Texas Burlesque Festival Does the Whole Shebang!

Bumpin' and grindin' into the Paramount for 10th anniversary

Coco Lectric, co-producer and headline performer at the Texas Burlesque Festival (Photo by Devaki Knowles)

There's a story that there hasn't been burlesque on the stage of the Paramount Theatre since before America entered World War II. Legend has it that's when Sally Rand, mistress of the peacock feather fan and inventor of the bubble dance, lit up the stage.

The Rand story is as covered in mystery and mystique as the art of the tease itself. No one is sure whether it happened in 1935 or 1940, and there's a whole tall tale that she chewed out the spotlight operator: He was supposed to use a blue spotlight, to make her flesh-color body stocking seem invisible, but he used a white bulb instead, revealing the trick.

Whether or not that story is true, this weekend the Texas Burlesque Festival makes history when, for the first time in decades, it brings the glamour and seduction of the strip to Austin's grandest stage. TBF co-producer and Austin burlesque icon Coco Lectric is making sure there will be no repeat of Rand's misfire in what she calls "the big 10-year shebang" for the fest.

It's been a long decade for the festival, which at its start was split between Antone's and the Parish. The next year began a two-year stint at the old Emo's on Sixth Street ("with the stairs of death to get to the dressing room," recalls Lectric), followed by another two years at the North Door, before a four-year run at the Marchesa. Now it pulls open the doors at the grandes dames of Congress Avenue, the Paramount and the adjoining Stateside.

The latest move was a joy that sprung from necessity: Pretty much right after the successful 2016 festival, the Marchesa management told the fest organizers that the venue was closing, and being remodeled as the new Austin Film Society Cinema. Lectric says, "We went into overdrive figuring out where we could find a venue that was comparable to the range and the scope of what we had been doing. We didn't want to step backwards." After all, a 10th anniversary is "a really big deal, and we really wanted Austin to celebrate with us."

There are already regular burlesque events at the Stateside, so it became an obvious choice. It's also big enough for the first two nights, but Saturday, when all the headliners and legends are bathed in limelight, needed the grandest stage of all. "Thankfully," Lectric says, "the people at the Paramount were very excited, and we were able to make it work."

With the venue set, Lectric and the team have set about putting together a lineup fit to celebrate that 10th anniversary and living up to the legend of Sally Rand. Lectric says, "We've had a shortlist of who we would want to be headlining for years, and then we get a list of standouts who we would want to add on."

Texas Burlesque Festival 2017 headliners Mod Carousel

The three nights all have a very different flavor. Thursday at the Stateside is Nouveau Nuit, giving some of the art form's freshest talents their moment on the big stage. That's also the night Lectric will be headlining alongside Yukiko Nishikido (aka the the radically ingenious and ingeniously radical Nikita Bitch Project), and Seattle's Paris Original. He's one-third of Saturday night's headliners and boylesque pioneers Mod Carousel. Expect Lectric, who has wanted to book the whole troupe for quite a while now, to be stageside for their routine. She says, "This year we've coordinated our schedule to get all the founders of Mod Carousel, who are all award-winning dancers and award-winning burlesque performers."

As for Friday, that's traditionally the TBF's Night of Legends. In a special anniversary throwback, and in a tribute to the fest's history, first-year honoree and legend of 1960s bump and grind Tiffany Carter will be returning to the Austin stage.

Carter won't be the only first-year veteran in attendance. On Saturday night, after all the competition performances, it's time for the return of Kitty Kitty Bang Bang. The original hosting troupe and the godmothers of contemporary Austin burlesque are reforming for a special one-night-only performance on Saturday night. Lectric says, "They've been rehearsing like crazy and having a great time getting to know each other again."

The three-night stand is also an opportunity to take stock of Austin's ever-evolving burlesque scene and its role on the national stage. A decade ago, every city had a distinct local style: "You could tell who was from Corpus and who was from Austin, who was from Houston and who was from Dallas, just from in the state," Lectric says. Events like the Texas Burlesque Festival and the prevalence of streaming video have been a massive learning opportunity for the Austin scene and put its performers on the national stage. Lectric, herself a Burlesque Hall of Fame featured performer, says, "The world was so much smaller 10 years ago, but honestly Austin performers and Texas performers have made quite a splash internationally."

Texas Burlesque Festival will take place April 6-7, Thu. & Fri., at Stateside at the Paramount, 719 Congress; and Sat., April 8, at the Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress. Tickets and info at www.texasburlesquefestival.com

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