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Iva Handfull as Soul Calibur’s Ivy Valentine

You may have seen our recent (un)coverage on the cultural phenomenon known as nerd burlesque. (Or Nerdlesque as some have taken to calling it). Nerdlesque is a subgenre of a larger movement that you may have also noticed, Neo Burlesque, which is the revival (over the past few decades) of the vaudevillian striptease hybrid that everyone has come to know and love especially in our fine city.

Being both a self-proclaimed nerd and fan of burlesque, I couldn’t help but notice Nerdlesque sauntering onto the scene.

The first show I attended and wrote about for GeekWire was videogame-themed — ingeniously called JOYstick. The second was based on all things Joss Whedon. Now, with another show tonight, Geeklesque Unites! (tickets available at the door) featuring Portland Burlesque troupe Critical Hit and Seattle’s own nerd performers, I’m sensing a trend.

So what’s with all these nerds taking off their clothes? I asked three Seattle Nerdlesque aficionados  — JoJo Stilleto, Vanadium Silver and Iva Handfull — to bare it all. Here are excerpts from the discussion:

JoJo Stiletto as Scully at GeekGirlCon

For those who don’t know what Neo-Burlesque is, what is it? And how does Nerd Burlesque fit in?

JoJo Stiletto: Neo burlesque is a movement. It’s the dream of the 90s. It’s about taking a classic art form, burlesque, and molding it to our modern sensibilities…[it’s] dance, performance art, cabaret, circus arts, striptease, drag, and pretty much anything else thrown into a our blender-like glitter-filled brains and put out into the world.

The ultimate goal is entertainment and joy but with thought and care. Oh, and glitter. Did I forget to mention glitter? Nerd burlesque is part marketing tool and part bona fide movement. It’s an evolution of niche neo-burlesque. In my mind, nerdlesque is creating acts or entire shows focused on nerd or fan culture. Miss Indigo Blue’s act on Wonder Woman is not new. She’s been performing it for many many years.

But, our overall culture has shifted. There is an audience now for shows with nothing but comic book related acts. In fact, practically demand for it.

Vanadium Silver: It’s the realization that one’s love of Deadpool can be expressed beyond a simple collection of comics. It has its roots in the cosplay community.

For years, people have painstakingly recreated costumes and characters from the things that they love. Nerd burlesque combines that cosplay aspect with the burlesque artform.

The Neo-Burlesque scene is huge in the Pacific Northwest, some may argue that it is one of the cities leading the movement, same goes for Nerd Burlesque. Is Nerd Burlesque big elsewhere, or is it more of a Pacific Northwest thing?

JoJo Stiletto: New York has many self-identified nerd troupes, some have been around for a while now including D20 Burlesque and Epic Win, who is actually being voted on as Time Out New York’s Best Burlesque Troupe. A troupe in Chicago, Gorilla Tango Burlesque, has already won that title from the Chicago Reader. Toronto and Orlando has been making waves too. It’s the new hot trend in burlesque. I just made contact with a brand new troupe in New Zealand. Plus, it’s the first time we are discussing nerdlesque at BurlyCon, a convention dedicated to professional development and education in burlesque. Boston, Vancouver,’s almost everywhere now.

Iva Handfull is Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Iva Handfull: Primarily, the Pacific Northwest (Seattle and Portland) caters to true nerd burlesque audiences.  Our producers, and audiences, will not stand for performers showing up in a character costume and their act only involve them removing said costume, without context or a storyline behind it.

What drew you to burlesque and then more specifically, nerd burlesque?

Vanadium Silver: My nerddome has never really been hidden.  I have tattoos dedicated to Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams amongst others.  It was a natural evolution for me to try and express this on stage because it represents so much of who I am.  My first time on stage actually was in a Batman costume.

JoJo Stiletto: I’m recently fully embracing my “nerd self”. I will share my X-Files action figure diorama with the world and my love of Castle Fanfiction without remorse. It’s also a form of exposure and is somewhat terrifying. But, like the night I first stepped out onto that stage, the audience has embraced me for who I am. I love Joss Whedon and I don’t care who knows!

Iva Handfull: I don’t read comics, I don’t watch tv show series that follow a plot, I don’t play video games, and I don’t do cosplay (in the traditional sense)…I am a self-proclaimed geek ally. Vanadium Silver told me I needed to be Ivy Valentine from Soul Caliber for Joystick!  He brought the video game over so I can see who this character was, and I couldn’t believe how much I looked like her, in hairstyle and body.  Jo Jo Stiletto asked me to be Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Whedonesque Burlesque.  Spike is fierce himself, with a soft edge.  My look is similar to his and I could impersonate his mannerisms well.   Since I knew nothing about either character, I did extensive research online, watching people play the video game, game play on youtube, many seasons of Buffy on netflix, fan videos on youtube, etc.  One thing I knew is that fans of Ivy and Spike would not put up with someone who wasn’t a fan just waltzing out on stage and taking off clothing.  I ensured that every move, look, facial expression, costume piece, and song embodied the character I portrayed, while maintaining who I am as Iva Handfull as well.

Vanadium Silver in his Assassin’s Creed themed suit photo by Jackie Kingsbury.

You’re a male in what is a predominantly female scene. However, one of the aspects I appreciate about Neo Burlesque is the all inclusiveness (all races, ages, genders are welcome) Do you see more men coming on the scene? Are you generally embraced by the gals of Burlesque?

Vanadium Silver: Very much so.  The community is based on being open on stage and they embrace everyone with open arms.  There are also many many male performers in the scene who do what is known as boylesque.

Iva Handfull, on getting things “just right” for fans: I love the passion our geek burlesque audiences bring to a show, not all audiences are that excited just to be there, some audiences need to be entertained first, before they show their excitement.  However there is a lot of pressure for performers to get the character or scene right, since fans are fanatical about detail.  A good example is when we posted the photo of me in the Ivy Valentine costume.  Someone mentioned that it was an “okay” costume but where was my armor?

If I’m a full-fledged geek, and I’ve never been to a nerd burlesque show, why should I go see one?

Vanadium Silver: Because it is an experience like none other.  There is something special about being in a group of like minded individuals, it’s the same logic as behind the giant conventions we see.  You get to see not only fans enjoy themselves but the performers as well.

JoJo Stiletto: It’s adults who are tired of the “Disneyfication” of all of their entertainment. It’s for men, women and all expressions of gender and sexuality. It’s folks who want to socialize with like minded folk and want to be entertained by like minded folk and have their brain exploded.

If your appetite has been whet, keep your eyes peeled for upcoming nerdlesque shows like Black Lodge (a David Lynch inspired show), “An Evening at Merlotte’s,” for True Blood fans, Burl-X-Files (Mulder and Scully how you’ve always wanted to see them) and JOYstick! Level 2!. Plus, you can check here for local burlesque happenings.

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