Ohio Burlesque Festival Offers More Performers, More Diversity in its 7th Year at the Beachland

Hazel Honeysuckle

Thu 8/3-Sat 8/5

The Ohio Burlesque Festival began six year ago with an impossible dream. As burlesque festivals were burgeoning around the world, fueled by the glut of talented new performers in the art form, Bella Sin, proprietor of Northeast Ohio’s longest-running burlesque troupe Le Femme Mystique, envisioned a festival that would attract some of the world’s top burlesque stars to Cleveland.

And, for the 7th annual OBF, taking place at the Beachland Ballroom this weekend, that’s happening. More than 70 performers from as far away as Australia will converge to offer patrons three packed nights of entertainment. It’s quite a ways from the one-night showcase that launched the event in 2011.

The festival received applications from around 200 performers to choose the final lineup, Sin says. And she had a very particular goal in mind, that is, in addition to the prime objective of offering the most entertaining artists possible.

“We shaped the festival to be as inclusive and diverse as humanly possible,” she says. “The reason we are different from a lot of other festivals is our mission of creating an inclusive show every time., because that’s what we do. This year with everything that’s happening I wanted the most diverse, inclusive show that’s a sort of little protest against 45.”

That diversity isn’t just about race or ethnicity, but also about gender and body types. The festival has expanded its reach to include people of all gender identities. She says she’s gotten some complaints that burlesque shows should only be for women, not for men or transgender people. (Some of the same people would most likely object to the fact that most of the performers don’t look like strippers, with skinny bodies and large breasts).

“I feel like this festival has a lot of representation of everything,” she says, citing examples such as featured performers Ruthe Ordare, a First Nations performer from Canda, and Oakland, California’s Frankie Fictitious, who is Asian. Ruby Champagne, like Sin herself, is Mexican.

“We wanted to do something where we didn’t leave people out,” says Sin. “We scoured the earth to find people we wanted to be represented on stage, people you don’t normally see on the burlesque stage.”

But, she says, as the festival has grown, it’s been getting easier to hire for diversity and quality at the same time.

“We have grown so much and are so established, people want to come from Ohio. It’s not so hard to find people. And I promote it wherever I go. It’s easier to have people come to festivals when you have people who represent them. We worked really hard for that.”

Expect to see diversity in the types of acts on stage as well. They range from those that project glamour and beauty to humorous skits to those that incorporate dance or acrobatics. Drag performers are always part of the mix too.

The festival opens on Thu 8/3 with a show that headlined by Columbus-based transgender performer Eileen Galvin whose creative numbers blend glamour and her real-life nerd personality. Friday night’s All-Star show is headlined by Egypt Blacq Knyle from Los Angeles and Sin herself. Saturday’s top stars are New York’s Hazel Honeysuckle and L.A.’s Ruby Champagne.

The festival also includes a day of classes at the official OBF hotel, the Hyatt Regency Clevleand in the Arcade, from 9am-4pm Saturday. They are open to anyone interested in burlesque. Find a list of classes here.



Eileen Galvin

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