genre that we have had in our venues before produced by outside producers but never directly by us). We wanted to have a true parody burlesque show (not just a themed burlesque show which is fairly common) where the girls play ALL the rolls (in traditional burlesque shows, there are men that generally come out and do the funny parts while the girls do the sexy parts of the show – we wanted our female performers to be the funny AND the sexy). This created a need for a new type of burlesque performer, someone who can act, has comic timing and can also handle the required dance/movement of burlesque. The Gorilla Tango Burlesque ensemble of performers, directors, choreographers are not only the most talented burlesque performers in the city, but also among the best in their fields period.
Melinda: Burlesque, while not a new form of entertainment, is a growing thing. What could someone who’s new to burlesque expect from your shows – kind of like a “Burlesque for Dummies” tip sheet? How does it differ from stripping?
Dan: Our burlesque shows (and neo-burlesque in general) lack the skeezy elements and objectification of stripping (burlesque is a form of entertainment accessible to everyone and not targeted at the sexual gratification of men).
The neo-burlesque movement is all about goofy, fun, tongue-in-cheek shows where the audience is in on the silliness and creativity of it all.
Melinda: Obviously, this appears to be something the fan-boys go crazy for… Is the audience very one-sided or is there a good mix of people in attendance? What about those un-hip to the nerd culture?
Dan: That is why you see a mix of parodies on our schedule. Of course the shows are funny and entertaining even if you have no knowledge of the source material (because parody aside – they are just good shows) but we have found that audience in general do like to pick out shows that they are most familiar with.
Our audiences are 50/50 men and woman and range in age from a group of co-eds in college to a group of 60 year old moms out for dinner and a show. Basically our shows are like a musical – but instead of a musical singing number that moves the plot forward – it’s a burlesque dance usually rooted in the historic dances (fan dance, balloon dance, etc.) of the past with a updated modern twist (eg in our Star Trek burlesque the Enterprise and a Klingon ship fire phasers at each other to bring down their shields / “popping each other’s balloons”).
Melinda: Currently there are about five shows in rotation, any chance to add more in the future? Any insight on what they may be and who comes up with the shows?
Dan: For sure we are constantly adding new shows as we retire others. For example, for the rest of the year we are adding “Boobs of The Dead: A Walking Dead Burlesque” and “The Empire Brings Sexy Back: A Star Wars Burlesque Sequel” (sequel to our wildly successful “A Nude Hope: A Star Wars Burlesque”). The shows in development come from a mix of audience suggestions and discussions between the Gorilla Tango Burlesque Artistic Director MsPixy, myself and Kelly Williams our Executive Producers and the rest of the GTB creative team (which included various directors, writers, etc).
Melinda: Costuming or Cosplay is a huge part of many Cons, do the performers make their own costumes or is there a costuming department?
Dan: All costumes are commissioned by GTB to be built by various Chicago based costumers.
Melinda: Do all the shows have the same performers or are there different performers for each show? How does one go about becoming a burlesque dancer and is a background in nerd-ology and/or dance required (do you have to know/love the subject matter)?
Dan: The total GTB performer list is just over 50 folks. Most are dedicated to one or two shows but many are cross trained on many or all of the shows. The core cast of each show for the most part are all different but on any given night depending on scheduling performers are switching between shows.
Anyone can perform in our shows – no previous burlesque experience required! Since we have a wide range of talents we are looking for, we get folks from all walks of life and the arts – dancers, sketch comedians, burlesque performers, nerds who just really like that particular genre, etc etc. You certainly do not need a background in nerd-ology, but we find that we attract that sort of person.
Melinda: Is there one performance that stands out, whether it be a fan fave or a favorite among the performers?
Dan: The show that started it all was “Boobs and Goombas: A Super Mario Burlesque, “which ran in Chicago for almost 2 years and only stopped so that we can experiment with a residency down in New Orleans, which opens next week. If that goes well you will see residencies of many of our shows (burlesque and other genres) popping up in various cities across the country. In general – a successful show is a successful show – there have been many.
Melinda: How much practice or preparation goes on before a performance and how much of it is improvised?
Dan: None of the shows are improvised. All shows begin as a concept which gets green lit for production. Then treatments are solicited from the writers. The best treatments go on to become a script. That script is paired with a director and choreographer who audition and rehearse the cast (and then the understudies/replacements as shows go into open runs). The total process from start to finish is at least 6 months.
If you’re looking for something to do while you’re in town for the convention, be sure to check out the shows!
Friday, August 10:
HOOTER RANGERS: A SPICY MORPHIN’ BURLESQUE at 9pm (Bucktown Venue)
TEMPLE OF BOOBS: AN INDIANA JONES BURLESQUE at 10:30pm (Bucktown Venue)
Saturday, August 11:
A NUDE HOPE: A STAR WARS BURLESQUE at 9:00pm (Bucktown Venue)
SUPERBOOBS: A SUPERHERO BURLESQUE ADVENTURE at 10:30pm (Bucktown Venue)
HOLY BOUNCING BOOBIES: A BATMAN BURLESQUE at 9pm (Skokie Venue)
Tickets are $20 and you must be 18 or over. For tickets or more info, visit Gorilla Tango or call 773-5984549.
Gorilla Tango Burlesque will also be at Booth #2472 all weekend so be sure to stop by and check them out!