By Jeffrey Allen Federowicz
For The Daily Item
WILLIAMSPORT — A sinister vibe laced with the warm scent of temptation will hang in the air while you stand with laced fingers trying to look away from the flash of a sword or shadows dancing across a bed of nails.
Women in fishnet stockings parade by, a man breaths fire into the air as rock and roll music echoes throughout the vast space in an old factory that once produced rubber shoes.
Its vaudeville and freak show meets Las Vegas meets nothing like you have ever experience that will unfold this Saturday evening with the “Billtown Burlescapades: A Summer Sideshow Extravaganza” takes off.
“When people leave, you should see the look on their faces. They’re inspired, mesmerized and their child-like sensibilities and wanderlust for the world has been rekindled. Circus has been responsible for this type of awakening for a couple hundred years and we have kind of learned that art,” said Bryce “The Govna” Graves, master of ceremonies and side show stuntman. “We fancy ourselves a traditional circus sideshow that has met a modern rock and roll vibe, with a sinister twist. We’re not comparable to anything! This show is something entirely new. You should walk into a venue one person and walk out entirely changed.”
Incomparable is the perfect way to describe the “Billtown Burlescapades,” a three-part event that combines the classic sideshow with a modern twist, carnival oddities, such as fortune telling and of course, a choreographed burlesque performance by the Billtown troupe and noted performers from New York and Florida.
Held at The Pajama Factory in Williamsport, the event has taken several months to arrange and schedule since so many different components and performers are involved that are needed to enthrall the crowd and seduce the senses.
“I would encourage anyone who likes sexy people and fun things to come to ‘Billtown Burlescapades.’ If that’s not someone’s idea of a good time, there are plenty of other options for them. But for those of us with more dynamic interests, it’s the only place to be on June 22,” said Isaac Connor, the mastermind behind the revealing event.
“Burlesque is experiencing a renaissance right now and with the breadth of artistic talent in Williamsport, it not only makes sense to have our art form here, but it really is needed. Holding the show here is the first building block in a 16-month plan I have which will culminate in a city-wide music and arts festival in the fall of 2014.”
Connor noted that Williamsport’s support of the arts and its imaginative culture adds to the quality of life but also allows a varied array of art forms to grow and thrive.
This Saturday’s show will feature a varied cast of players including more than 30 performers, with seven of those being from Williamsport.
“Burlesque is an empowering form of entertainment. Women feel sexier about themselves when they see other women owning their own body, regardless of imperfections or societal judgments,” Connor said. “It’s not a night at a seedy strip club, it is a multi-faceted art form that engages an audience and makes everyone involved happier, more confident and a little bit randy.”
While the show might be colorful, it’s not totally revealing or vulgar. However, the old stereotypes of burlesque being an evening of raunchy displays remains intact for some folks.
According to Connor, the only negative feedback the troupe has received over the past few years was from a few individuals who, although they never saw a show, thought it was too vulgar for Williamsport. Connor said those ideas are false and outdated as does Graves.
“Something really important for people to know is that we don’t appeal to just one demographic. Just last week we played a toned-down version of our show at a family campground and everyone loved us,” Graves said. “All of the moms wanted to talk, dads were standing in line for our guest performer, Amber Come-Hither, and the kids were all over me! Ha, ha, it was great! We literally have something for everyone and you’ll walk away excited for the next opportunity to see us perform.”
Graves and his posse of performers have toured the country and the world, performing at clubs, major venues and festivals, including the Peace and Love Festival in Sweden where they opened for music icon Bob Dylan.
One of those performers, Jenny Gyrates, fell in love with the idea of becoming a burlesque performer after taking a few dance classes in New York. Although she is fairly new to the world of burlesque, she can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I love creating characters, and watching them grow through rehearsals and then finally becoming that character. Performing is a chance to get outside yourself for a while, a chance to not take yourself quite so seriously,” she said. “I also have a love-hate relationship with that feeling I get right before going onstage. It’s a caged animal energy, a feeling like a 100 bees trapped in a bottle. It’s the energy I use to propel the act. Once I’m performing, I love to hear the audience react. That just propels the act for me, and it makes me want to continue in the art form.
“I think people should turn off their televisions and step away from the Internet for a bit and support live art events when they happen in their communities.”
And as they say in the world of burlesque … on with the show!