BRITish HEart is globally renowned as one of the leading practitioners of the art form known as Boylesque, the male version of Burlesque. As part of this year’s Fringe 2012 festival he brings his show, called Boylesque!, to the city for a series of late night performances and, during rehearsals, I managed to catch up with HEart to find out more about his performance.
What is the difference between Boylesque and male stripping?
Well, modern male stripping is often regulated by stereotypes. Normally the strippers spend a lot of time in the gym, pumping iron, until they get Adonis-like bodies and they then rely on displaying their muscles as a large percentage of how they make themselves erotic. Boylesquers don’t, we have all different body types.
There are all different types of Boylesquers as well including transgender Boylesquers, the disabled, all different ethnicities and all different ages - with the youngest ones starting in their twenties and others still working in their mid fifties. In modern stripping the age range is very limited, the young buff guys are what it’s all about.
What connects us it that we both take our clothes off, of course. Some Boylesquers go completely naked, some modern strippers go completely naked, the difference between the two ways of doing it is that the modern stripper will get himself semi aroused and then do what is called “tie off” to keep it looking that way – it’s a sort of appealing lie. Boylesquers do their performance and end up in what ever state they end up in, so the body that the Boylequer shows is much more real.
Are your Boylesque performances more like sketches with different characters?
Yes, I am particularly narrative driven, maybe that’s something from my background in directing theatre so I have always had that need for a narrative, but other Boylesquers don’t. I know that there is a Japanese performer called Unpei who wears very androgynous costumes and he just appears and comes out of the costume and then disappears with the audience left even more confused.
Is it a growing art form?
Yes, it is. I missed it, due to all the other things that I’m doing at the moment, but a couple of weeks ago New York staged the first ever Festival of Boylesque. This means that, for the first time ever, there was a festival purely designed to celebrate the male erotic figure. We have had a long history of hiding male erotic performers under the carpet, but now we are becoming much more prominent.
So is Boylesque a worldwide thing?
America was the first country to see resurgence in Boylesque, so they have the most performers, with the UK next. We have about 30 to 40 performers, America has nearly 100 guys now, but that’s still very much less than the number of women. I talk to a few of the European guys and it seems like they have about 10 but growing towards 20. South America has about five and Japan has about the same, and there are 10 to 20 Australian performers too.
How do you get the inspiration for your characters and performances?
What I do is I have an understanding of a situation that I somehow want to explore. My very first character was a giant fat mouse and I came about that after seeing a picture of a naked female stripper and she was holding a piece of fur and I thought there was a real beauty, but strong tension, between her very white skin and the very dark fur so I really wanted to explore that.
Then what I do is, well, I almost go by a particular rule. I like to take my ideas and trash them. Just saying I want to have a big fir coat on isn’t good enough, I have to take the idea and make it ridiculous or stupid, as so I came up with a giant mouse. I then go and find other influences to crash and smash into it, just so that the end product is ridiculous, erotic, bizarre and unique.
Is the apparently pent up aggression an intrinsic part as well?
I think I have been influenced, too much, by some of the big, aggressive Boylesquers who are older than me and who have been leading the Boylesque movement for a long time, such as Tigger or Rose Wood or the Australians, Boy Wonder and Captain Kidd. I’ve also been influenced by scary late night drag performers. I’ve seen so many of them now that I think their influence is probably what you see coming out in my performances.
BRITish HEart can be seen in Boylesque! at the Hendrick's Library of Delightfully Peculiar Writings, Jubilee Square, Brighton on the 24-26 May at 10.15pm