Bend Burlesque Co. is going West.
In addition to the Western motif of its current show, “Yee-Haw! A Western Burlesque Bonanza,” the 6-year-old burlesque company will mark its first-ever performance Friday at Volcanic Theatre Pub, in the Century Center on Bend’s West side.
The show is set in the year 1869, in a desert brothel in a dusty town known as Tucker’s Gulch. Its storyline involves rough-around-the-edges townspeople and passers through. The cast is clad in colorful Western garb, but this being a burlesque show with striptease and some nudity, it doesn’t all stay on.
Last Friday night, four members of the company had a short rehearsal at Sexsé Fit, a pole-dancing studio in Bend’s Box Factory.
“I hope you’re not offended by some nudity. No pasties tonight,” Tiffany Light Christy, who plays Charlotta Love, said just before launching into the first scene, featuring Chad Jenkins as bartender and DJ Buddy Cooper and Ryan Re, the latter of whom sidled out as Emcee Ego Mystical and engages with the audience.
“What brought you out here tonight?”
“I’m writing an article,” said that night’s audience.
“Oh yeah, sure … you ended up at the whorehouse to write an article,” Ego Mystical improvised in an accent reminiscent of movies set in the Ol’ West. “I’ll give you that. I’ve come here for questionable reasons myself.”
Ego Mystical segued into his lonely life as a traveling man. Traveling men don’t tend to make a lot of friends, but those they do have are special. “And he might just walk across the desert to see them from time to time. Especially when he catches wind that a storm is blowing their direction. … A French wind, bringing along a taste of cheese … trouble and funky things.”
Enter Charlotta Love, a Frenchwoman new to Tucker’s Gulch. She asks barkeep Buddy Cooper for a glass of rosemary champagne.
“We may have a lady here called Rosemary, but we ain’t got no shampoo,” he said. “What we’ve got here is beer and whiskey.” After gulping an imaginary beverage, he updated the menu: “Now all we got is whiskey.”
She went with the whiskey, and began strutting to the French version of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.”
Soon, the black lacy gloves came off, followed eventually by her dress, as she continued to dance in boots and corset, eliciting supportive howling from fellow company members.
“Those are nipples!” Buddy observed shortly before the song wound down. (For the actual performance, Christy said a moment later, she’ll be wearing tassles.)
“So, the rest of the show is basically storyline, the plot thickens, love, comedy and weirdness ensues,” said Mehama Kaupp, who co-founded Bend Burlesque in 2013 with Leah Rutz, forming in close collaboration with a live blues and funk band Company Grand, a five-piece band that now boasts nine members.
Explained Christy, “There’s a little bit of mystery about (Carlotta) coming in. I tell the audience, in a conversation with the saloon girls, that I’m on the run, and I’m on the run … from my husband, who’s a bad man.”
“In the telling of her story, all the different girls keep coming on stage and presenting parts of their life,” Re added. “They’re dancing strip routines in a way that tells and unfolds the story, so you get this full play.”
“Yee-Haw” has a more cohesive storyline than some of Bend Burlesque’s past shows. Kaupp estimates the total number of its original shows at around 100.
Bend Burlesque Co. has grown since its formation, with a core group of about six to eight dancers, and another dozen who don’t necessarily perform in every show. The company has made use of a number of venues around Central Oregon, including The Capitol, Silver Moon Brewing and Cascades Theatre in Bend and The Belfry in Sisters.
After the rehearsal, talk turned toward the ways burlesque differs from stripping.
Said Kaupp, “I don’t like talking about stripping in a negative light, at all. We differentiate between stripping and burlesque by saying, ‘We don’t get paid, and it’s art, and it’s theater.’”
“I call these guys thespians,” said Jenkins, who comes from a hip-hop DJing background. “They’re thespians. That’s what it boils down to.”
“It is like erotic dancing,” Kaupp acknowledged. “We’re stripping. A hundred percent, we are taking our clothes off, but there’s so much that goes into the choreography and costumes and feeling.”
Bend Burlesque’s shows usually attract a majority female audience, whereas strip clubs usually draw a nearly all-male crowd, Re said. “And, generally, the goal is to see a naked body.”
However, with burlesque, “It seems to be less about the actual taking off of the clothes, and more about the ways it’s done,” he said. “There’s a different vibration and feel. It doesn’t feel like it’s, ‘Just show me your meat.’ … There’s this feeling of ‘Let’s celebrate the human form.’”
“It’s about the tease,” Christy said. “You might only remove a glove.”