I just got back from talking with John Woods and Cass King, creators of the burlesque musical SHINE. They gave me an in-depth explanation of what their show is about and where it came from. There’s a lot more going on in this show than you might know.
Me: Why did you guys decide to put on a burlesque musical?
Cass: Our mandate is to present smart entertainment for adults, smart entertainment about sexuality. That’s what we do as the Wet Spots.* We’ve worked for a long time in the burlesque and variety arts community. We’ve toured all over the world and we’ve seen such amazing performers and such an amazing culture that we wanted to write a show that would reflect the values and family nature of the people that we were working with.
*(John and Cass perform as a comedy duo known as the Wet Spots)
John: It’s true. For a lot of people, particularly people who are growing up with say, different or outside the box sexuality like kink or polyamory, a lot of these people find their family later on. They’ve got their regular family, but there’s also this sense of chosen family, and we really started to run into that in the entertainment world to. We’d perform with people in Sweden and then see them again in Australia three months later on another show. You work very close with these people, so you become a family that’s bound together with common interests and common values.
Me: Why this show specifically, why SHINE?
Cass: We wrote it because we wrote a song, the song is called Stars. We realized that it touched something emotional in us that we couldn’t address with the Wet Spots and we needed a larger container. Stars is about all of the conflicting emotions that happen to you as a performer; hope, fear, regret, and ambition. It really spoke clearly of our personal experience.
Me: So, you wrote a song, and it was powerful enough that you felt it needed more?
John:Â We wrote it for a show called By the Seat of Our Panties, which we did at the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival. It was a sort of satire on burlesque itself, aimed mainly at other performers who would get all the jokes and the back stage references. We thought it was going to be a campy show we’d do once and then forget about. But Stars stood out because it wasn’t really a comedy song. It was very heartfelt, and it didn’t really fit with our other material.
Me: And that’s when you decided to make it a full musical?
John: We wanted to develop a something that would have more permanence, so the next year we went back and did a fully scripted show with twelve songs rather than using a lot of improvisation as we had before. Burlesque is a really fertile ground for writing musicals, and we wanted to keep in the style of a show about a show, like Cabaret or The Producers.
Cass: 42 Street
John: Exactly. Burlesque is great because it gives you a whole new genre to write about for a show within a show. A lot of burlesque is already poking fun at the traditional themes of theater like old-fashioned definitions of sexuality.
Cass: We wanted also to write a musical that had all the teeth and the edge of burlesque and stand up comedy. Most musicals, or at least the musicals that get popular don’t seem to have them. The teeth get pulled before they hit the stage and the edge is taken off.
Me: Sort of a side effect of going for the lowest common denominator?
Cass: And that’s a theme in the show. The characters have to struggle with the material they’re producing in order to attract a large group of people. We’ve actually noticed that it’s the strong sexuality and edgy content that appeals to people the most about this show; people who are tired of all the â€˜family values’ in musicals.
John: Every once in a while, something that takes a lot of risks slips through into the mainstream consciousness, and I’m thinking of Rocky Horror Picture Show. We tend to think of it as good old Rocky Horror, but when it came out in 1975 and Tim Curry was dancing around on screen in fishnets and full drag singing about being a transvestite, now that was shocking. It opened a lot of people’s minds to the existence of other kinds of life styles.
Cass: And there are still a lot of places that don’t have the same liberation that we do in Seattle and Vancouver and San Francisco and New York. Our show is fairly tame by the standards of the people putting it on, but to people seeing burlesque for the first time is totally outrageous.
John: We found that when we did the show in Vancouver, last year, we put it up in a 225-seat theater for nine performances, and it was almost sold out every night. A lot of the people who came were season ticket holders who go to see whatever the new musical in town is, people who had never seen burlesque at all, and of those 2000 people or so, we had one single walk out. And this is a show that presents polyamory and queerness; the whole gambit.
Cass: And that made us sort of redefine what we thought of as the square theater crowd, because maybe they’re not so square after all.
John: That’s exciting to me because it says that this show might have the opportunity to start some conversations. When we perform as the Wet Spots, we’re generally performing for the perverted. People who are already sex positive or queer or what have you and have heard of us through those channels. And those performances are great, but we’re not showing them anything they haven’t seen before. But with SHINE, we get a chance to reach new people.
I’m a person who believes that art is a dialog, and if SHINE can add to Seattle’s already impressive diversity of culture, then all for the better. Either way it’s bound to be an exciting show.
The show opens July 8th, and tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets.