You may have noticed that burlesque is not only making a big comeback in the Tampa Bay area, but also branching out into ever more niche areas of culture, from sci-fi geekdom to convention cosplay. This weekend’s Harry Potter-themed Hogwarts Sexpress show is an intriguing and titillating case in point; we spoke with Tampa performer, producer and emcee Franki Markstone about the ways these two subcultures intersect, along with her own adventures in burlesque.
How and when did you get into burlesque?
I officially started my burlesque career in 2003 with Thee Vaudevillains. But I’ve been stripping much longer than that. I began stripping at an earlier than “acceptable” age, out of necessity. From there I learned pole dancing, and began feature dancing as well. That led me into burlesque.
Burlesque shows are all in fun, but do you ever have to deal with idiots who don’t know the difference between a burlesque show and a strip club?
Not usually at the shows, no. But from the uninformed public, all the time. People tend to think stripping is lowbrow and burlesque is classy. But I’ve got news for you, we are all still strippers! People are low-class by their choices and actions, not by this job. It’s nothing to do with what’s on stage, but whom. The difference is really about intention. Setting, stylization, and atmosphere are what set the two genres apart. Go to a strip club to project fantasy. Go to a strip show to absorb the fantasy.
It seems like there’s a resurgence, at least locally. Do you feel like there’s an increase in competition or is it still very community-minded?
There’s a huge resurgence! It’s really great seeing so many new shows come up and grow in the industry. Our state is still very community-oriented. Others across the nation, not so much. There’s plenty of gatekeeping going on. It’s why they struggle to maintain venues and longevity. Let alone decent rates for performers. I’m very proud of Florida’s burlesque community. We welcome and nurture our noobies. We want them to be great, and try to offer up all the knowledge and tools so they can be. Because we’ve done the hard part already. We struggled, learned, and made it work, there’s no reason they must.
The themes for shows are getting ever more niche. Has there always been an overlap between burlesque culture and, for lack of a better term, geek culture?
Burlesque has its season just like everything else in our vacation state. As winter comes we get to be lenient with our themes. As spring and summer roll around, we cater to a younger more local crowd. So our shows reflect that ebb and flow.
Do you see a different crowd at theme shows like this than at “regular” burlesque shows?
Sometimes yes. Higher-end classic shows tend to have a more mature audience. I don’t mean in age but in tastes and demeanor. They tend to be fans of the era of the legends, more well-versed in burlesque’s history. It’s a different mindset for theme shows. You have people who of course love burlesque, but they are also drawn to the fandoms being portrayed. And sometimes that fanaticism is stronger than that of the art form itself. Either way is fine with me, patronage is patronage, no matter the means.
What would you say to folks that think Harry Potter-themed burlesque is weird or inappropriate?
I can understand that mindset if one can only think in terms of the books being for children. But these shows aren’t representative of that mindset. They are parody. And the folks on stage love the material, as adults. The show’s attendance is made up of adults who also love the material. It’s taking something beloved and turning it on its head so audiences can find a new way to love the material. If one is stuck on “the books for kids” mindset, hey that’s their prerogative. I’m not here to change minds. Just don’t attend. Problem solved.
What’s the weirdest or geekiest theme show you’ve ever done?
The geekiest show I’ve ever done is definitely Tolkien It Off, a Lord of The Rings parody. Hogwarts Sexpress is a close second.
What’s next after Hogwarts Sexpress?
My next big venture is co-producing the 2019 Burlypicks Florida Regional with Johnny Sparks. It’s a huge competition that leads into a national run under the same name, The Burlypicks. That’s in Orlando June 15 at The Venue.