After a successful first year, the Savannah Burlesque Festival returns for another round.
Producer Rebel Vitale brought on fellow performer Jack N’ Thacox as co-producer this year. They invited last year’s producer Rita D’LaVane on as a fellow judge to help sort through their nearly 250 submissions.
“We felt like it was really important to have numerous judges who all like different styles,” explains Rebel. “We tried to judge unbiased based on their execution, but it’s hard to tell that many people no, especially when you know they’re talented.”
The amount of submissions is definitely indicative of the festival’s success last year.
“We had so much great talent last year, and we really wanted to provide those performers with a theatre-level performance venue, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us our very first year,” says Rebel. “But last year we sold out one of our shows and came pretty close to selling out the other two.”
Based on those stellar numbers, Rebel and Jack chose to book Victory North for their finale. A bigger venue provides exposure for the performers, both in terms of equipment and of having more people see the show.
“When a burlesque performer is onstage, they’re feeding off the audience’s energy,” explains Jack, “so the best thing we could do as the producers of the festival is when they get up on stage, we’ve got a packed house for them and we’ve got people rooting for them.”
“For performers, the time, energy and money that go into just one number is insane,” adds Rebel. “A lot of these people are either paying big bucks to have their costumes made or they’re tirelessly making them on their own and putting hundreds of dollars’ worth of rhinestones on them and hours and hours of rehearsal time, just to perform for four minutes.”
Thursday, the festival kicks off at Club One with the Dirty South Soiree, featuring twenty traveling performers including Trina Parks.
“She was the first African American Bond girl in Diamonds are Forever, but she’s also a classically trained dancer,” shares Rebel. “She’s 74 years old and killing it.”
Thursday’s performance also features Dee Flowered, the festival’s first regional headliner.
“We wanted representation for the Southeast, and Dee was our first pick,” says Rebel. “It was really important for our first headliner to be somebody that we really believed in and that also believed in this art form.”
Friday night is the Freaks and Geeks double feature at the Jinx, which holds a particularly sentimental spot.
“What’s exciting to me about having a showcase at the Jinx is that’s where we got our start; that was the first venue to open its doors to burlesque when we came to be,” raves Jack. “That backstage and the spirit of downtown and rock ‘n’ roll and that grit is something I’m really excited to share with traveling performers.”
Friday’s emcees are Skippy Spiral and Fancy Feast, who Rebel says is a major advocate for diversity in burlesque.
Saturday, the festival closes out with the Specter Spectacular, hosted by Blanche DeBris and headlined by Po’ Chop and Evil Hate Monkey.
Hailing from Chicago, Po’ Chop puts on an outside-the-box performance.
“I’ve been following her since I started my burlesque journey because she incorporates a lot of modern dance into her burlesque, and does it well,” says Rebel.
Evil Hate Monkey closes the show with what Jack calls a very athletic performance.
“His athleticism is very impressive for sure, and I feel like he has the ability to make the audience feel really uncomfortable, but they still like him at the end of the day,” says Rebel.
Also available during the festival are classes taught by talented performers. These classes are so necessary because it allows people to learn from instructors who they might not otherwise be able to learn from.
“And if you care about your craft, you are going to be constantly learning,” says Rebel. “You are never too good to learn.”
The festival stays true to Savannah by including all local companies as sponsors, including Wax and Wane, House of Strut and Moon River Brewing Company.
“I don’t think people realize how much time goes into planning something this big, and we don’t even know if we’re going to make money. We may end up spending our own money to do this!” says Rebel. “I think that is a long-term goal for Jack and I, to actually get this thing big enough that we can pay our performers. It’s hard when you don’t have perspective from a producer’s standpoint.”
Another goal for the Savannah Burlesque Festival is to help assert Savannah as a destination for burlesque.
“I noticed that not only did people have a great time at last year’s festival, but people are just excited about visiting and performing in Savannah,” says Jack. “So we’re trying to make Savannah sort of a hub for burlesque that people all around the world hear about Savannah burlesque and it becomes a destination.”
“I think that people outside of the Southeast have heard of Savannah, but it’s not necessarily a place like New York City that a lot of people are aiming to go to. But when the opportunity arises, like a burlesque festival, people are like, ‘You know, I have always wanted to check out Savannah,’” says Rebel. “Jack and I are also really passionate about people seeing Savannah as a town, because aside from burlesque there’s other really awesome things Savannah has to offer.”