Yeah, you heard me right: science fiction burlesque.
“Surely,”—you must be thinking—”beautiful people who take their clothes off in public are awesome enough. How could I dare hope that those rare creatures could also be nerds like me?”
That’s what I thought, too, until the summer of 2006, when I discovered that a relatively unknown outfit called Pinchbottom (albeit one co-run by Jonny Porkpie and Nasty Canasta, rising stars of NYC’s neo-burlesque scene) was putting on a sci-fi burlesque show called “Naked Planet.” It was almost as if Pinchbottom had read my mind, combined two of my favorite things, and built the show I’d been waiting for my whole life. But how could it possibly live up to such high expectations?
Shockingly, this “themed burlesque entertainment”—which turns out to mean a full-length comedic play in which performers take their clothes off in every other scene—did all that and more. In the three years since then, Pinchbottom has produced nearly thirty excellent shows, some explicitly geeky in theme (comic books! Indiana Jones!) and others that are geeky takes on “normal” topics (French circus farce! sex!). If you’re not impressed yet, consider the fact that Pinchbottom has staged a new full-length show—which means a script, publicity, costumes, rehearsals, and production design—approximately ten months out of every year for the past three years. It would make the most hardened Off-Broadway producer faint.
As with all of my SFnal obsessions, I’ve wanted to talk about Pinchbottom on Tor.com for awhile. Their next show has finally given me the perfect excuse: on May 16th, Pinchbottom will be debuting “THE MORNING AFTER: Post-Apocalyptic Burlesque,” which will bring all of your favorite dystopic fantasties—plus a whole lot of stripping—to life on the New York stage. In honor of their return to hardcore nerd territory, Nasty and Jonny were kind enough to answer some questions about their artistic process and their geeky underbellies.
Liz Gorinsky: Post-apocalyptic literature is usually described with adjectives like “gritty,” “harsh,” “dark,” and “miserable.” You’ve taken on the unenviable task of adding “sexy” to that list. How did you go about reconciling those distinctly different aesthetics?
Jonny Porkpie: That’s part of the fun, isn’t it?
Nasty Canasta: It’s a challenge that we face often—”sexy” usually isn’t the first word associated with sports, the Marx Brothers, or many of our other themes. But merging ostensibly conflicting aesthetics is something that neo-burlesque does a lot, and the best of it does it extremely well. And, frankly, though the post-apocalyptic future is often imagined as rather filthy and miserable, that didn’t stop designers in the ’70s and ’80s from creating some of the most incredibly sexy costumes in film history.
Porkpie: And it’s certainly not going to stop us.
Liz: Many of your shows adopt plot structures and conventions from specific sets of cultural artifacts—heist movies or cooking shows, for example—and play up their absurdities from within that framework. Presumably your parody is so spot-on because you exhaustively study the classics in those genres. But post-apocalyptic and dystopic literature tends to have a much more disparate and unruly set of exemplars. What have you been watching and reading to lay the groundwork for your parody?
Nasty: This is a genre that has always been fascinating to both of us, so we didn’t have to go far beyond our own library and film collection for research. Obviously, Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World were the first place to start, along with films like Mad Max, Blade Runner, Metropolis, Logan’s Run, and Brazil. Classic Doctor Who has a lot of stories that apply—the 8th Doctor story “Paradise Towers” is just one example—plus “New Earth” and “Utopia” from the new series. We’ve both been reading Bradbury, Asimov, and the like for most of our lives; though not strictly post-apocalyptic, there is a certain dystopic element to many of their visions of the future as well.
Liz: I’m sure Pinchbottom loves all its babies equally, but you and your cast seem to particularly relish the opportunity to tackle geeky subject matter. What’s more, when you do so, you get it right down to the most obscure detail. Are you guys actually giant geeks, or are you just quick studies?
Nasty: Giant geeks.
Porkpie: Huge, massive, colossal, obsessive geeks.
Nasty: Also it’s a convenient excuse to watch hours and hours of Battlestar Galactica and call it “research.”
