Burlesque = Magic: Sailor St. Claire on Accio Burlesque.
~ Written by Jessica P.
As someone who never ‘got into’ the Harry Potter series (though I had plenty of my own obsessions growing up and picked up more than a few new ones in adulthood), it’s nonetheless been interesting to watch a national obsession take place from the outside looking in. When the films were released I recall walking downtown to work pre-dawn while fans wrapped in their finest cloaks and hats lined up around the block to get in line for the premiere. Their excitement was palpable. Although it wasn’t a love I could relate to, it was one I recognized.
Aces & Anchors Productions will reimagine J.K. Rowling’s novels and the films they inspired on June 28-29 at the Annex Theatre with Accio Burlesque. One of the show’s producers, Sailor St. Claire, took a moment to explain the context of the series in her own life, and why the novels inspired a burlesque show as well as the aforementioned national obsession:
Burlesque Seattle Press: Can you tell me why Harry Potter is ripe for burlesque-ing? How did you arrive at the show and what is your take on it?
Sailor St. Claire: One of the things that’s most appealing about the Harry Potter series is that it is about magic, and about being magical. I know that makes it seem like it would be better suited to another genre of performance that we think of as inherently more magical, something like circus arts or stage magic. But burlesque is magic. When I started working with magician Ace Carter in 2011, I came to realize that our two artforms operated on the same principles. We were both producing things and vanishing them, transforming them, crafting our acts around a series of clever, flashy reveals. He does it through sleight of hand, and I do it through costuming. There’s actually a long historical tradition of burlesque and magic sharing the same stages, but no one really does it anymore. So it was very attractive to me to create a burlesque show that was actually about magic, and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series is one of the most accessible cultural touchstones for magic we have through which I could do that.
Sailor St. Claire: I am also, of course, a fan of the Harry Potter series. I grew up with Harry Potter, and that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do with Harry and his friends: grow up with them. The series is a classic bildungsroman, a novel of becoming, that puts Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, Malfoy and the others through a process in which they become adults, active citizens of their world. I started reading the series a couple of years after it came out in the States when I was a sophomore in high school, not all that much older than Harry & Co. were at the start of Sorcerer’s Stone. Although it wasn’t magical, Hogwarts did bear a passing resemblance to the world I inhabited as a Catholic school student. And a lot of my fonder memories of high school involved dressing up in cloaks and our school uniforms and attending midnight showings of all of the movies. When Deathly Hallows was released, my husband and I preordered two copies on Amazon and spent 2 days at home, not talking to each other, just reading the book together. I attended both parts of the Deathly Hallows films with a couple of friends who had taught the Harry Potter novels at UW, and the minute the picture started for Deathly Hallows Part 2, we couldn’t help but cry because, in some ways, the end of the Harry Potter series marked a significant point in our own becoming. I had grown up so much with Harry Potter — and the movies let me make that journey a little longer than the books alone would have — and I could mark my life by when I read a book or saw a film, and the weight of knowing that was finally over seemed to signal the finality of a right of passage. The magic was over. Now I had to be an adult.
But with burlesque, Harry Potter doesn’t have to be over. By “poaching” this text, revisiting it, transforming it, and rewriting it through a different genre, it gets to be alive again. (See my Burlesque Seattle Press article from last summer for further thoughts on burlesque and textual poaching.) We get to go back to Hogwarts, we get to tell new stories, to live in the magic of “becoming” something again.
BSP: What appeals to you about these characters? (Knowing the way you think, there’s bound to be some complexity in there…)
Sailor St. Claire: Rowling’s characters are very real and richly detailed, and having spent so much of my life reading and watching these characters, they’re very easy to identify with. As a person who has always liked school, I love that the Harry Potter series is set in a school, and that each book is organized around the acquisition of knowledge. Hermione Granger is the character who identifies most with that process, and she’s continually rewarded for that, which I think rarely happens in real life — especially for young girls, where being smart isn’t something that’s typically valued. But these books tell us that knowledge is a magical thing, and that setting is particularly appealing to me. However, the series also understands that there are multiple ways to come to knowledge that aren’t simply defined by academic success — and that’s something we forget in real world education (although I know every educator is trying his or her hardest to work around and within that system). There’s this beautiful moment at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone where Dumbledore awards House points to Ron, Harry & Hermione for destroying the Sorcerer’s Stone and commends them on the skills they displayed to do so: Ron’s loyalty, Harry’s bravery, and Hermione’s cleverness. Their knowledges aren’t all equal, but they’re all recognized as worthwhile.
And we as readers are constantly being immersed in that same quest for knowledge as we grapple with learning the ins and outs of the new and fantastic world we’re being presented with, and that thirst for more magical knowing is deepened and enriched with each book. I just really love that process of learning and knowing that’s experienced by both the characters and the readers throughout the series.
BSP: For those of us (like me!) that never immersed themselves in the books/movies, will the show still have some material we can grasp? Or is it mostly a love letter to and for fans?
Sailor St. Claire: We have a lot of conversations about accessibility of material in nerdlesque. For me, I want all the nerdlesque acts to still be based on good striptease at their core, and I think all of these acts are. This cast is incredibly dedicated to each of the characters they are playing, so I think that even folks who are less intensely familiar with Harry Potter will be able to access who the characters are, their goals, their desires, etc. There are also a couple of “conceptual” pieces that fit into the Harry Potter universe but aren’t specifically tied to a character, and I think those types of pieces really translate to a non-fan audience. There’s also, of course, stage magic — and you definitely don’t have to know Harry Potter to access that. But the “easter eggs” for hardcore fans are still there in the details: specific stitching on a character’s corset that Scarlett O’Hairdye created for Norse Goddess, the inclusion of certain gestures crafted by the actors in the films that Al Lykya and Whisper De Corvo are preserving, and some exploration of the cast’s own fan experiences with Harry Potter, like Lady Laycock’s act, which draws from her own adventures in Pottermore. Furthermore, the show is framed as a retelling: it’s JK Rowling returning to the world she invented to do something new with it. Some of the stories pick up on where characters left off, some of them create moments that never happened but should have, some of them tell stories that we may have wanted to see but just wouldn’t be appropriate in a young adult series, and some of them are just our imagination. We’re not aiming to be slavish, but mischievous. We solemnly swear we are up to no good.
Accio Burlesque features performances by Paco Fish (Baltimore, MD), Whisper De Corvo, Seraphina Fiero, Scarlett O’Hairdye, Bolt Action, Tootsie Spangles, Hattie HellKat, Lady Drew Blood, Sara Dipity, Queenie O’Hart, Maggie McMuffin, Lady Laycock, Al Lykya, The Norse Goddess, Ace Carter, and Sailor St. Claire.
June 28 & 29 (8 pm), @ Annex Theater, 1100 Pike Street, Seattle, WA
$25 General Admission, $40 VIP. Get tickets HERE.