It's one thing to get on stage and give an audience everything within you. It's quite another to do that while disrobing.
Some performers bare their soul. But these performers bare it all.
Hard Heart Burlesque, helmed by local performers Karma Kandlewick and Miss Marina Elaine, is hitting the stage at McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre on May 8 and hoping to establish itself as one of Sarasota’s most alluring and engaging entertainment acts.
Kandlewick, the stage name of Amanda Heisey, runs the show with Elaine, and they’re picking up from Black Diamond Burlesque, a troupe that entertained local audiences for a decade.
Kandlewick and Elaine were part of that troupe, but now they’re doing their own thing. Kandlewick, who has a background in theater, says burlesque allows her to free herself from the conventions of traditional drama and take control of her act from start to finish.
“I really appreciate burlesque because you can do whatever you want,” she says. “You can be whatever character you want. You can make whatever scene you want. Historically in vaudeville, burlesque was that. You were making a statement on what’s happening in the world. A lot of it was comedy along with strip tease — it gives you a lot more freedom than a role in a show.”
Burlesque shows resemble a variety act in that they bring many performers of many different stripes to the stage. There are singers and jugglers and comedians in the stable, and Kandlewick says a pole dancer will be part of the May 8 show at McCurdy’s.
Some shows even include performers who work with fire, but there’s one thing that links all those disparate acts together.
That’s the art of intriguing audiences, and Kandlewick, in her press materials, describes herself as a quadruple threat performer.
She sings, she dances, she acts, and she takes her clothes off for strangers. But make no mistake: Burlesque isn't a strip bar.
“You can’t touch a burlesque performer. That’s not a thing,” says Kandlewick. “But strip tease is about the art of how you take things off, and it’s not always about baring everything.
“You don’t have to in burlesque. You don’t have to go down to pasties or whatever. It’s the art of having people want more and how exciting that can be. The fun is in how slowly you take things off or how interestingly you take it off. A lot of times, burlesque performances are like a comedy act. It’s an act as a performance art piece, as opposed to the whole goal is just to be naked.”
Burlesque was once a gigantic part of the performance landscape, and Kandlewick says it’s made a bit of a resurgence in the past decade. But times are different now than they were generations ago, when the image of implied nudity packed a far greater punch.
Why is burlesque still interesting today?
Because it still asks you to use your imagination.
“Burleseque is still fun and relevant because it can transport you into a different era, into a movie, a book, a location or even the performer’s mind,” Miss Marina Elaine says about the way burlesque maintains its vitality. “It provides a freedom of expression and can be interpreted in so many different ways. It’s such a unique art form but is so much more than people think.”
Kandlewick says that people often aren’t sure what to make of burlesque when she tells them there’s an upcoming show. And she delights in telling them about the varied performances but also in talking about the ways burlesque celebrates body positivity.
“All bodies are burlesque bodies,” says Kandlewick. “All bodies are sexy and valid.”
Hard Heart Burlesque has a secret weapon in the emcee of its May show, Lady LaLa, also known as Laura Daniel Gale, the former proprietor of Black Diamond Burlesque. Gale also served as emcee at Hard Heart's show in February.
Gale ran Black Diamond for 10 years but opted not to continue after being sidelined by the pandemic. With that decision made, she helped pass the torch to Hard Heart, and Kandlewick says she’s been instrumental in helping them get off the ground.
Hard Heart Burlesque is welcoming international artist Jezebel Express to the stage, as well as Nettie Bloom and singer Nicole Dreger. The Naked Noah Show and Bill Berry will also be part of the Mother’s Day act, and Kandlewick says that date isn’t an accident.
“Marina says it empowers the ladies. Her mom is coming,” she says. "Most burlesque audiences are majority women.
"It’s a fun outing. If people think it’s like a strip club, it’s not at all the same vibe. Everyone likes to go out and have a good time. Everyone wants to be entertained.”
McCurdy’s had also served as the main home for Black Diamond Burlesque, and Kandlewick performs in another act, Beneva Fruitville’s Drag Queen Bingo, at the venue. She says that McCurdy’s has a good size stage for a burlesque act and that it makes a fitting home, but Black Diamond might also perform at outdoor venues around town in the future.
The troupe can be followed at its Facebook page for future engagements, and Kandlewick is trying to raise awareness in the community about how fun a burlesque show can be.
At root, she wants people to know that it’s as fun for the performer as it is for the audience.
“Once you start doing it, it’s not quite as scary. But initially, yes, it can feel very exposed, obviously,” she says. “I guess it’s one of those things, and it depends on how you think about it. Sometimes people come up to performers after they see a burlesque show and say, ‘I’m interested in doing this now.’ When people see it, they get different things out of it. They get confidence and they see that they can do things like that. … It’s powerful to be yourself, to be confident and proud of who you are in front of other people.”
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