"What goes around, comes around," or so goes the old saying that amply describes the town of Jim Thorpe's flirting with neo-burlesque, a revival of the entertainment circuit that was once the draw of the Mauch Chunk Opera House.
Among the entertainers who cut their teeth in burlesque were comics, singers and dancers like: Abbott and Costello, Milton Berle, Fanny Brice, W.C. Fields, Bob Hope, Molly Picon, Josephine Baker, Gypsy Rose Lee. Mae West, and Phil Silvers.
Jim Thorpe is positioned to become a part of the Burlesque Renaissance, according to Brooke Au Buchon - producer of the Jim Thorpe Burlesque Festival. Au Buchon, owner of Dragontown Corsets, is excited about returning burlesque to Jim Thorpe - it's like taking a strip down memory lane.
Strip? Well, sure. The classic iconic image of burlesque is the stripper. "But not trashy," assures Au Buchon, who sees burlesque as being more about wearing clothing than going without. When she learned that performing burlesque dancers spend a small fortune on costumes - and a must-have accessory is a corset, she realized the market that she had been dreaming about since she started her company.
"I stumbled on the Boston Burlesque Festival," Au Buchon said. "I was in Boston for another event and had heard about it. I thought these women are my perfect target customers because they routinely use what I make."
"I went to do their show and I sold so well that I couldn't afford not to go back the next year. I've been going to that and other burlesque festivals since. I just returned from the New York Burlesque Festival in October."
"The Mauch Chunk Opera House used to be a stop on the vaudeville circuit. We have so much charm and such a perfect location, I thought it would be a great idea."
Actually, vaudeville and burlesque are interrelated. Burlesque, which means a spoof or comic parody, began as an 18th century European variety show. In the 1890s, the Moulin Rouge introduced the striptease and it quickly spread across Europe. In the U.S., the terms vaudeville and burlesque were often interchanged, with the distinction that burlesque included racy language and the striptease.
Introduction of the striptease to prudish American audiences began purely by accident. The story goes that in 1917, when a chorus girl had a wardrobe malfunction the crowd cheered. Producer Morton Minsky made it part of the act. Soon the hints at nudity drew police raids and the oodles of publicity assured that a new form of popular entertainment was born. With the arrival of talking pictures and later, the television, burlesque largely disappeared.
But burlesque is coming back. The Jim Thorpe Burlesque Festival is planned for the weekend of March 27 and 28, 2010. It will consist of daytime programs of classes and vendor displays and an evening burlesque competition for prizes with a large portion of the proceeds donated to the Mauch Chunk Historical Society for the preservation and upkeep of the Opera House.
"We booked our first act, Jacqueline Hyde," Au Buchon said. "She's from the Tempest Burlesque troupe in Seattle. Not only will she perform for us, but she will be one of our teachers. In addition to the performance at the Opera House, it will be a weekend full of classes, everything from Burlesque 101 to pin-up photography and stage makeup."
Jacqueline Hyde (say it out loud to catch the play on words) will teach Cabaret BoomPow a workout on the hard to reach places, and Cabaret Dance a workshop on smooth movements in Latin dance.
The Jim Thorpe Burlesque Festival is looking for performers: comics, singers, musicians and striptease dancers. Styles for the 18-year-old-plus show are only limited by imagination. Performances can include music, dance, comedy, and even high tech illusions.
"They've gotten past the whole stripper thing," Au Buchon said. "It used to be you go to a bar and there was a girl dancing with a brass pole. It was kind of trashy. They are teaching legitimate pole dancing fitness classes now. I never thought I would see the day."
"There is a great deal of artistry and a great deal of talent," she said. "It is certainly more than a woman getting up there and taking off her clothes."
To apply to perform, to sponsor, or to be a vendor, see: jimthorpeburlesque.com.