Co-Creating & Producing Local Burlesque: An Arts Management Journey

Co-Creating & Producing Local Burlesque: An Arts Management Journey

After I became involved with burlesque and began earning my first Master’s in Arts Management at Columbia College Chicago, I started conceptualizing a burlesque show paying complete homage to the most provocative music there is — rock n’ roll. With so many different genres for exploration, the combinations of rock music and burlesque performance continually infiltrate me. Rock with roots. Rock with power! Rock that stops traffic.

Greta and Kitty hosting; 9/22/22 at Lust for Life: A Rock-Out BurlyQ Revue (photo by mo Santiago)

Last March, I created a show called Witnessing Allure, my first effort at producing and hosting burlesque. It was staged at Dorothy Downstairs, a queer, woman-owned cocktail lounge below The Martin gallery in Ukrainian Village. To follow up on that success, I re-teamed with Dorothy and with Kitty Tornado, my best friend, collaborator, and fellow burlesquer, to produce a monthly rock-themed burlesque show called Lust for Life: A RockOut BurlyQ Revue! We had our first show on September 22nd, and we sold out all 60 tickets. We increased capacity to 75 for the October show, and we still sold out ten days before the event. With Lust for Life showcases coming up on November 17th and December 15th , I wanted to share a bit about my journey as a new producer.

performer in purple light extended basket to audience members as they hand her tips

Greta-X (co-creator/co-producer/co-host… i.e. Me!); 9/22/22 at Lust for Life: A Rock-Out BurlyQ Revue (photo by mo Santiago)

Inspired by Iggy Pop’s iconic 1977 album and anthem of the same name, Kitty and I created Lust for Life to feature burlesque and variety performances that employ a slew of rock tunes from across the decades. As two strippers who have loved rock music our whole lives, we also wanted to harness our experience and “business” savvy (Kitty has a degree in Theater and has worked as a Stage Manager and as leadership in the service industry) to produce and build something from the ground up.

performer wearing roller skates does a move on the floor of the venue for the audience as they watch

Billie Batwing; 9/22/22 at Lust for Life: A Rock-Out BurlyQ Revue (photo by mo Santiago)

Enter my Master’s degree in Arts Management from Columbia, where I didn’t even realize I was building and refining skills in organizational leadership, bookkeeping/accounting (Excel functions are my best friends), financial management, strategic planning, and creative entrepreneurship, all of which serve me and Kitty as we navigate our new roles.

performer on the dance floor peeling off glove

Latte Dah; 9/22/22 at Lust for Life: A Rock-Out BurlyQ Revue (photo by mo Santiago)

Chicago is known as a Midwest hub for burlesque. A prominent performer community exists here, and several venues throughout the city feature monthly and even weekly burlesque productions, like Unbridled at Untitled or the many productions housed at the beloved Newport Theatre (run by local performer Eva La Feva). But most of these productions are open-themed in terms of the acts on stage. Some, like Obscura, a goth-inspired burlesque, drag, and variety show produced by CholoGoth pin-up Sio Bast, are curated around a concept or style of performing. After befriending Bast and experiencing the awesomeness of a show like Obscura, I felt emboldened to ask Kitty if she wanted to join forces and conceive of a new production for the city.

close-up of performer doing floorwork dancing

Aria Forte; 9/22/22 at Lust for Life: A Rock-Out BurlyQ Revue (photo by mo Santiago)

We thought a lot about how to make our show OURS. While we aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel. and we recognize we still have so much to learn, we aim to use our platform to:

  1. Pay performers and crew a fair and consistent rate
  2. Provide opportunities to performers and community members in all stages of their burlesque journey
  3. Co-host, co-curate, co-produce, and co-soundtrack (through shareable Spotify rock music mixes that change with each new production) a unique showcase each month
  4. Promote the work and acknowledge the contributions of local burlesque and sex work communities while also working with independent local queer and femme artists, creators, and business owners
  5. Discourage hierarchical practices and icky gatekeeping within the local burlesque community
  6. Celebrate image-makers (insert my in-progress MFA degree in Photography at Columbia, which fuels my knowledge of and passion for photographers who have built a career in documenting rock) along with musical acts throughout the genre’s history
  7. Adapt any aspect of our show to improve the experience for anyone involved by creating an “open door” policy for community members to express feedback, concerns, and ideas

I remind myself: our nimble journey into the world of burlesque production in Chicago would not have been possible without Kitty and my collective experiences – in and out of burlesque. And while we are overwhelmed with the work this undertaking has created, wow! What happy work! Together, and with friends in an array of supportive roles, we are making something happen that brings a community of many intersections together to be captivated.

burlesque performer in red costume dances for audience members as they tip her

Lady Ve’Lush; 9/22/22 at Lust for Life: A Rock-Out BurlyQ Revue (photo by mo Santiago)

We are having success and feeling momentum in trying to be daring — in stepping out from the dark and boldly trying something new on our own. In the risk-taking that is constant in burlesque, I find I can make a meaningful mark without having the most impressive tricks or the most toned physique. I alleviate myself of the pressure to be everything and celebrate the so-much (through all my experiences, hard work, and education) that I already am.

Come and see our next showcase at Dorothy on 11/17! Show starts at 8:00pm.