Gorilla Tango Burlesque (GTB) hit the scene in October 2010 with the surprise hit “Boobs & Goombas: A Super Mario Burlesque” in Chicago, IL. Now a burlesque/comedy powerhouse, GTB creates unique parodies that mix burlesque with a more traditionally theatrical approach. The result is a form of burlesque parody that features all female casts, allowing Chicago’s premiere female comedic talent to shine. Recently at C2E2,
The Pullbox crew got to meet several members of the GTB cast / team and were able to set up this text interview.
We are talking with Erica Reid (Director / Choreographer), Kaitlin Fleharty (Managing Director / Performer) and Cassie Dennis (Marketing).
Eric – TPB: How did you connect with GTB?
Erica: I was first brought into the company by GTB co-founder Ms Pixy, as choreographer for the 2012 production of Boobs of the Dead, A Walking Dead Burlesque. I also choreographed the 2013 revival of Boobs of the Dead, and took on the roles of both Director and Choreographer for the 2014 revival of The Rack of Khan: A Star Trek Burlesque.
Kaitlin: I first auditioned for GTB back in May 2011 after seeing their audition notice for ‘Boobs and Goombas’ Mario and Luigi understudies. I was cast as Luigi and although I had never experienced burlesque before, let alone perform it, I quickly fell in love with the company and its mission. I was hooked.
Cassie: Have loved burlesque for years and was introduced to GTB through the GM of their venue, Gorilla Tango Theatre Bucktown. Though my career has been in sales and marketing (more years than I care to admit!), my hobbies include acting, singing and dancing—and working together gave me a chance to use my work skills with my passions. I’m also a geek!
Eric – TPB: What would you say GTB’s mission is?
Kaitlin: To blend the worlds of burlesque, sketch comedy, and geek fandoms into an evening of sexy celebration with tongues planted firmly in cheeks.
Cassie: Well said, Kaitlin! Additionally, GTB is produced, created and performed by women and celebrates beauty in all its forms. Most importantly, showing that smart and geeky with confidence is truly what makes a woman sexy.
Eric – TPB: What part of the Burlesque art form pulled you in?
Erica: I started choreographing burlesque back in about 2005, with the Belmont Burlesque Revue. They needed a new group number, and I had a blast working with them. They hired me for a few more numbers over the years, and my husband and I performed comedy duo routines for their shows. From there, I started choreographing random one-off dances for other shows, both solo and group. I became the original Dance Director for the first year of the Kiss Kiss Cabaret, and then started working with GTB. I love everything about burlesque—I love that it is celebration of women and a loving environment for all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, etc. I love the camaraderie between the performers. I love how powerful it makes the performer feel, and I love helping women feel beautiful and sexy. I love the costumes, the challenge of figuring out how to remove a piece of clothing, and finding the right vibe and style of dance to challenge and showcase each performer. The best part about the burlesque world for me, though, is the amazing women I get to meet and work with. I have made some long lasting and loving relationships in this scene that I will treasure always.
Kaitlin: The comedy. I’ve always been a comedic actress and the opportunity to play iconic male roles like Luigi, Han Solo, and Tony Stark (Iron Man) in sexy lingerie was just too perfect an opportunity to pass up. You can’t find that anywhere else.
Cassie: What I’ve always loved about burlesque is that when a woman is performing, she OWNS that stage. Great burlesque artists are comfortable in their skin and exude confidence in their work. As someone who has spent many years focused on helping women get ahead in their careers, I know how important and empowering having talented role models can be to young women. And these women are role models. They show other women—and men—what a strong, smart, talented, confident woman looks like. What is not to love?
Eric – TPB: There are several moving parts to any live performance (writing, choreography, scenery, costuming, etc.), at GTB are these all separate stages or is more of an organic creation?
Erica: When I am only choreographing a GTB show, I will work with the director to make sure that we are on the same page with what we want to accomplish in a dance number. It is an ongoing conversation. Taking on the role of both director and choreographer in the same show (Rack of Khan) was a special treat, because I was able to drive the action and dances all in the same vision. I knew I wanted high-energy and new music in the show, and I loved being able to infuse my brand of comedy into the scenework. Early on, I spoke with the resident costumer, and we talked about vision for the costumes in the show, and we stayed in communication throughout the rehearsal process. Costuming in Burlesque is particularly important, since the art form is based around the strategic removal of the costumes. I was blown away with costumes and look that she produced.
