Vixens and Vaudeville Part 1: The history of Vaudeville, Burlesque and the Vixens

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A lot of people think that Vaudeville and Burlesque are the same things but they actualy  started out as two different types of performances.

While my Sub Rosa variety shows carry on some of the vaudeville tradition, another group in  Louisville works to carry on the burlesque tradition. The Va Va Vixens are Louisville's only  regularly performing burlesque troop and are about to celebrate their one year anniversary  with their upcoming show Va Va Vintage which was originally slated to be titled Va Va Vaudeville.   I'm really excited to be writing the show in addition to singing in and emceeing it.

Vaudeville is our country's only purely indigenous theatrical form, according to the book No  Applause - Just Throw Money by Trav S.D. Vaudeville was a showcase for the best and worst  America had to offer - a platform for diversity, tolerance, and democracy, darkly tempered by  the "cash-is-king" ethos of market capitalism. Resilience was also among its finer traits, and, far from receding into history, vaudeville has experienced a reemergence. There is a vibrant subculture that persists across the United States today - a vast grassroots network of fire-eaters, human blockheads, burlesque performers, and bad comics intent on taking vaudeville into its second century.  

One of the first specific applications of "vaudeville" to describe a variety show was by  "Sargeant's Great Vaudeville Company" in Louisville in 1871. The word “vaudeville” carried  with it the sophistication and romance associated with Paris. We have seen one theory for the  word's origin, the troubadours of the Val-de-Vire region of France. Another theory is that it  comes from voix de ville, meaning “voice of the city.” Seen in this light, the phrase reminds  us of vaudeville's identity as a folk form, an expression of the people's voice. The word  “vaudeville” distinguished the new business from variety, which was used by some people like a  curse word.   Vaudeville is where Marx and Chaplin - along with Harry Houdini, Milton Berle,  Mae West, and countless others  got their start.

Burlesque was a little different than Vaudeville. Burlesque had a lot of comedy, charm,  and  girls taking off their clothes. When it began, it was about witty and charming women and  clever comedy.  Although, performers in Vaudeville often looked down on Burlesque,  many great  comedy acts polished their performances there. Burlesque offered stable work during tougher  times, and so many bigger acts performed in burlesque shows under aliases. According to  Musicals101.com, sexual innuendo was always present, but the focus was on making fun of sex  and what people were willing to do in the pursuit of it. As male managers took over the  burlesque circuits, feminine wit and charm were removed and the focus was placed more on  revealing the feminine form as much as legally possible.  This helped to further diminish the  level of respect associated with it.

As a reemergence occurs, many of the variety acts are being revived. The Va Va Vixens plan to  bring a little bit of both traditions to the stage with their upcoming performance.  Their  shows mix in the traditional acts and dances with some modern dance, acryoga, and aerial acts.

"I love the old school burlesque..because the performers just simply had to exist on the  stage.  Nowadays, it's tough because so many people expect to see something bigger and better,  grandiose and astounding..old school burlesque was 'there's an amazing beautiful goddess on  stage before you, adore her..no bells and whistles necessary'", says Christiane Nicoulin,  director, choreographer and co-producer of the Va Va Vixens.

The Va Va Vixens show fell into Christiane's lap when someone approached her and asked her to  co-produce the first show Va Va Voyer. The other producer backed out mid-show, leaving it to  her.  The show sold out and so many people suggested another one, that Christiane moved ahead  with Va Va Valentine. She now has a new co-producer, Lisa Frye, founder of Art Sanctuary.  Their goal is to bring sexually empowered women to the stage. Christiane also makes many of the costumes and props used in the show in addition to designing the choreography.

 

Va Va Vintage will take place at Art Sanctuary and the Alley Theater on November 13, 19, 20,  26, and 27 at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m and a special pre-show starts at 7:30. Tickets are $18 and are available at the Art Sanctuary and Alley Theater web site.

Check back next week for part two in this series.

About Jessica Lynn
Jessica Lynn has been writing for Louisville.com since fall of 2010 and has also been published in LEO, Velocity, Voice-Tribune and others after serving as Editor in Chief of The JCC student newspaper, The Quadrangle. She has also served as columnist or contributing writer to an array of online publications.
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