By Elizabeth Lehman
On Friday local burlesque troupe Black Lace & Burlesque performed at Cedars on Steel Street in Youngstown.
The performance, called “Freakshow,” featured a variety of musical and dance numbers, as well as a science-themed side-show as the opening act.
Headliners Bernadette Lim and Amanda Baker, also known as Madame Butterfly and Bonnie Rocket, respectively, said this Halloween performance was the troupe’s one-year anniversary.
In 2015, the two first performed burlesque onstage together in the Rust Belt Theatre Company’s “Godiva: A Burlesque Musical.” During that show, they formed a strong bond as well as a mutual love for burlesque.
“To be honest, it was downright empowering,” Baker said. “I don’t know if it was diving deep into our most vulnerable places, or just maybe the lack of clothes, but a lot of us knew once the show wrapped, our relationship with burlesque was not over.”
Soon after, they were contacted with a request from the owner of Cedars, said Lim, founder of BL&B.
“It started with a message from Mara Simon,” Lim said. “She presented the idea that she wanted to do a burlesque show for Halloween and thought I might be the right person to organize it … BL&B has collected some amazing performers since then, and our little family has continued to blossom with every show.”
Baker said that at every show there is a fundraiser for someone in need in the community. Proceeds from raffles and tips go to the cause.
“I like to call us the sexiest fundraisers in the benefit business,” Baker said. “Each event that we do, we take on a local person in need. We try to gather as much donations and funds for them as we can during one event.”
Lim said “Freakshow” was raising funds for eight-year-old Marliana Velez, who was recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in her eye called rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS).
“Several months ago, what the doctors had thought to be allergies or a simple eye infection turned out to be rare form of cancer,” Lim said. “Since being diagnosed, she has undergone three surgeries and is presently undergoing chemo and radiation for the next year.”
“Freakshow” featured a diverse line-up of performers Friday night. The evening kicked off with Dr. Ray’s Sideshow of Science. Ray Beiersdorfer is Youngstown State University’s very own geological and environmental sciences professor. Beiersdorfer also recently performed his Sideshow of Science for an evening class at YSU.
Beiersdorfer describes his show as “science facts and carnival flair meet head-on.” Friday’s sideshow featured performer Alan Defi, played by Jason DelFosse, who performed various “strongman” type feats like climbing a ladder of machetes in his bare feet and hanging an anchor from his tongue.
The show was emceed by Nana from the Rust Belt Theatre Company’s Christmas play, “How The Drag Queen Stole Christmas.” Some of the line-up included Madame Butterfly and Bonnie Rocket as the headliners, as well Infini-Tribe’s hula hooping, Spidertank, an act who literally made sparks fly with a spark grinder on various parts of her anatomy, and Frank N’ Furter, who performed a rendition of Sweet Transvestite from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Despite being a burlesque show, Lim said BL&B’s performers are encouraged to stay within their individual comfort zones while onstage.
“If they don’t want to expose themselves, they don’t have to. That is why I called the troupe Black Lace and Burlesque,” Lim said. “I give them full creative control. It is their body. Their choice. For the most part, my performers create their routines themselves. I’m just here to give them a stage to express themselves and assist when they need me to.”
BL&B’s Facebook page states that they “aim to promote positive body image in a nurturing, empowering, safe environment.” Baker said they accomplish this by fostering a non-competitive environment and instead focusing on positivity and individuality.
“We embrace all shapes, sizes, genders and ethnicities with the intent to promote being able to love who you are with the body you are given,” Baker said. “There is no ideal standard to become a Youngstown showgirl, only thing that will keep you from performing on the Black Lace & Burlesque stage is a bad attitude.”
Lim said creating a safe, positive environment for the performers is a group effort.
“I can’t say I can take full credit, but I am able to create a safe environment by putting together a cast of beautifully loving and supportive people,” Lim said. “There’s no room for negativity in this troupe. If you don’t build each other up, you are most certainly out.”
Baker said the supportive environment is necessary to create compelling performances that the audience will enjoy.
“We are more often competing with our own personal demons and artistic boundaries to empower ourselves and the audience, definitely not each other,” Baker said. “This means we become extremely supportive of each other, because each performer is creating their own conversation with the audience which includes a bit of vulnerability.”