Someone takes their top off in public, what do you do — how do you react? Perhaps you’re casual, cool — perhaps you are most definitely not casual or cool. An expletive might escape your mouth agape. As an audience member at a Neo-Burlesque show, however, your reaction will depend on your coaching. Jenny Weinbloom, Meow Wolf Executive Producer and frequent host of the Neo-Burlesque variety show, Bedtime Stories, sets the following parameters before each show, “You’re not disrespectful to people. You don’t call people names. You don’t yell at people to take more off.”
Amelia Stickney and Alexandra Renzo, two of Meow Wolf’s own incredibly creative ladies, conceived of the variety show in Meow Wolf Santa Fe’s House of Eternal Return back in December of 2018. They wanted to appeal to an adult audience, an otherwise vastly untapped market in Santa Fe. Bedtime Stories premiered to a sold-out audience in May of 2019. The monthly show has sold out every performance since.
Neo-Burlesque, at its roots, is an amalgamation of music, dancing, and storytelling. According to Stickney, “It can be funny, it can be dark.” It’s not all nipple tassels and nudity, and in fact, that preconceived notion puts pressure on performers to accept the objectification and commodification of their bodies during their performance.
Stickney and Renzo opted to call their show “Neo-Burlesque” instead of burlesque to include a broader array of performances. “Our Neo-Burlesque variety show definitely does not trend in majority towards being sexual. We often have acts where they don’t take off their clothes at all.”
The popularity of Neo-Burlesque, as Renzo puts it, “sort of sprung up in basements and small little entities, and was never necessarily something plastered all over the walls. It’s rooted in community first.” In Santa Fe, Bedtime Stories is the only show of its kind. Renzo, having lived in New York City for a decade, wanted a focus for the show “that felt slightly urban, or felt like it opened the doors to something that was comfortable in that realm.”
The resurgence of burlesque came in the 1990s New York, decades after the acts were pushed out by stripping as the preferred form of sexual entertainment. The Neo-Burlesque — or New-Burlesque — movement is inherently different than that of its predecessor as the performances are given for the performer’s pleasure, not the audience’s. The two strive to curate a show that, as Renzo puts it, “…feels inclusive, and diverse, and out there, and pushing boundaries, and is geared towards adults.”
“The reason people even do these things, is because it’s a very queer-friendly, community-based evening. And I think that’s part of why it’s so important to us to reach out to local and regional artists that we respect and that can represent, sometimes, groups that are underrepresented, especially in the performance space,” Renzo boasts.
As a rule, the goal of each show is to have a national headliner, and both regional and local acts perform. September’s show, Noche Encantada, was New Mexico-themed, and comedian Carlos Medina hosted and performed in the show. All of the talent was local. In August, the headliner of the aptly-named Miss Behave show was none other than Las Vegas’ glitzy gameshow host, Miss Behave. Award-winning Fancy Feast, “known for blending humor and edge,” stole the spotlight in June’s Midnight Snacks by (in her words) being “a professional naked person.”
For Stickney and Renzo, the joy of their show manifests in different ways. They both mention that during every performance they laugh, cry, and poke each other to make sure no detail in either the crowd or on the stage is missed. Mr. Gorgeous, a Boylesque performer from New York City, headlined Bedtime Stories in July, Pool Party, and “squirted lobster lotion” all over his body. “CRAB!” They correct themselves in unison and laugh.
When asked if they will be performing at the upcoming Bedtime Stories, they look at each other. Renzo cracks a sly smile, “No.” Neither of them have performed, except when Stickney’s band with her husband, Atalaya, performed in the first show. Renzo calls their performance “heartbreaking and wonderful.” Stickney recounts, “…but I’ve never taken my clothes off.”
The duo have no current plans to perform, but taking Bedtime Stories on the road is not out of the question. Since House of Eternal Return is such an intimate venue, plans to perform at a larger space are currently being floated around. The heart of the show, Stickney and Renzo both agree, is in Santa Fe and in the Meow Wolf space. “When Meow Wolf started, everyone was doing their thing, they were collaborating with one another, but there wasn’t a lot of policing of what people were doing or what they wanted to do. They were basically just allowed to do it as long as they were able to work together, and I think that that holds true for Bedtime Stories.”
The Halloween edition of Bedtime Stories, Phantasmagoria, is October 27th. The two-and-a-half-hour show has a 15 minute intermission. Tickets are available online. See you there!