Porkpie: Hey, speaking of which, we should watch Firefly again. That’s dystopic, isn’t it?
(14 episodes and 1 movie later)
Nasty: Yeah, I guess it is.
Liz: Can you give us a few lines of dialogue from this or other shows that demonstrate said geekiness, and get across Pinchbottom’s unique sense of humor?
Porkpie: A few lines from “Naked Planet,” our first sci-fi show:
PORKPIE: Something is puzzling me—why, being as far in the future as we are, would Space Queen Nasty Canasta’s burlesque act reference a science-fiction franchise from the late 20th century?
NAUGHTIA: It appears that this planet, due to its positioning in the universe behind a giant space cloud or something like that, has only been able to receive one broadcast from Earth for the past several hundred years…the Sci Fi Channel.
PORKPIE: My god! Even their original movies?
NAUGHTIA: Unfortunately, sir, yes.
PORKPIE: How tragic.
Liz: Your promotional art and photography for each new show is always enticing, and “The Morning After” is no exception. Can you tell us a bit about your artistic background and your inspiration for the key images for this show?
Porkpie: My BA is in visual art, mostly because that was the only department in my college I could con into giving me a degree. The image for “The Morning After” didn’t have a specific inspiration, but I’m guessing the issues of Heavy Metal I used to paw through as a teenager had something to do with it. Definitely a bit of manga influence, and I’ve recently been reading Paul Pope’s comics, so I’ll probably have to admit to stealing from—I mean, being inspired by—those as well.
Nasty: I have a background in costume and clothing design, and this show gives me a chance to indulge in retro-neo-futuristic style, a particular passion of mine. Even better, I get to play with what I call the ‘Mad Max/Flash Gordon dichotomy’: after the apocalypse will we be reduced to horsehair mohawks, bones, feathers, and leather boots, or condemned to skimpy lycra catsuits, silver lipstick, and candelabra-sized headdresses? (A little of both, I think.)
Liz: In case our readers are not yet convinced of your obsessive attention to detail, each show also has its own pre-show/intermission playlist. Tell us some of the songs we should expect to hear this time around.
Nasty: Being the colossal and obsessive geeks we are, we have a large collection of soundtracks and theme songs, so expect to hear some classics from Tron, Battlestar Galactica (the original series), and Logan’s Run. A lot of ’80s pop music was concerned with our impending nuclear conflict, so there’ll be a bit of Nena and The Police, things like that…and of course one of the best things about the languorous sci-fi epics of the early ’70s was their gratuitous use of thundering classical music, so we’ll probably have to sneak some of that in as well.
Porkpie: And, of course, R.E.M.’s “It’s the end of the world as we know it…and I feel fine.”
Liz: I think every New York-area science fiction fan with a sense of humor would enjoy this show. But when they get there, they may be surprised to find that Pinchbottom has its own distinct fan culture. What should a first-time Pinchbottom-goer (heck, a first time burlesque-goer) expect from your shows?
Porkpie: The first thing to know is that, yes, there will be nudity…
Nasty: It’s what burlesque is about, after all!
Porkpie: …so if you’re not comfortable with that, this might not be the show for you.
Nasty: That being said, like most burlesque today we live on the theatrical and comedic side of naked rather than the crude or explicit—not necessarly raunchy, but ‘risqué’. Beyond that, you can expect a delightful romp in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, some singing, some dancing, a few obscure references…
Porkpie: A few?
Nasty: …at least one bad fake accent, and a pretty flimsy premise holding it all together.
Porkpie: And nudity. Did we mention nudity?
Pinchbottom’s next show, “THE MORNING AFTER: Post-Apocalyptic Burlesque,” will take place next Saturday (May 16, 2009) at 10:30 p.m. at the Bleecker Street Theatre (45 Bleecker Street in Manhattan). Advance tickets are available at TheaterMania, and are recommended, as Pinchbottom shows frequently sell out.