Kaitlin: I would say we definitely function like any other production company when producing a new production. Because of our small black box performance space, we often use little to no scenery but each production has its own production team: director, choreographer, and costumer. We’re just now starting to put our brand new scripts through a workshop process where we gather a group of Geek Girls (GTB performers) for a private reading of the script followed by a talkback where current company members along with the show’s production team can discuss rewrite options and where we can add more ‘bits,’ jokes, and nods to the fandom. Costuming also proves a unique challenge in burlesque because not only do clothes have to look fabulous on stage, but they also have to be removed on stage—in a sexy fashion! Lots of quick-rigging with snaps, zippers, and Velcro on shirts, pants, and brassiere isn’t something you’re normally challenged by in traditional theatre.
Eric – TPB: What do you think is the hardest part of putting together a show? Most tedious?
Erica: I think all aspects of show production blend together, so there is no one thing that sticks out as hard or tedious. If I had to choose, though, I would have to say scheduling around the actor’s schedules. Everyone is super busy and has a life out of the burlesque world, so coordinating multiple schedules to get everyone in the same room is an ongoing challenge.
Kaitlin: The hardest part is trusting that it’s ready. When opening night approaches, I’m always worrying if the jokes will land, if the clothes will come off, if the songs choices will resonate with the audience. Trusting the work is the hardest part for me. The most tedious part is costuming. It’s a long process that often takes until opening night to fully complete.
Cassie: The fact that everything is out of my control (like most marketers, a bit of a control freak). I’m counting on the show being wonderful and together, while focused on getting reviewers and audience there to enjoy all the team’s efforts. And just like every other performing arts organization in Chicago, we compete for attention with other things happening in people’s lives—and the fabulous weather (just a nod to all the lovely snow this past winter)!
Eric – TPB: Kaitlin, as a performer, how long often and long do you practice? What does a typical week look like?
Kaitlin: If a new production is in rehearsal, that show will rehearse 2-3 times a week. Any other on-going show in an open run that is currently training new understudies will rehearse 1-2 times a week. If a performer isn’t involved in either of those processes, their only time commitment are performances on the weekends.
Eric – TPB: I know each show must be different, but what is the process of development for a show’s story (i.e., how did “The Rack of Kahn” start with the idea of doing a Star Trek Spoof or from someone thinking it was a cool title)?
Kaitlin: You’re right! Every show is different! Typically, it either starts with a script that is submitted to the company—like Rack of Khan was (though it was submitted under a different title) submitted to us by the Nerdologues or it will start with the producers reaching out requesting for script treatments focusing on a specific movie or genre. From there it goes into workshop phase (as described above) then into production phase with the production team and cast who also bring a lot of their own personal flair to the show.
Eric – TPB: What has been your favorite show so far?
Erica: No bias here, but I personally love Rack of Khan. I’ve seen it now a million times, and it still makes me sincerely laugh every time I see it. I love the music and I am really proud of the dances. Plus, the cast is pretty much the greatest cast I could have ever asked for.
Kaitlin: ‘Don’t Blink: A Doctor Who Burlesque.’ Above all other fandoms we produced at GTB, Doctor Who was easily my most beloved. It was a dream come true to play Rose Tyler, a Cyber(wo)man, and a feminized version of The Master known in our show as The Mistress.
Eric – TPB: Erica, do you rely on more traditional/historic aspects of Burlesque when developing a show? Or do you forge your own way?
Erica: For me, everything starts with the music. I let the music inspire the story and movement for any number. I know I am on the right track when I hear a song and instantly see what a number will look like in my head. When that happens, it is gold. But ultimately, I think that I forge my own path. I certainly rely on classic Burlesque moves in my choreography, but I love the Neo-Burlesque style of integrating edgy and hard modern movements. I’ve also been told in the past that I have a clear style and that my dances are recognizable as mine. I love that.
Eric – TPB: What is the relationship between GTB and Gorilla Tango Theater? Are they extensions of one another?
