Olympia’s Own TUSH! Burlesque
~ Written by Jessica Price
Life with Olympia’s Own TUSH! Burlesque just looks fun. The untamed collective always seems to do things with a just a little bit more panache than most: you might find them wiggling with impersonators at Elvis’ Birthday Bash (a 14 year Olympia tradition), celebrating Repeal Prohibition Day (again…another fine Olympia tradition), or getting wet and wild at a fundraising car wash in downtown Olympia to get the entire gang to BurlyCon. TUSH! feels one quarter modern, one quarter vintage, and the rest all a mishmash of scrappy individualism seemingly characteristic of Olympia’s vibrant arts community (yeah, that’s right…Seattle doesn’t get to have all the fun, ladies and gentlemen).
The troupe came together somewhat randomly back in 2009 with the name TUSH! and an ambitious Craigslist ad (Nani Poonani and Bettie Beelzebub were among the earliest members). “The troupe just kind of fell together naturally after that- we have members from Burlesque 101 and we have members with other backgrounds in dance, theater and other performance,” Bettie told me in one of our first exchanges a few years back. Their mission statement pretty much sums it up:
TUSH! is a collective of creative, vivacious, sexy and outspoken women, brought together by the shared vision to rebel against commercial standards of beauty. We represent an authentic and unconventional array of body types, ages, colors and cultural identities in a powerful, intelligent and humorous way. TUSH! strives to empower women, validating each individual representation of beauty and celebrates the diversity that defines what is sexy.
With three or four large scale productions per year, new acts are developed with everyone’s creative input for months in advance, aligning with whatever theme the ladies deem most inspiring. The cast is flexible and far-reaching among the core “sisters” (could it be they’re actually blood sisters? It wouldn’t be surprising). If someone sits out a show, they’ll pop up in the next one. Frequent guests from other South Sound burlesque troupes such as Rock Candy Burlesque, Twin City Tease, and Gritty City Sirens often share TUSH’s stage. The ladies have also been known to do a little cultural exchanging with Portland performers and kindred spirits like Seattle’s Stripped Screw (Hattie Hotpants & Nani Poonani will appear in Disney After Dark when it lands in Olympia April 12; Hattie will join Gritty City Sirens’ for Adventures in Oz April 19, and Nani appears in Twin City Tease’s Smitten March 22).
If you happen to live in Olympia and catch the ladies during their non-burlesque hours, Hattie can often be found sharpening her improv skills, Nani models, does photo styling, and mixes exquisite potions and elixirs at Wiggle Perfume & Sundries, and Prudence Payne just helped to open Dillingers– a beautiful 1930s style speakeasy bar right in the heart of downtown. Bettie has recently joined the newly formed Oly chapter of Collective of Lady Arm Wrestlers (or CLAW, if you’re into slick acronyms), where she’ll be wrestling as “The Vegan Villain”. They’re always up to something just a little out of the ordinary…
Says Hattie Hotpants: “2014 for TUSH! is about reflection, revision, purpose and a new commitment to excellence. Five years in, all collective members are in different places than when we began—personally, professionally and as performers. Our continued local success and the incredible support of our hometown, coupled with changes in membership, have led TUSH! to a moment where we must expand our perspective and continue to grow. I’m pretty excited to see where we go from here! As members begin to branch out more, touring and appearing in shows outside of Olympia, we always return to the troupe ready to get better. We are so fortunate to be in the BQ community, and thankful–f*cking grateful–for our peers. Not only as friends, artists and colleagues, but as teachers and inspirations!”
About those photos… last month’s Love: Nothing In Moderation almost sold out Olympia’s historic vaudeville house, the Capitol Theater, at nearly 700 seats. The show featured special guests Luna Landing of Centralia’s Twin City Tease, Karli Stewart, Aerialist, and Kymberly Zyl of Olympia’s Tallhouse Arts Consortium.
Here’s a selection of photos from that show (all photo credit belongs to Israel Caine of Lock and Key Photography):