by Bernadette Burke
Matthew Parsons is on a mission to define ‘classic burlesque’ – which by historical standards is impossible for a man. In the 1920s, there was no such thing as male burlesque. But in Sydney 2012, something called ‘boylesque’ exists. Matthew Parsons is a performer and creator of a showcase called ‘Burlesque Bad Boys’.
“ Basically to be burlesque you’ve gotta take off your clothes,” Mr Parsons says. “I think that burlesque is inherently political as well as sexual. Its roots are really in political satire, and the original concept was a woman getting on stage and controlling her sexuality.” Classic female burlesque performers were sexual beings in control of how much the audience saw and when, he explains.
Mr Parsons gives a modern example: Rita Fontaine, the inaugural winner of Miss Burlesque Australia, 2010. She won with a routine called ‘Gulia Jillard’, a political satire about the career of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. “Political satire is the whole point of it, and it’s hilarious for that reason, its cheeky, it’s sexy,” he says.
Matthew Parsons began his boylesque career with no intention of being ‘ classic.’ “I wasn’t even thinking of myself as a burlesque performer, I was thinking of it as a really interesting art performance.” But he was challenged by female contemporaries to come up with a classic male burlesque routine, and the result became what he describes as his flagship performance.
“ It’s called ‘Taking off the Ritz’, and it’s the first one I developed as a burlesque performer. I wanted to mirror female burlesque really obviously, so it’s top hat and tails, it’s very formal, and the final reveal is a giant curtain tassel from my crotch.” The giant crotch tassel is a tongue in cheek reference to the nipple tassels worn by classic female burlesque performers. His show “crosses the gender context” so well, he says, that he has even had enquiries for Australia’s Got Talent. In his opinion mainstream audiences understand that his performance is the male equivalent of burlesque.
Of Burlesque Bad Boys, Mr Parsons says: “What I want to showcase is that there’s a lot of diversity to how masculine gendered performers are approaching burlesque – including people who identify as trans or various others. It’s about exploring masculine sexuality.”
So while no solid definition of ‘classic’ male burlesque exists, plenty of performers are working on it, with Matthew Parsons at the forefront.