Becoming burlesque: Performer training in contemporary burlesque

Lola Montgomery

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This article examines a case study for training the burlesque performer-as-actor using neutral mask techniques. To do so, it is also necessary to set the scene by examining the existing and emerging modalities of burlesque training over the last 15 years, both internationally and within Australia. Utilising the methodology of the bricoleur, I will use the materials “at hand” by mobilising a case study from my own performance and teaching practice in burlesque. This article, therefore, seeks to document this process through the action-research lens of a performer working in the field. The contemporary resurgence of the burlesque form began in earnest in the early 2000s. The manner of training at that time was often from an oral and corporeal history as a lived experience. This was disseminated by performers, described by the burgeoning burlesque scene as ‘Living Legends’, performers who experienced the life of a mid to late 20th century performer. In more recent years, I have utilised the neutral mask in burlesque training, placing some elements of burlesque training on the periphery of the wider field of actor-training. This in turn has wider implications for actor-training methods to be deployed outside of the usual conservatory environment. Through the performance persona of “Lola The Vamp”, I have had a front-row seat, and also participatory involvement as both student and mentor in the changing methods of burlesque training. The challenges of constructing a particular burlesque persona, while also becoming equipped with the historical movements of burlesque, make neutral mask actor training a useful apparatus to enhance performance. Both mask work and burlesque are based within the body. By starting with this common ground, burlesque performers can effectively expand expression into the face by training with the neutral mask.


Burlesque; Bricoleur; Bricolage; Mask; Mask Training; Neutral Mask; Burlesque Training; Becoming; Performer

To cite this article

Montgomery, Lola. “Becoming Burlesque: Performer Training in Contemporary Burlesque.” Fusion Journal, no. 17, 2020, pp. 107-119.

First published online: April 2020

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