Kaitlin: GTB was originated by GTT Executive Producers Dan Abbate and Kelly Williams and the Creator of our first show, ‘Boobs and Goombas,’ MsPixy. Gorilla Tango Theatre is now managed by new directors, but Dan and Kelly remain as Executive Producers of GTT and GTB.
Cassie: Gorilla Tango Theatre is a wonderful venue that partners with artists who want to produce a show (all kinds of shows!) and has a unique model that allows the artist to partner with the venue for success. With GTB in residence, there can be some great cross-pollination of audiences learning about other opportunities to enjoy live theater.
Eric – TPB: It looks like GTB offers classes; can you tell us about that?
Cassie: The class offerings currently don’t include burlesque classes, but there are other great performing arts topics offered by the venue’s management team.
Eric – TPB: Cassie, With communities getting gradually more and more politically bi-polar, has that made marketing a harder task? Does GTB get negative feedback from ignorant non-creative types?
Cassie: The response from those who have seen the shows is overwhelmingly positive—they understand what we have to offer and appreciate the actresses and the shows. Unfortunately, there are always people who display their ignorance—usually on social media where they can be relatively anonymous. Many times, they are showing us how uncomfortable they are with their bodies or with women in general. It is sad. The negative thoughts are more a reflection of how they feel about themselves and not about us.
Eric – TPB: If a creative type out there wanted to break into any aspect of the business (from writing to performing to stagecraft) – what advice would you give them?
Erica: I love giving advice to newcomers in the scene. I think across the board, no matter what aspect of the business you are in, the following advice applies: Be true to yourself. Do the art that you love to do. Don’t be afraid of failure or taking risks. Know that it is ok to have a strong voice and opinion. Hold yourself to a high standard and always strive to improve. Get ready to work and give it your all. Listen to your gut; if you find yourself in a bad situation—get out of it. Fight for yourself and your art. Be nice to people. Respect others and don’t be a jerk. Know that everyone’s voice in this world is important. Pay special attention to the people you enjoy working with, and find other ways to work with them.
I’ve had a hearty career over the last 14 years in Chicago, both in the dance and comedy worlds, and it is almost entirely because of the reputation I have built and the relationships I have developed over the years.
Kaitlin: I would say GO FOR IT! Trust yourself! A lot of women are usually hesitant to try burlesque because you really are baring it all on stage, which can be very scary. If you can trust yourself enough to come to just an audition, I guarantee you will understand what all our ladies rave about. GTB is a family. A nerdy, sexy family.
Cassie: Erica & Kaitlin give great advice and I’d add only one more thing. Win, lose or draw—hold your head high and have confidence in who you are. We all fall down at some point (usually many times throughout a life and career). Your confidence, skills, passion and support team will help you pick yourself up and try again. Enjoy the journey!
Eric – TPB: What kind of creative awesomeness is coming down the road for GTB?
Kaitlin: We will open our next new production, a Return of the Jedi Burlesque, in September of this year.
Cassie: And if you want to find out about upcoming shows—either for tickets or auditions—“Like” our page on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter: @GTangoBurlesque for news!
Eric – TPB: Shameless plug time – any GTB / GTT projects coming up or personal projects that we can let the readers know about?
Cassie: Be careful of giving a marketer the opportunity to give a shameless plug, LOL!
Just wanted to remind everyone of our current schedule of shows in residence at Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago in the Bucktown neighborhood. Easy street parking and it is right at the blue line (Western Stop on Northside) and buses (both the Western and Armitage buses stop within one block).
9:00pm The Rack of Khan: a Star Trek Burlesque
10:30pm TEMPLE OF BOOBS: An Indiana Jones Burlesque
9:00pm A Nude Hope: a Star Wars Burlesque
10:30pm The Empire Brings Sexy Back: a Star Wars Burlesque Sequel
11:59pm HOLY BOUNCING BOOBIES! A Batman Burlesque
Tickets are only $25—book online at www.GorillaTango.com and there is a cash bar at the theater!
We also do special rates & perks for groups for your graduation, bachelor/bachelorette, or birthday parties. Just call us at 773-598-4549 for details.
Hope to see you soon!
Eric – TPB: Thank you so much for speaking with us – Thank you for what you are doing for the Geek community and good luck on the upcoming season!