- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Adele Wolf’s pink rhinestone pasties winked in the stage lights as she walked with the stride of a high-powered CEO. She was wrangling half-dressed performers sparkling with gardenia-scented glitter around the backstage area of the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center in Oklahoma City.

Wolf, the producer of the Adele Wolf Burlesque and Variety Show, marched around in fishnet stockings, a tight bustier, and a bra as shiny as showgirls’ smiles, barking commands at the light guys, sound men and stagehands in preparation for the big show.

One of Oklahoma’s few full-time, professional burlesque dancers, Wolf produces a monthly stage show in Oklahoma City featuring performers who specialize in the renewed art of burlesque and theatrical striptease.

Burlesque was popular in the United Kingdom in the 19th century and in the U.S. until the 1940s. The last vestiges faded from popular culture as onstage and on-screen nudity became common in the 1960s.

But the art form - complete with the elements of comedy, especially parody, that were intrinsic in its heyday - began a revival in the mid-1990s. Traveling and static shows popped up in New York and Los Angeles, then migrated toward the country’s center.

Despite renewed interest, the business is a challenge.

“The people who do burlesque as a profession are few and far between, as far as those who do this full-time and who don’t have day jobs,” Wolf, who started her career in Oklahoma three years ago, told The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/R308hV). “It isn’t just performance. You can’t just make a living out of performing - you have to teach, produce shows, make and sell costuming, sell merchandise.”

The hardest part of her job, however, is educating the public.

“People don’t know what to expect,” she said. “They have a few reservations about it. Burlesque in Oklahoma is still a work in progress, and I really didn’t think it would be viable here as a career. But once people see the show, they see it’s more than just taking off clothes. It’s a performance, it’s an art, and it’s a theatrical experience.”

Wolf will produce the second annual Oklahoma City Burlesque Festival June 20 to 21.

“I wanted to create a show that I would want to see,” Wolf said. “I bring in well-known people who perform worldwide, but it was a struggle in the beginning. I had to put everything I had financially on the line.”

Wolf’s monthly shows sell out more than they don’t, and she said the audiences are filled mainly with women and couples. A typical show means Wolf scrambles to book performers, write press releases, handle media relations, put up fliers, create costuming, run social media, set up merchandising, sell tickets, oversee tech rehearsals and more.

“My profits come strictly from ticket sales and merchandise,” Wolf said. “I also get paid as a guest in other shows, and that’s part of the reason I travel so much.”

Apple Angel and her Oklahoma City-based TNT Burlesque and Variety Troupe started four years ago. She produces shows at The Boom in Oklahoma City.

“It’s not just burlesque,” she said. “We do a variety show, too, with cabaret, interpretive dance, belly dance, singing, skits and drag shows. Depending on the schedule, we have 10 to 13 people in the troupe, and our shows are run in a theater-style weekend run.”

Again, educating Oklahomans about burlesque is the biggest challenge, she said.

“People assume we’re strippers,” Angel said. “They assume it’s just striptease, which in essence it is, but it’s so much more. Hours of costuming, rehearsals and preparation go into the shows. It’s performance art. It’s not dirty or shameful; it’s a full-on stage performance,” Angel said.

In Oklahoma City, The Dollhouse in Bricktown advertises burlesque shows.

The Dollhouse, which opened in 2012, is modeled after a 1920s burlesque house and has shows nightly. There’s a live jazz band until 11 p.m., when a DJ takes over and performances become a less traditional style of burlesque.

And in Tulsa, Ginger Slap, a member of the Tulsa-based Two Lips Burlesk, helped form the Tulsa Burlesque Society with Two Lips founder Poppy Pie to meet a growing demand.

“We have new faces every semester in our school, and women come out of the woodwork,” Slap said. “I think the interest is there because we put on a really interesting show. Two Lips Burlesque has been going strong for four years now, and it’s standing-room-only at all our shows.”

“Burlesque is pretty popular in Tulsa,” Slap said. “We’ve had to cap attendance for some of our classes.”

Wolf harbors no illusions about burlesque’s cultural acceptance, but she said quality shows sell tickets.

“It will always be a struggle to bring burlesque to the mainstream, because people don’t watch live shows as much anymore,” Wolf said. “But if you make the shows about theatrics, great costuming, storytelling and amazing performers, you can sell it. You make people want to come back.”

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Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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