Nov. 6, 2015

Those looking for a new experience were treated to a show of temptation, fear and lust at the second annual Hallow Tease Halloween Burlesque show at The Guild Halloween night.

Charlottetown Burlesque, the first and only burlesque group on P.E.I., held its second show this year Saturday, welcoming anyone, costumed or not, to join them in a musically driven experience that stands out from most shows that are held in Charlottetown.

Although P.E.I. has a very conservative attitude towards sexuality, the group’s three-night event was very popular, with Friday night’s show sold out.

Amphora Rhodes, who wished to use her stage name, said she created the group after she moved from B.C. to P.E.I. three years ago to attend culinary school. She said in B.C., you could find a burlesque show any night of the week, but in P.E.I., there was no scene for it.

“I was involved in the burlesque scene there. There was a few people interested here, but no one really wanted to take the initiative to put on a show.”

Rhodes grew up dancing, and as she grew, she began looking into new ways to perform. She began belly dancing 10 years ago, as well as tap dancing, and found the transition from belly dancing to performing in burlesque shows was very easy for her.

It wasn’t until she was put into contact with musical director Spencer Soloduka, that the group began to form, said Rhodes.

“Everything just fell into place. We found lots of performers, and we just had them do what they are good at, and put the show together. Our first show was last year on Halloween.”

The show is very dynamic, featuring musical acts, skits, audience participation, and a small amount of nudity. The cast is made of singers, dancers and even a live band.

Each number features the different talents and personalities of the dancers and singers, said Soloduka.

“Everyone is here because they want to be. We are not strictly professional, but we take it very seriously. Everyone brings their own contribution, and all go out there and have a lot of fun.”

It takes about six to eight weeks to fully plan and prepare for a show, Soloduka said.

“We did another show this summer as part of the Fringe festival. The group choreography requires the most rehearsal. The band is working on the songs from a very early stage. That’s the first thing we do, pick the songs, work them over, and figure out what sticks and what needs work.”

The group had a show this summer as part of the Fringe festival, and it was the highest attended show of the festival. Rhodes said all of their shows have had a very good turn out, and that the audience has been very positive towards the show.

Michael Peters, the guitarist of the group’s band, said the musical acts cover a wide variety of genres.

“We cover anything from tango, top 40, techno and rock and roll. The band comes together and arranges all of that, then the dancers take that and do there own thing, and it all comes together in the end.”

Halloween and the Fringe festival has always been a convenient time to have fun, and always provide an opportunity for the group to stage a show, said Soloduka.

“We usually take a couple weeks to cool down after the shows come together, and then after a while we kind of come together and regroup.”

They don’t have any plans for future shows, as their cast is always changing, and a few of them are leaving soon, said Rhodes.

“The problem with trying to plan a show on P.E.I. is that a lot of our performers are often students who have graduated from either UPEI or Holland College, and they often don’t stay here. We do have a core group of performers, but we do rotate through quite a few people.”

Although the group’s shows have been successful, it struggles to be seen as an entertaining performance by a community that is very conservative, and quick to label anything that is suggestive.

Rhodes said she had issues with flyers being ripped down and shop owners not allowing her to hang them in the first place.

“I would ask somebody if I could put our poster up, and I’d get an answer like ‘Oh, that is completely inappropriate’. I think a lot of those people, their minds would be changed if they were bold enough to come to one of our shows.”

Aurora Amaryllis, another performer in the group, said because of the new trend of sex shaming, being a burlesque performer isn’t something that can be put on a resume, and be considered as a professional skill.

“Even though it takes a ton of courage and preparation to get on stage to do it, and although it is a public performance, you can’t really translate those skills professionally towards a profession because of sex-shaming.”

A lot of people come in with preconceived notions of what burlesque is, said Peters.

“It’s really not just soft-core stripping. It’s a whole performance that involves a cast and crew and production.”

Rhodes said that although mainstream media has desensitized us towards sexual content in music, movies and TV, we are still taught that sex is bad, and that we shouldn’t’t be open with our own sexuality.

“I feel that everyone should be comfortable with their own sexuality, but that isn’t the case here in the Maritimes.”

She does this to feel comfortable with herself, and express that through a creative way, said Rhodes.

“For me personally, personal health has a lot to do with expressing your sexuality as well, both physically and mentally.”

Dionysus, the MC for the show, said it is an incredibly liberating experience to participate in the show, and having the opportunity to make it a real, personal thing with the audience is very transformational.

“There is no forth wall. It is shattered within the first few moments. It makes it really special, because people leave being transformed in a way that is very impactful to them. It embodies a sense of comfort and confidence that often we aren’t given anywhere else.”

It’s a lot of work, but it is so entertaining for a lot of different people from a lot of different age groups, Peters said.

“You’ve gotta come check it out. Shatter those preconceived notions.”

The show started at 9 p.m. Saturday, but people filed into The Guild at 8:30. It started with a scream, then the band played a musical number about Jack the Ripper. One of the performers sang while the others danced and collapsed on the floor as a classily dressed man pretended to attack them with a knife.

After the number was over, Dionysus came out and spoke about friendship, fear and lust. The night went on with multiple dance and singing acts, all related to a particular theme that Dionysus would talk about between each performance.

Before the intermission, there was a costume contest for the audience. Anyone who wanted to parade across stage and show off their costume was eligible to win a few prizes from some local sponsors of the show, including Cedar’s Eatery, and a local yoga class.

The show picked up again after the intermission, and carried on with a few more musical numbers, a strip tease, and even had a local comedian, Brittany Campbell, come on stage and perform a stand-up act. There was another contest for the audience, inviting anyone to do their best performance across the stage to win a few more prizes.

The show lasted just over two hours, and wrapped up with a full cast performance of Time Warp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The cast then took a bow, and mingled with everyone as the audience was leaving, while the band played in the background.