Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Crackin' and Strippin'

One of my fondest hopes for the burlesque and cabaret revival was that it would rejuvenate contemporary theatre. When acts like Dusty Limits – and many of the striptease artists coming out of the amateur scene – consciously evoke the Weimar Republic, they recognised that vaudeville was more than mere entertainment, and that parody could have a political, sharp edge.

You see, what I am doing here is showing my working. This an interview I did with Peter Scott-Presland for the article I intend to write about striptease.

Scott-Presland was very generous with his answers, and it seems a shame to just take the tiny bit that interested me (it is the stuff about hen parties being dirty). But by editing it for online, this counts as research for my article.

I also reckon the tag “male strippers” ought to have fooled a few readers into coming onto the blog. But read on... it gets really filthy.

But I am going to start with the Press Release, for background...



Strip Search – a solo performance piece for male stripper, by Peter Scott-Presland.  SQUADDIE is stripping tonight, in a B-list gay bar; he is also stripping his soul, to the bone.  As he slips back and forth between his real-time strip routine and memories of borstal, of tours in Iraq, and of surviving on the streets post-discharge from the Army, we get a moving and angry picture of a man trying to better himself in a life which gave him no lucky breaks, with ironic contrasts between the real-life soldier and the military fantasy of his entertainment.  Fantasy and reality combine in a savage climax.  This is a heavily revised version of a script first presented in 2010.

Venue 36, Theatre 2, the Space on North Bridge, Carlton Hotel, EH1 1SD.

Previews: Fri – Sat, 5th – 6th August;  Main run: Mon 8th  - Sat 20th Aug 9.05pm

Titus Rowe was Boyz Magazine Stripper of the Year 2009, but has also a parallel career as an actor and singer, having appeared in parts as diverse as the Pirate King in “Pirates of Penzance” and Dionysus in “The Bacchae”.  It was this range of skills which prompted Peter Scott-Presland to write Strip Search for Titus.
Peter Scott-Presland has won Edinburgh Fringe Firsts for “Woody Shavings” and “Sir Herbert Macrae – A Tribute”, as well as being nominated for Best Musical in the “Plays and Players” Awards and in the Canadian DORAs, for Dorothy’s Travels.  His musical La Ronde is currently on the shortlist for the 2011 “Offies”. 
Homo Promos has mounted over 20 plays and musicals since its inception in 1988.  It is the oldest gay theatre company in the UK.  It aims to present LGBT themes in an entertaining way which is also accessible to a diverse audience.  Out of the ghetto and onto the stage!

First of all - why did you use striptease as a central part of this performance?

It's a long story!  I was directing a show with the Company from Hell, and the only person in the cast who was reliable, friendly and talented was Titus Rowe; he let slip he actually earned his money as a male stripper.  From then on his life was made hell by a couple of the cast, who said he couldn't be a "real" actor because of this.  Now, I've always thought a lot of skill went into creating a strip act, and he was Boyz Stripper of the Year, so I thought "You c---ts, I'll show you", and devised a show which combined his talents, and blew out of the water the notion that a stripper couldn't be a real actor.

There are three reasons why strip is essential to this show.  Firstly, the guy is baring his soul to the audience, his struggle to make up for a shitty life - I won't give away all the plot -and so the physical strip is a metaphor for his psychological strip, the journey of discovery for the character and the audience.  Secondly, one of my main complaints about one-person plays where characters tell their life stories is that there is so little conflict in them; where's the classic drama structure of conflict and resolution acted out?  Putting in a real strip gives an additional dramatic tension - "will he or won't he?" - to the story.  Finally, as a gay man I've always been very anti-military and not very patriotic either, and so I was intrigued by the way military images are so much part of the sexual fantasies of many gay men.  This show plays on the gap between the reality and fantasy, in that the character has been a soldier in real life, and is playing out a military fantasy at the same time.

The play jumps between "light entertainment" - the striptease fantasy - and something much harder - the past of the main character. how far is this show a serious play about issues, or something lighter and funnier?

I think I've answered that to some extent.  Don't worry, there are quite a few good jokes in the script, but it is a serious play, and quite shocking and harrowing in places.  When we did previews, there was an element in the audience of gay men who came along to see a spectacularly good-looking hunk get his kit off, but by the time we got to the nitty-gritty, they were so into the story and the character that they were looking at his face, not his dick.  And that's how it should be.

How do you feel about the revival of striptease as an acceptable form of entertainment, through the burlesque revival and so on?

You have to separate gay male experience from heterosexual or lesbian experience here.  Stripping is dying on the gay scene.  Twenty years ago there were a dozen strippers making a good living from touring a well-established pub circuit.  The availability of sex and porn on the internet has changed all that.  For lesbians, girl-for-girl strippers are a way of asserting sexuality which for so long was assumed not to exist.  If you know dykes today, they are revelling in the power and freedom to pull - they're just as slutty as the boyz have always been!  The heterosexual burlesque revival is something else again - it involves camp and glamour and is very knowing and post-modern.  But again I think you have to separate young women - a lot of them drama students or ex-drama students - doing burlesque to an essentially theatrical audience, from the Eastern European girls working the Soho strip joints and the so-called "gentlemen's clubs" in a much harsher environment and driven by economic necessity.

Is there a particular aesthetic or social context to male striptease for gay audiences that is not present in heterosexual striptease?

People who strip for gay audiences as well as for hen nights tell me that gay audiences are much better behaved.  The hens are merciless, and much dirtier!  I think this is partly because gay strip nights are a regular weekly thing - Monday Karaoke, Tuesday Quiz, Wednesday Stripper - whereas a hen night is usually something special, a one-off, and much more an excuse for letting your hair down and letting off steam.  For gay men who follow strip nights there's more of an aesthetic, plus there's the aspirational aspect: I could have a body like that, if only I could get my lardarse down to the gym.  Our most appreciative audiences have been women and gay men.  I think straight men find male strippers threatening, though I can assure them that they won't get ravished in the third row in this show!

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