Vancouver’s burgeoning nerdlesque scene has been a welcome breath of, well, not fresh airs so much as nostalgically different air that’s taken the local burlesque world by storm. First and foremost amongst nerdlesque nights has been Geekenders, and on November 22nd and 23rd they take on their biggest challenge yet—Star Wars: A Nude Hope.
Recently I had the chance to see a rehearsal for the show, and afterwards I sat down with the shows director, and Geekenders owner and artistic director, Fairlith Harvey.
Erotic Vancouver: So first off I’ve just seen the show, or any way, a fair portion of it, and it is absolutely amazing. Tell me what lead you here, to doing a Star Wars burlesque show, A Nude Hope.
Fairlith: Well, I wanted to do a big theatrical production. My background is in theatre, I went to school for theatre for three years in New York. I live and breathe theatre, and thought “How can I trick everyone into doing a musical?” And I thought I couldn’t.
So what I thought was I will do the equivalent of musical version of Star Wars, but with boobs instead of singing. And everyone’s doing jazz hands, and everyone’s rehearsing, and it’s where I’m comfortable, and I thought what will people most want to see? What will lend itself? What does everyone know? And I thought Back to the Future, then I thought Ghost Busters, and then I thought Star Wars. And Star Wars has so many different characters, whereas Ghost Busters you follow three guys who stay in basically the same sort of state, Star Wars is this huge journey that lends itself so much to this.
And then I was thinking well what songs can we use? “That Don’t Impress Me Much” by Shania Twain, “Just the Two of Us,” Bill Whithers, like all of that stuff works so well, whereas I was having trouble with the other movies on my list.
In future I might tackle Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit, or even Dr. Who, or my other ideas. But for now, the expense of this production, the scope of this production, we’re thinking we might go in a different direction next year with our theatrical production, do a play.
EV: Yeah. This is absolutely amazing. How big is your cast?
Fairlith: It’s about 30.
EV: A cast of 30. And obviously a lot of work went into this. Now I’ve read that there’s A Nude Hope out there that’s been done down in the States, but this isn’t that, this is an original production—
Fairlith: Yeah. I don’t know what else you’d call a Star Wars burlesque show, y’know. Because I came up with A Nude Hope, then I searched and I’m like “Oh, they did it.” But I couldn’t come up with a better name.
EV: And you’ve written this all?
Fairlith: I wrote it. I took an hour of dialogue out of the movie, replaced it with songs and dance numbers, and then I took the remaining dialogue and made it sassier. So it’s sort of George Lucas and me wrote this. Y’know, it’s a collaboration of somebody with a totally perverted mind and somebody with a really visionary mind. So it works out, I think.
EV: Are you worried about hearing from George Lucas? He’s known for being a little possessive.
EV: Luckily we’ve got some good laws there. Just to get away from Star Wars for a moment, how did you get your start in burlesque, in nerdlesque, performing, and now producing and writing shows?
Fairlith: Nerdlesque, specifically, like A Nude Hope I’m not the only person to come up with the word nerdlesque, but it rhymed and I thought several years—four years ago—(pause) four years ago I was doing promotions for a local convention that didn’t end up happening, but I was already established as a burlesque performer with the name Trixie Hobbitses even though I wasn’t doing nerd stuff. My signature routine at the time was a tap routine to Singing in the Rain.
And I was thinking how do we promote this convention? And we threw a party, it might sound kind of familiar, with a variety show and a dance, and I called all my burlesque friends and said “Who has something that’s nerdy?” And there was Silk Spectre and there was a Star Trek and there was a Star Wars, and I did my first Harley Quinn routine to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. And it was four burlesque acts and there was improve and some trivia. And that was the first show we did, and that was really successful. And the convention didn’t happen, and we thought eight months later, let’s do another one.
That one was Back to the Future themed, and that was the original Geeks After Dark. That started not being a thing anymore, and I thought what do I want this to be? And it became Geekenders. And what Geekenders is instead of just two people hosting the same show that is just burlesque all the time, it’s a variety show with a community element. We have different people hosting the costume contest and trivia, we have a roster of eight hosts we cycle through because we don’t want it to be about us, we want it to be about everybody having a good time, and having a safe place to go.
So, yeah, it’s just sort of expanded in a way I didn’t think it would or could.
EV: I’ve been to a number of nerdlesque shows and that’s the thing—I mean Vancouver has a great and vibrant burlesque scene, but it seems while that has a scene, nerdlesque has a community. How did that come about? And obviously you’re a very big part of that.
Fairlith: Yeah, it’s weird. I guess the nerd community—and Vancouver’s geek community is a huge one, you’ll find similar communities in Seattle, San Diego, New York, and even Toronto. But in Canada there’s Vancouver and then Toronto. Vancouver’s geek scene hasn’t had a lot of big parties to go to. We’ve had a lot of great conventions and events, but nowhere to be really social. And I think nerdlesque and the nerd parties have become a thing and a community because this is an art form that these people haven’t thought to explore.
