If you ever want to add a little bit of spice and risqué humor to your anime convention experience, the Midwest-based burlesque troupe Bubble Pop Burlesque has just the show for you. They specialize in cosplay-themed performances that include everything from stripteases to pole dancing to wacky skits and much more—although when we saw their Saturday show at Colossalcon this year, they tested out a new format based on the Western zodiac signs. It was equal parts fascinating and uproariously funny, and their unique “consent indicators” (glow sticks that could be purchased for $1 before the show started) ensured that nobody was touched who didn’t want to be touched.
We sat down with producers/performers Legend Ary Lewt and Erisaka Blu to pull the curtain back on what goes into crafting a nerdy burlesque show. They opened up about their audition process, their favorite performances from previous events (including a Pokémon-themed suppository joke that we’ll get to later), and their strong stance on Cosplay is Not Consent. Let’s get started!
LEGEND ARY LEWT
Interview with Bubble Pop Burlesque
How did you guys get started as a nerdy burlesque group?
It actually started, personally, with me having done burlesque for a period of years, taking a hiatus, and then slowly coming back to it. Some of the shows that I was doing didn’t make me feel like I could express myself the way I wanted to as a burlesque performer.
In what way?
I didn’t feel like I could challenge myself. I felt like it was a particular type of burlesque I was going to be doing and that was it. And so myself and the other founding member, Lola Hart, just figured, “Why don’t we do a group of our own and just collect some of our friends and go from there?” And our very first show was Matsuricon 2012 [as that prototype group]. There were just four of us and we put on a 2½-hour show!
For me personally, I used to work with a former employer who distributed my images for cosplay work. One of the requirements for me to be at [Colossalcon] 5 years ago was to put on a burlesque performance. It had been something I’d never done before, but I was like, “You know what, I’ll try it out and see where it goes.” And I sort of just fell in love with it from there. I found another troupe through a partner at the time and I believe it was a kink performance group. We would go to sloshes and Kinkodemayo and things like that.
That’s a really good name—Kinkodemayo. (laughs)
Puns on that kind of stuff are some of the best things ever.
From there, I was like, “Okay, this is cool, but I kind of want to do more burlesque stuff.” I pulled over Lola Hart and Eri and said, “Hey, I kind of want to do this stuff again. I had been doing this previously; do you guys have an opening or can I come do something sometime?”
And I think I said, “I’ll let you know,” and three weeks prior to a show I was like, “Hey... what are you doing this weekend?” And that’s how 90% of all the people in our group have joined—me just sliding into DMs like, “What are you guys doing tomorrow? Want to come do this?”
Is the group mostly you guys and whomever you find for the show or is it a bigger core group than that?
We have a larger core group—myself, Glitch Décode, Sunny D, Legend, Mistress Venomous, Harlee Syn... When we have a show we try to stick with our regular people and then bring others in after we get confirmations. So the best way to put it is that we’re a collective hive-mind and if what you’ve got works with us, we’d be more than happy to work with you.
Do you go on Instagram and search for burlesque performers?
Very rarely do we reach out to people, and I think it’s just because we’re more of a niche group. We haven’t fully been able to branch out into things like classical burlesque—we stick more with nerdlesque and neo-burlesque. But a lot of times we put out applications in burlesque groups, so anyone who sees it has the ability to apply. For this particular show, we had people from Georgia apply, from Tennessee, New York...
So it really is a lot like theater in that way.
It is, yeah. And you have your featured performer and people that you bring in.
We encourage theater résumés if they don’t have previous burlesque experience. And if there’s no previous burlesque experience, we usually ask them to “kitten” at their local troupes and sort of work their way up.
I had a brand new kitten at a show that I did last weekend.
That would be sort of like an intern?
Yeah, pretty much a “kitten” is someone who comes in, they learn the ropes, they start at the bottom. And then they can slowly work their way up. She got to know what it was like backstage, so she felt a lot more comfortable with the idea of being onstage after that. Because even though she wasn’t performing, she was walking onstage—there were still all those people looking at her and cheering for her as she’s cleaning up [clothes and props]. You don’t have to look at the audience; you just have to walk out, do what you’re supposed to do, smile occasionally, people cheer. It works!
