Forget Fan Fiction. In Nerdlesque, the Garters Come Off. – New York Times

Until 1942, burlesque in New York City was defined by glamorous women performing strip teases. That’s when the last burlesque house shut down, following Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia’s lengthy campaign to rid the city of vice. In the late ’90s, as Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani fought a battle similar to his predecessor’s, artists were reviving burlesque and transforming it into an outlet for self-expression and social commentary. Its goals were no longer solely to satisfy the male gaze or provide an escape from reality. It became a kind of performance art.

Neoburlesque, as it’s known, also embraced performers whose bodies, sexual identities and ages weren’t often seen onstage. This is even more the case with nerdlesque.

When Cyndi Freeman, a writer and podcast producer who plays the ditsy, pink-haired Cherry Pitz in Hotsy Totsy shows, joined the burlesque community a decade ago at 43, it was a defiant act against ageism and a declaration of pride for her body.

Photo

Hovey Burgess, a spectator of the “Doctor Who” show.

Credit
Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

“I was hearing people say, ‘You’re too old,’ ” she said. But she was adamant: “ ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ ”

Ms. Freeman and her husband, Brad Lawrence, put on monthly nerdlesque shows at the Slipper Room, on the Lower East Side, which has served as a home to neoburlesque since 1999. Mr. Lawrence wrote in an email that, aside from some gentle ribbing, relationships between nerds like him and the more avant-garde performers have been supportive. “But maybe I just never cared enough to find out that people were genuinely mad because I was having too much fun.”

At the end of the “Doctor Who” show that night, Ms. Freeman, wearing her signature pink bouffant wig, seductively removed her fishnet stockings, black tutu and silky blue corset — which recalled the police box the Doctor uses for time travel — to reveal a black thong and light-up nipple covers. A few minutes later Mr. Lawrence, dressed as the Tenth Doctor, re-emerged for some witty banter and Whovian humor.

Almost nonstop for the duration of the act, the crowd screamed for more — more skin, more dancing, more merriment, more nerdiness.

Before the performance, Mr. Lawrence had considered why people came to these shows. “Life is hard, and work is tedious,” he had said. Fans watch a funny strip tease with their favorite characters, they laugh, they drink. “They feel better at the end of it. If that is the only thing I can contribute to the world, that’s fine.”


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