Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Introduction

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Introduction

Article excerpt

In Melbourne city centre, above the corner of Exhibition and Lonsdale streets, there has been a large billboard advertising classes in burlesque for a year. Given the high degree of visibility and the popularity of burlesque in cinema and live spectacle, we wondered if it were possible to find a radical edge to the burlesque arts in the twenty-first century. The articles in this volume respond to this provocation by revealing an evolving genre with an expansive history and evocative new practices. They demonstrate the way that burlesque emerges as both a favoured mainstream entertainment and as an art form that continues to challenge the limits on gender and racial identity through performance. They offer a wide spectrum of examples and theoretical approaches that promise to enhance the reader's understanding of burlesque historically and to explain its contemporary significance.

By the 1890s, there were specialised burlesque venues and freelance troupes performing in the United States. Richard Waterhouse argues, however, in Private Pleasures, Public Leisure, that troupes were short-lived in Australia and 'female burlesque failed to become established as a theatrical genre'.1 He mentions the Victoria Loftus Company of Blondes as being the best known of the troupes in Australia in the 1870s, although aspects of their work were soon integrated into minstrelsy shows. Nineteenth-century female burlesque evolved in England from what were called 'breeches roles' and, commonly, Shakespearean roles - a tunic over baggy, kneelength breeches - and emerged asan extended interlude in theatrical pantomime with plot and characters. The costume historically combined elements of male and female clothing but burlesque was also delivered through speaking parts. The acting and delivery made the sexual innuendo clear, so that burlesque was in the intonation and often sardonic delivery. Contemporary burlesque, however, seems to be more strongly visual and indicative of a twenty-first-century theatre of imagery.

Another impetus for this ADS edition arose out of the Beyond Burlesque project, a collaborative venture of La Trabe University's Theatre & Drama and Media: Screen+Sound disciplines. Central to this work was the development of a public symposium that aimed to celebrate the revival of burlesque and explore its evolution in Australia. Held at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI, 2010), it featured invited speakers (performers, researchers, industry representatives) who offered a range of perspectives, experiences and thematic ideas on past and contemporary burlesque performance. …

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