Global burlesque traditions date back several centuries. Most historians credit the Brits with establishing burlesque’s early formal theatrical roots in the mid-1800s. They also cite the evolution of classic American burlesque as the folding together of music, dance, politics, comedy, and striptease into a style popular well beyond its heyday in the 1920s. Over the last 100 years, burlesque has cycled through periods of favor, decline, renewed interest, and varied stylistic changes.
Burlesque arts have been a fixture in Eugene’s live entertainment scene since the early millennium. Broadway Revue (Eugene’s longest-running burlesque troupe) and Terpsichore’s Daughters were established acts in the downtown quarters during that period. And now burlesque is enjoying a fresh renaissance, oddly due in part to Covid.
“Once the pandemic hit and essentially took away everybody’s opportunities,” recalls Bettreena Jaeger, “people kind of split apart and started creating their own troupes.” Jaeger is a local stage performer and the producer of the popular Wax Poetry Revue burlesque troupe. “Now,” Jaeger says, “we have enough new and well-loved performers who want to contribute to a more avant-garde feel, people who are driven creatively to tell more stories on stage.”
“Burlesque is storytelling,” affirms Eugene Ballet dancer Sara Stockwell. She sometimes performs as one of Wax Poetry’s many variety acts. “It’s theater,” says Stockwell. “Sensuality? Sure! But for me the experience of sensuality is about me enjoying my body. It’s about self-empowerment.”
Consider the growing number of burlesque entertainers performing at a host of local venues like The Big Dirty, John Henry’s, Spectrum, WOW Hall, Luckey’s, Old Nick’s, and Sam Bonds. The talent includes individual dancers, singers, poets, comics, acrobats, and musicians. Women, men, and transgender folk perform. Popular players include Peaches Von Killingsworth, Taylor Maiden, Frankie Live, Mr. Missy, Lyr-a-Deux, and many more. Most are members of burlesque variety troupes like Wax Poetry, Dream Queen Burlesque, Scrumptious Scoundrels, and Siren Society.
Longtime local burlesque luminary Ember Ophelia Woody describes Eugene’s burlesque community as creative, imaginative, and accessible. “When you go to a show you’re going to see genuine variety,” says Woody. “Everybody is self-expressing in ways they’ve personally chosen to do it.”