Nerdiness comes in all shapes, sizes, forms, and levels of dedication. One such form is burlesque, as found with the Gorilla Tango Burlesque troupe from Chicago, Illinois. Located at Milwaukee and Western in Bucktown (www.gorillatango.com), the Gorilla Tango theater itself, is for-profit and has been host to an array of performances, improv groups and anyone else who might like to rent some stage time. The owners of the theater, Dan Abbate and Kelly Williams, had had their share of modern burlesque performers as well as sketch comedy performers at their theater, and wanted to put the two together. To do so, they enlisted the skills of Miss Pixy, who already had a background in improv, sketch comedy and writing. And writing what she knows best, Miss Pixy developed a “big nerd show.”
Boobs and Goombas: A Super Mario Burlesque was the first show created as part of the new Gorilla Tango Burlesque. “It’s about Mario and Luigi pursuing the princess, and they had been pursuing her for so long they’ve started to lose their minds and everything look likes a beautiful woman, even their enemies. So they are in danger now because their enemies have become quite seductive,” describes Miss Pixy. “It just went insane. People were calling and demanding tickets. People were getting irate when they couldn’t get tickets.” Intended for only eight performances, Boobs and Goombas ended up running for a year and a half due to the high demand.
Other shows that Miss Pixy has created for Gorilla Tango include Fellowship of the Boobs (a Lord of the Rings/World of Warcraft/D & D/RPG style story that she describes as “my own personal favorite brand of nerdery,”), A Nude Hope (Star Wars), Temple of Boobs (Indiana Jones), Boobs of Kahn (Star Trek), Holy Bouncing Boobies (1960’s Batman), and Hooter Rangers: A Spicy Morphing Burlesque (Power Rangers). With the exception of Boobs of Kahn, performances of these shows are currently running at the Bucktown theater location as well as their new theater in Skokie, Illinois. Miss Pixy says of this three-month old theater, “we would love to see the Skokie theater grow. We would love to grow our audience there. We would love to run a show for eight weeks in Bucktown and eight weeks in Skokie.” They even have a former troupe member who set up a Boobs and Goombas show in New Orleans (with permission), and all ticket sales and promotion are handled by Gorilla Tango for the local theater. “We would love to see our shows produced in more towns… we would love to tour the shows, but that hasn’t made sense financially yet.”
For the fall, they have plans to open a Walking Dead themed burlesque, Boobs of the Dead as well as performing their first burlesque sequel : The Empire Brings Sexy Back (Star Wars), sequel to A Nude Hope, which Miss Pixy describes as being “told from the Empire’s point of view, it’s about glorious Lord Vader and his wonderful peace globe, and his search for rebel scum and how he’s keen to destroy them… but lots of strip tease too!”
The long-running nature of some performances has created some difficulty in finding experienced burlesque performers who were willing to make such a commitment. Miss Pixy explains that “the Chicago Burlesque scene has a few major troupes, and those troupes have troupe members who perform with them on a regular basis, but the bulk of our performers are independent.” Several of their members have even gone on to do their own independent shows, resulting in what she calls “expansion cast auditions” to ensure every role is filled and with two or three understudies. Gorilla Tango Burlesque is always looking for performers and interested participants don’t need experience to do so. Most of their performers have a background in improv, sketch comedy or just really love being a geek, and Miss Pixy says that “as long as a girl is comfortable and can have fun on stage,” then she can perform. “We have tried offering classes, but I think because we hire so often, people have just found that they learn more by just jumping in and being in a show, so our classes didn’t sell the last time we tried, but I think we will try offering classes again. We would love to do classes.” Miss Pixy also adds that the bigger they get, the more they find themselves attracting people who are specifically saying, ‘I’m such a big nerd I want to come audition for your shows!’
All of their shows to date have featured an all-female cast which is either explained away as in Boobs and Goombas, where Mario and Luigi are hallucinating and seeing only beautiful women, or it isn’t even touched on at all. This doesn’t mean every character is meant to be female; they are still referred to as he or him as the part requires it. As a result, they have received some frustrated feedback from guys who want to participate, but don’t worry guys, you will get your chance with next year’s My Little Brony, where an evil wizard turns a group of guys into ponies.
The audience varies greatly with each of their shows. For example, the Star Trek audience was older, while the Star Wars audience was “bros having bro-hugs in our lobby.” Fellowship of the Boobs brought in a passionately nerdy audience, while the Boobs and Goombas’ audience is extremely diverse. Overall, every show brings in a lot of curious people. Miss Pixy suggests that her prospective audience look up burlesque on the internet and know what it is before the show, “we have had reviewers who didn’t understand what burlesque was, come and give us negative reviews because we weren’t filthy enough,” adding that “I’ve had people come and not realize they were going to see strippers.” On the other hand, there are the people who know exactly what they are getting into, which has resulted in many bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, birthdays and other celebrations being held at the shows.
Artistic Director for Gorilla Tango Burlesque since October of 2011, Miss Pixy prefers to write original story lines based on the nerdy things she loves; she suggests audience members come with an open mind, as she tends to divert from the original stories. A Nude Hope is one, however, which she remained faithful to the original Star Wars movie. As far as performing goes, she tends to leave that to the regular performers, “I try not to perform in my own shows, I find it’s kind of disruptive for a director to be backstage during a show… I would never cast myself in the original run of one of my shows, I have understudied, and I find that is a good experience for me because then I can get backstage and I find out what challenges the girls are facing; and I get punished by having to read my own writing.” She still has her own independent performances from time to time, and loves to host, and is very busy with the convention circuit, “I work 13 jobs depending on how you look at it.”
This busy little burlesque troop is one you must see if you find yourself in Chicago, Skokie or New Orleans, any time soon. For show information, visit the theater website at www.gorillatango.com or the burlesque page on Facebook. Plus they are always looking for interested performers so send them a message to find out more.