So from your first show at Matsuricon 2012 and your first official show as Bubble Pop Burlesque at Anime Central 2014, how have your performances evolved over time and what lessons have you learned?
You can BS something if you really need to.
(laughs) That’s the lesson?
One of my favorite things that I like to say is that if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit. (laughs) So that’s where a lot of our stuff comes from. After every show, I always have to thank the entire group with, “Thank you for doing the dumb shit I ask of you. I really appreciate it!”
Was there anything that you asked them to do yesterday?
The whole zodiac show! Because nobody thought that it was going to work in this type of environment. Sunny in particular was so worried about what to do. He came to both Legend and myself like, “What do I do for this?”
And which one was he?
He was Scorpio.
He was like the best one!
I said, “This particular [sign] has characteristics of being cocky and very confident.” And he was like, “Okay, okay, I think I can work with this.” And last night, he told me after his number, “This is officially my favorite number.” And I was so proud of him! Because he was one that I brought in randomly a week before our first show. I call him my “baby” sometimes because I dragged him into this and he’s let me pitch stupid ideas to him all the time.
Something like, “Hey, how about you wear a chain and then it rips your pants off?”
Oh, he came up with that himself!
He’s grown so much since he’s first been here. When he first came to me, he was so worried about what to do. He asked me, “Okay, what kind of characteristics does this have?” And I said, “Well, honestly, Scorpios are known to be freaks in the bedroom. And I think that would be something right up your alley that you can play up to.” Then he was worried about what song to pick. I said, “Can you send me a playlist? We can find your average BPM [beats per minute] that you usually dance to and break it down that way.”
It’s something that we, individually as performers, do where we have either a particular style or song type that we want. Glitch in particular does a lot of goofy stuff because that’s the type of person she is.
Was she the one with the... goat head?
She was! She was Capricorn. She was standing next to me and I turned to look at her and was about to say, “I’m so proud of you,” and then she pulls the goat mask down and I was just like, “Never mind.”
She was backstage living her best life. She had the goat tail and was twerking, taking Snapchats, just cutting it up.
One of the things that has helped me in learning over the years of doing this is that you can plan all you want, but [it’s important to have] the ability to improvise or allow something to not go as you planned and just roll with it.
So there’s room for improvisation?
I think it’s necessary.
A lot of the stuff between Sunny and myself—we’ve been known to do a bunch of comedy or romantic-esque duo acts. [At the Friday show], we did Ada Wong and Leon Kennedy from Resident Evil and a lot of that was improvised. Leon is very uncomfortable, Ada is very domineering, and that’s our onstage dynamic. Offstage, we’re just bros—onstage, we have a very specific dynamic and we like to change it up a lot. But for a lot of my numbers, I rehearse, I get onstage, and then I don’t remember anything. I hope I hit at least some key points! Friday night, I lost a pasty onstage...
During the Leon and Ada number! Then I was thinking, “Oh my god, what are Ohio’s blue laws?”
Blue laws are related to erotic performances?
Yeah. What can be shown at what kind of show.
A lot of times, if they serve liquor, you can only go down so far. There have been venues that I’ve performed at where you can only go down to a bra and panties if they serve liquor. And it can range state by state, county by county, town by town. So if you’re unfamiliar performing with a place, you’ve got to figure this stuff out.
So your performers are very diverse in terms of gender, body type, race, age, etc. Was it a conscious decision that you wanted to have a diverse performer group?
Not really. It was more of, “My friends are beautiful people and I want the world to see what I see in them as well.” You don’t have to have huge boobs or be a perfect hourglass. When you’re onstage, I want you to be having fun. I want you feeling like the hottest person in that room, regardless of anyone else’s opinion.
It definitely made me feel more confident about myself watching it. To see people with my own body type was amazing!
That’s so wonderful to hear!
I also thought that the consent indicators were genius. How did you come up with that?
I’ve come from shows where people will either heavily interact with the audience or not go anywhere near the audience. A lot of times it depends on your routine, but there are some people who just don’t want to be touched by strangers and that’s fully understandable. But if you don’t let somebody know in the burlesque troupe, they could make a mistake. We want you to be as safe as possible, and that’s why the consent bracelets are so important to us.
So they’re more for the performers?
