WhiteLies BurlesqueRevue returns with 2nd fest
Story By: Emma Kalka
Photos By: Bryan Watkins
Burlesque is certainly growing in Korea. Where there was once only one group several years ago, now there are several that perform regularly around the country. What’s more, one group is bringing back its international festival for a second run.
The Seoul Burlesque Festival – organized by WhiteLies BurlesqueRevue – is returning with a lineup of local and international acts. The one-day fest will take place on Aug. 25 in Itaewon with workshops during the day and a performance that night.
While WhiteLies usually has a theme for each of their shows, leader Nell Fox said the festival will forego that practice so that performers can present acts that they are most inspired by.
“It can be hard sometimes to find inspiration, and I didn’t want to limit anyone to a category that didn’t speak to them 110 percent,” she said.
The acts include performances by WhiteLies members – with all involved in some way, whether assisting or performing. Guests include House of Hathor – another local group led by Miss Eibhy – as well as Lady Naoko from Tokyo, Isabella Hapsburg from Spain and resident queens from Qbar, which will host the event.
Nell said one of the main points of the festival is to reach out and spread awareness of burlesque, which is why she invited all the guest performers. She said House of Hathor founder Miss Eibhy was a former WhiteLies member, so she wanted to include the group to help reach out to the masses and celebrate the art of tease. “WhiteLies wants to continue to stand by our ethos of inclusiveness as one of the focal points for the festival,” she said.
A lot has changed for burlesque in Korea over the years. In the past, venues were hesitant to host events, but now the performance art has grown in popularity. Nell says this is mostly due to time. WhiteLies has been around for seven years, so it’s impossible for word to have not gotten out by this point. She continues that the dedication of her team over the years to promote and invite their friends and co-workers has helped.
“It’s also been the other teams in Seoul as well. Those that branched off from WhiteLies and host their own events are spreading awareness as well,” she said. “It’s been wonderful and fulfilling to see how WL (WhiteLies) has influenced the burlesque scene in Seoul and to watch how others have decided to put their own unique twist on the art of tease.”
Even the local community has helped with groups such as Seoul Players, Seoul Shakespeare, Buskers and others in HBC promoting and sharing burlesque events through their own social media and networks.
And while she believes an area of improvement is reaching out to the Korean audience, it has become more open to burlesque. While most still don’t know what burlesque is, she finds more of a positive reaction from those who do know and – even more surprisingly – a positive reaction from those who don’t, but when told, are excited to see a show.
At a recent show, Nell said there were two “burlesque virgins” whose eyes “lit up wonderfully” when she mentioned “striptease.”
“They came to me after the show to say they thought it was so empowering to see women taking control of the stage like we had,” she said. “They said it made them feel very empowered. Hopefully we’ll get there with the rest of the Korean masses, with time.”
It’s been two years since the last time WhiteLies has hosted a festival. The previous event was held in Hongdae and took place over two days. Nell said there were many lessons to be learned from that experience, which has influenced this year’s iteration. Back then they dealt with a copyright claim involving the use of the word “burlesque,” which affected ticket sales and promotion, and also learned that their home base audience just isn’t that interested in trekking to Hongdae for a show.
“We need to stay localized for our audience,” she said.
She added that while she wanted to continue with the festival right away, the first fest was full of challenges and the group wanted to spend some time to grow the scene locally.
“Part of our hope is to create opportunities more for the international performers too, and that requires a bit bigger of a home base than we had two years ago,” she said.
Not only has the burlesque scene changed since the last festival, but so has WhiteLies itself. Nell said they have a really good team at the moment with members stepping up their commitment and willingness to be team players.
She said that a lot of the current members work hard at supporting the group and helping with promotion. While they had that team spirit in spurts here and there in the past, she said now it’s more integrated as a whole amongst the performers.
“It sounds a bit like a broken record, but it’s all about community, and WL can’t have that without having performers willing to give their all,” she said.
Attendees to this year’s festival can expect variety, according to Nell. There will be a plethora of performers from different backgrounds taking the stage by storm. This includes a variety of body types, ages, ethnicities and genders. Types of acts include aerial arts, fire performances, singing, dancing, comedy and amazing costumes.
“They can certainly expect to be teased!” Nell gushed.
More than that, Nell said WhiteLies hopes to create more of a community with international performers and give performers abroad and domestically who are outside the group a chance to get to know each other through the event. She continued that she wants to create a space of sharing and teaching because she believes that they can use burlesque as a means to come together and help build one another up.
“The festival isn’t in the spirit of competition (as many other burlesque festivals around the world are) but in the spirit of sharing and helping each other grow,” she said.
The festival and workshops will take place on Aug. 25. Workshops will run from 11 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. The show will be at Qbar in Itaewon, with doors opening at 9 p.m. and the show starting at 10 p.m. Tickets are 15,000 won for general admission. For VIP tables, bottle and drink platters need to be purchased. Those interested can contact WhiteLies through their Facebook page or Instagram.
Tickets can be purchased at the door. Once the reservation system is up, details will be posted on the event page.
Interested in a burlesque workshop? Here are some on offer during the Seoul Burlesque Festival.
Pastie making and twirling – Taught by Dahlia Doll, attendees will be able to learn how to make and bedazzle their own pasties and then how to twirl the tassles.
Striptease 101 – Taught by Mad Madam Magdalen, people will learn the basics of striptease and rehearse to a small routine.
Beginner Burlesque Debut – Taught by Mad Madam Magdalen, folks will learn a basic burlesque group performance and can perform with WhiteLies on stage at the show later in the evening.
Burlesque Beauty – Taught by Sapphire Rain, attendees will learn how to glam up for the burlesque stage and get some tips from the two performers before taking the night by storm.
Each class has room for 10-20 students, depending, and will cost about 10,000 won each. Discounts will be available for those who sign up for three or more workshops.