Until 1942, burlesque in New York City was defined by glamorous women performing strip teases. ThatÃ¢Â€Â™s when the last burlesque house shut down, following Mayor Fiorello H. La GuardiaÃ¢Â€Â™s lengthy campaign to rid the city of vice. In the late Ã¢Â€Â™90s, as Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani fought a battle similar to his predecessorÃ¢Â€Â™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 itÃ¢Â€Â™s known, also embraced performers whose bodies, sexual identities and ages werenÃ¢Â€Â™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.
Ã¢Â€ÂœI was hearing people say, Ã¢Â€Â˜YouÃ¢Â€Â™re too old,Ã¢Â€Â™ Ã¢Â€Â she said. But she was adamant: Ã¢Â€Âœ Ã¢Â€Â˜This is what IÃ¢Â€Â™m going to do.Ã¢Â€Â™ Ã¢Â€Â
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. Ã¢Â€ÂœBut maybe I just never cared enough to find out that people were genuinely mad because I was having too much fun.Ã¢Â€Â
At the end of the Ã¢Â€ÂœDoctor WhoÃ¢Â€Â show that night, Ms. Freeman, wearing her signature pink bouffant wig, seductively removed her fishnet stockings, black tutu and silky blue corset Ã¢Â€Â” which recalled the police box the Doctor uses for time travel Ã¢Â€Â” 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 Ã¢Â€Â” more skin, more dancing, more merriment, more nerdiness.
Before the performance, Mr. Lawrence had considered why people came to these shows. Ã¢Â€ÂœLife is hard, and work is tedious,Ã¢Â€Â he had said. Fans watch a funny strip tease with their favorite characters, they laugh, they drink. Ã¢Â€ÂœThey feel better at the end of it. If that is the only thing I can contribute to the world, thatÃ¢Â€Â™s fine.Ã¢Â€Â