As scenes go, the neo-burlesque scene in New York City is tricky to classify. Is it theatre? Is it a genuine tribute to a bygone era attempting to resurrect the art of the striptease? Is it none of these things, and instead some sort of mashup of various sensibilities? One thing is for certain; it’s definitely not earnest. In fact, even before seeing the geek-filled burlesque show The Star Debate: Trek Vs. Wars, I always got the sense that the current trend of burlesque people is full of nerds, and fun-loving ones at that. This show proved me right.
Part of the NYC Fringe Festival, The Star Debate presents a fairly straightforward premise: two nerds debate point for point the merits of Star Trek against Star Wars. In between their various points, they offer a different burlesque act as “evidence.” The burlesque performers all come from the troupe Epic Win Burlesque, with a variety of different performers on a given show.
Team Trek’s first argument was backed up by performer Stormy Leather’s striptease as the evil Mr. Spock from “Mirror, Mirror.” Part of what makes these kinds of shows fun is the homemade quality of all the performers costumes. None of the women (and one man) use store-bought Star Trek or Star Wars costumes. Instead, these are handmade for the exclusive purpose of doing a show like this. After all, a store bought Star Trek uniform probably doesn’t come with tear-away pants.
The second act in the show was Tor.com’s very own Nasty Canasta. Not only does she host the Doctor Who screening series with Doc Wassabassco at the Way Station in Brooklyn, but she also wrote about the 10th Doctor for our 12 Doctors of Christmas series last winter (linked above). Here, she was shilling for Team Wars in a number in which she danced to John William’s “Imperial March” with a very Black Swan-esque kind of panache. There was no specific character Canasta was trying to embody; instead she was the dark side of the force.
In between the acts, “Fleet Admiral” Nelson Lugo offered his points as to why Trek is superior, while “Grand Moff” Schaffer summarized why Wars is the chosen “franchise.” Like Charlie Jane of io9, I tend to balk at the use of the word “franchise” and yet, here, within this context, I’m not sure they could have done it any other way. The two moderators made it clear at the start of the show that most people probably had their minds made up about which camp they belonged in. Lugo and Schaffer stressed here that they had no problem if you booed them during the debate, but that at no time should anyone boo the dancers. This didn’t turn out to be a problem at all, and most audience members laughed during the debate rather than booed. For my part, I felt very strongly in the Team Trek camp, finding myself in agreement with Lugo’s basic arguments.
But I must admit, Shaffer made some pretty solid points, my favorite of which was when he described Star Trek as being too “eager” and insulting; that it panders to its fans whereas Star Wars doesn’t really care. It was a funny thing to say, and kind of bold when you consider why one thing seems “cooler” than the other. As Lugo pointed out many many times, it is “not cool to like Star Trek.” We all know it’s sort of preposterous to even attempt to have this debate, but at the point at which it comes up over and over again in fan discourses, I actually appreciate that Lugo and Schaffer made some attempts to make serious arguments in favor of their chosen team. Also, further hurting Lugo’s points, I have to admit Schaffer’s Imperial Officer costume made him look pretty damn cool. With him, I sort of felt like he was an imperial officer. With Lugo, I felt like he was a Star Trek fan. (Like me!)
The rest of the acts were all fantastically creative, particularly Miss Mary Cyn’s interpretation of Data and Hard Corey’s brave turn as Han Solo. This guy gets a particularly relevant mention for not only being the only male dancer, but also having his briefs decorated in the same style as Han’s trousers. Hilarious and detailed! Which is really what the strength of the show was all about. None of these performers were simply doing the theme of the show because they were hired guns, all of these dancers wanted to embody the sexy characters, which they were portraying. The most absolutely nerdy and adorable reference here was at the end of Fem Appeal’s set as very convincing Lt. Uhura. When she was finished and revealed her Starfleet pasties, she threw glitter into the air around her and assumed the position of being beamed up. Though this was a burlesque show, and though everyone was half-naked, I couldn’t help but feel like she was a little kid playing make believe. Which was nice.
As adults, were sometimes not sure what to do with our make believe. Some people have debates while their friends do stripteases as their favorite sci-fi characters. Is there anything wrong with that? Only if you’re a complete square. Bravo Epic Win Burlesque. Star Trek and Star Wars have never looked this fresh and this good naked.
Epic Win Burlesque Presents the Star Debate: Trek vs. Wars runs for four more performances in New York City at La Mama theatre. Remaining show dates are 8/20, 8/25, 8/26 and 8/27. For tickets and info head to the Fringe Festival’s website.
(Android Love cover illustration by Joanna Mulder. Photos from 2010 performance at The Tank theatre in NYC courtesy of Ben Trivett.)
Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com.