For the past five weeks I have been working with Wayne State University students on Lysistrata. Below is my program note for the show – explaining the reasoning behind choosing burlesque as the concept for this translation of Lysistrata.
“Burlesque is a private joke between you and the audience that slowly reveals itself as the clothes hit the floor.” – Tanya Cheex
The performance history of Lysistrata is rife with feminist productions of this classic battle of the sexes. From more traditional productions, to musicals, to abstracted performances – the gender politics at the heart of Lysistrata have earned it the auspicious title of the “first feminist play in history.”
I experience feminism as a type of humanism – a striving for equality focused around gender parity. When I first read this translation of Lysistrata, I knew that burlesque was my way into this story about war, gender politics, and sex. Both Lysistrata and burlesque actively perform an exaggerated version of femininity, and challenge gender roles and sexual politics. Both use sex as a tool to accomplish another task. Both taunt social taboos. And both are ridiculously fun.
At its core, burlesque is a type of humor that hangs on the absurd – a parody often heightened by a striptease. Burlesque, like most art, has had several reincarnations. It first exploded into American popular culture in the mid-1800s thanks to Lydia Hiller’s British Blondes. These women scandalously wore pants and portrayed men on stage in their spoofing of the Greek story of Ixion. From these early comedic roots burlesque can be found in the history of Follies, cabaret, vaudeville, Fosse, and the Broadway musical.
In the early 1990s a group of sentimental performers revived this rich American and European tradition. Neo-burlesque, as it has been coined, is a conscious act of agency – displaying only what the performer wants to display in an act not curated by, or seeking validation from, men. It is a genre of performance that embraces sexuality, femininity, masculinity, and self-expression. Neo-burlesque features women (and more than a few men) of all shapes, sizes, and races challenging gender norms and taking ownership over one’s own sexual power.
Our production of Lysistrata takes you back to Athens through the veil of neo-burlesque. Very sexy, powerful, and a lot of fun, we encourage you to hoot, holler, whistle, and gasp – and please, enjoy the show.
– Amanda Grace Ewing, Director