Imagine if a comic-con and a burlesque festival had a baby.
That’s how Annie-Mae Allure, the executive producer of this week’s Kansas City Nerdlesque Festival, describes the event, where performances will focus on themes such as science fiction and fantasy in what’s been billed as a “shame-free zone” at the Just Off Broadway Theatre.
Allure expects around 40 cast members, both local and touring, from as far away as Alaska and British Columbia.
“We wanted to create space where performers can feel safe and not think, ‘Is my tummy too big for this costume?’” says Allure. “We wanted to really focus on being inclusive of all body types, sizes, gender identities.”
Allure, whose real name is Jamie Lin Pratt, has been performing burlesque since 2011 after working in musical theater. She was inspired to explore burlesque after meeting Katie Gilchrist, a well-established performer within Kansas City’s burlesque community.
“I saw her and a bunch of other locals, and I fell in love with it,” says Allure. She soon joined a burlesque troupe, and began performing independently a year later in 2012.
She decided to organize the Nerdlesque Festival after producing the Rude Revue and Burly Q, a monthly show at Davey’s Uptown Ramblers Club. The Rude Revue features acts “from classic to cosplay and fantastic to freaky,” according to its website, and has generated an enthusiastic following.
“People are really coming out for these things that are a niche,” says Allure.
In contrast, Kansas City’s longest running burlesque company, Burlesque Downtown Underground, began in 2007 as a producer of more conventional, classic burlesque.
“They have a following,” says Allure. “They describe themselves as really classy.”
But Allure and other performers realized a demand for shows that challenge the status quo.
“The festival we want to put on is all-inclusive and aims to celebrate the things we love as human beings,” she says.
“Kansas City has a vibrant community, so I see a lot of performers do cosplay burlesque, or in this usage, nerdlesque,” says Gilchrist, who is currently a member of the local production company Bohemian Cult Revival. “What Annie-Mae has done is take that tendency and want, and turn it into a festival. Kansas City hasn’t seen that.”
Kait Dowling, who performs under the stage name Kater Tot, was one of the inspirations for the Nerdlesque Festival. Inspired by pop culture, her acts have included characters such as Fester Addams, Edward Scissorhands, and Mr. Six, the dancing mascot for Six Flags amusement parks.
“Kater Tot is a chameleon,” Dowling says of her character, “and a lot more raunchy than the person I portray in real life.”
“Kater Tot is specifically the reason I wanted to do a fest,” adds Allure. “We wanted to shine a spotlight on performers who are in the margins. We need more opportunities for people like Kater Tot to be rewarded.”
She also points out that, unlike many burlesque festivals around the country, the Nerdlesque Festival is paying its performers for their work, rather than compensating them “with networking and experience.” By paying performers, the Nerdlesque Festival aims to demonstrate support for artists regardless of economic circumstance, Allure says.
Cast members say the Nerdlesque Festival is as beneficial for the traveling performers as it is for those in Kansas City.
“It brings something new to our city, and new people to our city. It brings a national attention to our city,” says Gilchrist.
Bohemian Cult Revival’s showcase performance at the festival, Gilchrist says, will offer a social commentary.
“It’s more of a protest piece. It’s a ragtag group of clowns preparing to go into battle.” After all, she notes, “burlesque isn’t just about taking off your clothes. It’s about telling a story and telling it well.”
Enthusiasm for stories and their characters is ultimately the backbone of the Kansas City Nerdlesque Festival.
“The audience, in my opinion, has a lot of fun when they recognize the characters people are portraying on stage,” says Kater Tot. “Pop culture and fandom … bring people together.”
“I would love for people to know they can bring their nerdiest selves,” Gilchrist adds. “It doesn’t matter if your fandom is steeped in Battlestar Galactica or Disney movies, there is a home for you and you’ll see yourself represented in some way.”
The Kansas City Nerdlesque Festival, August 6-12, with most events taking place at Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central St., Kansas City, Missouri 64108. For tickets and more information visit KCNerdFest.com.
Claire Verbeck is a freelance contributor to KCUR.org. Find her on Twitter at @TheVeebs.