Pity Andrew Harron. The young actor’s newest role has him singing, dancing, and surrounded by gorgeous women of all shapes and sizes in various stages of undress. Cast as the heartthrob Frankie Beat in Terror at Rock Out Beach, the newest burlesque-theatre mashup by Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society, Harron gets to be up close and personal with notable burlesque performers such as the busty April O’Peel, the curvaceous Shea DeVille, and the titillating Melody Mangler, Screaming Chicken’s flame-haired founder and the play’s writer-choreographer.
“Yeah, it’s a tough job, but I’m willing to take that bullet,” Harron deadpans in conversation with the Straight, during an interview with a number of cast members in the Screaming Chicken studio at East Hastings and Nanaimo.
Harron’s not the only burlesque newbie in the production; actor Abbey DeForest, who will perform three routines in the show, is also popping her burlesque cherry—and unlike Harron’s, her induction into the genre includes bare boobage.
“You can’t be a wallflower amongst girls like this,” observes DeForest, a statuesque blond, gesturing toward her fellow cast members. “You have to go big or go home. I’m not a shy person to begin with, but I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with it as we go.…The other day, for three of us, it was our first time wearing pasties. At first it was, like, go in the back and put them on and then come out and then kind of be shy about it—and after a while we’re learning to swing the tassels on one nipple at a time.”
DeForest, like the other non-burlesque-trained actors in the show, came to the production through Spectral Theatre Society, whose artistic director Simon C. Hussey is directing Terror at Rock Out Beach. While the two companies have shared people in the past, this is the first time they’ve combined their talents to such an extent. “What made this such a perfect meld was that Melody had more or less a story she wanted to do that was in line with what we like to do, which is purely a kind of theatre that is there to entertain, and not do much more,” explains Hussey. “We really like to focus on the spectacle and entertainment and entertaining the audience with things that are visually stimulating and unusual and off-the-wall, that you normally don’t see portrayed. And this story was sort of right up our alley.”
The plot of Terror at Rock Out Beach—tag line: “A burlesque strip-sical”—is pure B-movie fun, conceived in the mind of Mangler, an admitted fan of the genre. “There’s a group of nerdy misfits that long to belong on this cool beach and get into the hep crowd of beach bunnies and surf dudes,” she explains. “Meanwhile, there’s mysterious deaths that may or may not be tentacle-related, and all the high jinks ensue. There’s also girl gangs on the loose, creating troubles for the teens that are just trying to have a good, clean time.”
So where does the nudity come in? “Imagine a musical, but instead of people breaking out into song, they just start stripping,” explains Hussey. Adds DeForest: “Hence the ‘strip-sical’ term.” The soundtrack is all surf music à la Link Wray and the Trashmen, says Mangler, a multitalented artist who, in addition to writing, choreographing, and performing in the show, is also sewing much of the wardrobe. The third Screaming Chicken Waterfront Theatre show she’s delivered, Terror at Rock Out Beach is part of her mission to push the boundaries of what burlesque is all about.
“There’s a lot of great, amazing burlesque in this city, and a lot of it is in nightclubs and bars,” she observes. “We really want to find a different approach to burlesque and a different way to kind of showcase what burlesque can be. In the 1800s burlesque was a satirical thing; we’re kind of pulling that Lydia Thompson–style satire burlesque, and then mixing it with the ’60s camp to create an entire new hybrid of what burlesque can be. And it’s fun to try something that hasn’t really been done too much.”
Despite its growing popularity, there is still plenty of misconception out there about what burlesque is all about, observes DeForest. “I posted this on Facebook, and my mother was like, ‘Sooo, you’re doing burlesque? I see this is a strip-sical,’ ” she admits. “I was like, ‘Yes, Mom.’ She’s like, ‘Well, how far do you go, exactly?’ I’m like, ‘Pasties.’ She’s in Calgary, she hasn’t seen a show before or anything, so she was really like, ‘Well, honey, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this but I’m sure you’re fine.’ I’m sure she’s, like, digging her nails into a table somewhere. But I think if someone just goes to see a burlesque show they’ll have such a different idea. People just think it’s just stripping and it’s lascivious, and it’s not. It’s awesome, hilarious, and there’s such showmanship behind it.”
Adds Shea DeVille, who plays Velma Ray, the owner of Rock Out Beach: “When I think of burlesque, I think of the skit that Kids in the Hall did years ago, where they showed this kid jumping on a trampoline and then they pan back and it’s actually just a big pair of boobs—and he’s just so happy, and they’re so big, and he’s jumping on them!” she says, laughing. “There’s nothing dirty about it. It’s just innocent enjoyment of what we all have under our clothes.…It’s probably the most fun you can have without actually taking your own clothes off.”
Terror at Rock Out Beach runs from tonight (August 18) until August 27 at the Waterfront Theatre.