It’s for both, because we don’t want to upset any of the people who are attending our shows. I did a show where I had a plant [a pre-chosen audience member for a stunt] before we had the consent bracelets. He comes up onstage, and I’m supposed to give him a love potion and he falls in love with me. It’s all fine and dandy, but then there were people who were trying to do that at other shows because they didn’t know that he was a specific person.
And then how was security supposed to know?
That’s a good point. So when did you first use the consent bracelets?
I think the first show that we fully integrated it into was this past [Anime Crossroads] and people liked it because then they realized that if somebody walks up to them, they are saying, “Yes, interact with me, talk with me, play around with me.”
We think that consent is a very active part of what we do. We do Cosplay is Not Consent panels—we want to incorporate that and make it more commonly known that you need to ask people if you want to touch, etc.
What have been some of your favorite moments in shows you’ve done over the years?
When did we do our Pokémon show?
That was Matsuricon 2016.
That show easily had one of my favorite moments. We had an entire Pokémon-themed show where we scripted it out and everything.
Yeah, it was in “unnamed Pokémon land” and the “local trainer” was trying to get through the Pokémon League by going through each one of the other dancers.
So were they gym leaders or were they Pokémon?
Some were Pokémon, some were gym leaders, I was Nurse Joy and I had with me a male Chansey. Big pink beard, giant egg, and he was wearing pink with a little nurse hat—he was “Mansey”. And he was angrily shaking the egg–
He’s a big dude and he lowered his voice, too. And I was trying to be threatening, but kinder, like, “Go sit over there~!”
[The trainer] comes out to get his Pokémon treated who was asleep from Bellossom’s Sleep Powder. We had Eri as Nurse Joy and Mansey there. They were like, “Oh, we’ve got some medicine for you.”
I have a pill lipstick that’s about [three inches tall and one inch thick], and I hold it out. He goes, “I don’t think we can swallow that,” and I say, “You don’t swallow it. It’s a suppository!” And Mansey starts coming towards him!
He takes this egg—this giant to-scale size egg—and he gestures [the pill] going through it. And he just says, “Mansey.”
That’s amazing! (laughs) So what would you say to a person who wants to join a cosplay burlesque troupe, but isn’t sure if they’re confident enough?
Go to at least more than two shows. Because with one show, you could be all hyped up like, “Yeah! I want to do that!” And then when you get to the point of actually reaching out to somebody, all of a sudden you have second thoughts. If you go to multiple shows, you’ll know more of the different styles of burlesque that can be done onstage, because it’s not all striptease. There’s comedy, singing, improv...
And what has been the most rewarding part of running this burlesque troupe?
Having people say that they didn’t think that their body type or their skin color really belonged on a stage. “Seeing you guys made me feel more confident.” One of my very, very good friends who is also a performer is dependent on a walker and a cane, and she incorporates her cane into her routines. So you can be any type of body type, any type of ability, and you can still get onstage and do something fun and stupid and have a great time. We have different types of illnesses represented, a lot of invisible illnesses. We have different body types, different sexualities, different gender identities. And we just want people to see that every single person is beautiful. And it doesn’t matter what Person A says to you because Person B can think that you are the hottest thing on the planet and they just want to be there to support you. We are onstage to support you in the audience as much as you in the audience are there to support us onstage.
I got that feeling, certainly. So thanks so much for talking to me! I really appreciate it.
Both Eri and Legend clearly adore the craft of burlesque and the group they’ve cultivated—it shows both in their personal interactions and in their performances onstage. We love how earnestly they work to support their friends and make sure that consent is clear in all situations. Check out their Facebook page at Bubble Pop Burlesque and on Instagram at @Bubblepopburlesque for pictures, videos, and details on their next shows.
What did you think of our interview? What kind of show would you want to see Bubble Pop Burlesque perform? Have you ever seen them in person? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!
Author: Mary Lee Sauder
After the hard-hitting East Coast lifestyle hit me a bit too hard, I started pursuing my passion as a writer in my cozy home state of Ohio. Aside from that, I spend my time cooking, cosplaying, collecting anime merch, and being an improv comedy actor. I also love sneaking alliterations and stupid puns into my writing, so be on the lookout for them! 😉