Y’know, there’s stuff like NOIR, where people go because they need to party. And where Geekenders is different, I think, is that these people are dipping their toes into what is partying. And then they expand. Then suddenly they’re going to NOIR, and they’re seeking out their own burlesque shows, but they start at Geekenders because it’s where it’s familiar and safe, and they now they will see familiar faces.
So I think that’s why the community sprung up, because this was a niche that needed to be filled for these people.
EV: And you’re certainly doing that. And thanks for the NOIR shout out as well. [Note: Reive Doig, who conducted this interview, is a partner in NOIR Fetish Ball.]
So at a time when there are arguments about whether burlesque is feminist or not, what do you say to those who condemn it or have a problem with it?
Fairlith: Well, first of all, I think what you find to be feminist and empowering to you is personal. And when people tell me that burlesque isn’t empowering, I’m like “Well it is to me. So I’m sorry it’s not for you.”
But the reason I find it empowering is I went to my first burlesque show when I was twenty-one years old. And I was not myself yet, I had not found myself at all. And I looked on that stage and I saw people who looked like me. And I’m a bigger girl, I know I am, and I’m cool with that. I love myself. But at the time it was like, Oh my God! These sexy, confident women who look like me are expressing themselves in this way. And they get to direct, and make their costumes, and come up with these concepts, and it just exploded in my head. It was such a huge deal to me, and that’s when I began becoming myself. So whenever anyone asks why burlesque is empowering I say that.
Mainly the audience is female. A lot of the men who come are boyfriends or husbands. Burlesque is for women. And that’s another reason Geekenders is so great, it’s for the geek girls. There’s not a lot of places that cater specifically to geeky women. And that’s not anything negative, it’s just how it is right now. We’re working to change that.
EV: You’ve actually lead right into my next question. There’s been a lot of talk in the nerd community about how women are represented in so many of the things associated with it, games and comics, which are often labeled as sexist. How do you feel about that? And do you think progress is being made?
Fairlith: I think progress is being made. I know we’re very conscious of it in our shows. We script everything. Everything our hosts do is scripted because we don’t want to go too far into explicit sexual humour, or misogyny, or anything like that, anything that if someone were floundering they might reach for, because I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. I want it to be this incredibly safe environment, and I think Vancouver’s geek community in some ways is super progressive and in some ways has a few more steps to go. I think everyone is working towards that, I don’t think anyone is saying this is a boys club, no girls allowed. But it is this ingrained mind set, and it’s so weird to me that it’s still so ingrained. But I think it’s getting better all the time.
EV: So no danger Vancouver is going to be PAX?
Fairlith: (laugh) Let’s hope it’s not.
EV: So now for some of the important questions. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Fairlith: Star Wars.
Fairlith: What a question! The originals of course. Han shot first. The deleted scenes that were added are ridiculous, and the CGI is bad. The originals—there was nothing wrong with them, those effects hold up. There was no reason, no reason, to fix anything. “Fix” with air quotes around it. The originals are great.
EV: I’m with you there. I’m old enough to remember seeing the original in the theatre, the first time, making my parents take me three times.
Fairlith: Of course!
EV: Not Star Wars but still equally important. DC or Marvel?
Fairlith: DC! Have you seen my tattoo? One of my two Harley Quinn tattoos? (shows it off) Marvel has really strong women, DC has really strong women, but I’m a Batman girl. I think the villains are incredibly interesting in Batman. They all have tragic back stories, these interesting psychoses. I love Batman, I love Superman, I love the Justice League. Marvel is great too, like Loki is amazing, Tony Stark is amazing. DC just gets the edge for me.
EV: Fair enough. Any chance then that we’ll see a whole Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, maybe the Justice League burlesque from you?
Fairlith: Well, this February is our retro super hero night at The WISE Hall, our first event at The WISE Hall, which is going to be our new permanent home. We’re going to have Burt Ward as Robin and Adam West as Batman hosting, and I’m going to be debuting my Wonder Woman routine.
EV: Excellent. What date’s that?
Fairlith: That is February 8th.
EV: I’ll be sure to be there myself, I’m excited for that one.
Fairlith: It’s going to be incredible. There’s going to be a She Hulk routine too.
EV: Any exciting plans for the future, other than that, that you care to share?
Fairlith: We have the Fred Penner show on November 15th. The real Fred Penner. We have shows planned through May, ranging from Tim Burton to Archer to Appocalypso, which is going to be our apocalypse luau wit zombies and fallout and all that sort of stuff. And Geekenders Guide to the Galaxy, which is going to be hosted by Zaphod Beeblebrox and Max Quordlepleen, with assistance from the Hitchhikers Girl Guide to the Galaxy, which is me.
EV: Finally, can I get all the details on where Erotic Vancouver’s readers can get more details on A Nude Hope and everything else you do.
Fairlith: Certainly. They’ll find us at Geekenders.ca