In a town made by and created for black sheep, a place where all art forms are welcome and collaborative art projects (such as a literary magazine) become instantaneously popular, it should hardly come as a surprise Terlingua has a burlesque troupe. Indeed, the longer you interact with this community, the more it makes sense that such an avant-garde, socially edgy, and extravagant show exists. Within the microcosm of Terlingua, what might otherwise be stigmatized in the larger world is instead wholeheartedly embraced. Still, some members of this troupe maintain alter-egos, abstain from sharing their identities on social media, and are hesitant to reveal their art to family members outside the community. What is experienced by an ecstatic audience as a fully immersive and participatory aesthetic experience, cheers of support empowering the individuals on stage, is juxtaposed by the social and cultural values of the macrocosmic world beyond this desert haven. But such is Terlingua as a whole, which is likely its appeal to so many visitors and transplants.
To fully experience Terlingua Burlesque, you must first plan your costume accordingly. Audience members are asked to participate throughout the show, namely through costume contests. Recently, at Alien Fest, hosted by The Goat Pens, one could spot a unicorn, a fairy, men in drag, alien aficionados in makeshift light-up duds, and various inexplicable garb donned in preparation for alien abduction. The crowd is full of familiar faces, further underlining the instant chemistry between the audience and show members. To say there is a feeling of electricity in the air is understating the elation, soon to be exhilaration, in the convergence of like-minded revelers ready to exalt their compatriots. While interviewing the troupe, many of them noted the importance of the audience and atmosphere to confidently performing, reciprocal energy synchronously feeding all present throughout the show. To set the tone, the infamous Bucky Love, a New Jersey-accented salesman type in a retro polyester suit, opens with a bit, reminding everyone respect is demanded and disrespect results in public humiliation from the stage. No one is safe from his commanding presence, including yours truly. Take it from me, know when you are allowed to talk and when to listen carefully.
Artistic processes vary for each performer. Each artist chooses their own music, costume, and set. Most start with a song, envision a story, then design their disguise from there. Throughout this process, troupe members communicate with each other, developing their overall concept organically. Troupe member Jenny Schooler states, “I think that’s how Terlingua operates as a whole. You come down here and just have to figure out how to do it. There’s no other option.” To put it in perspective, Terlingua is more than 150 miles from the nearest Walmart, so resources are limited. Residents must find creative ways to accomplish everything, from obtaining water to keeping enough groceries to creating art. Though this may sound difficult, it is often within these constraints the best art is made. After all, what could stimulate the imagination more than constantly solving problems using materials at hand? Furthermore, no one here in the desert can survive without their community. Almost everything done here is accomplished by a team. Burlesque is no exception. Collaboration is essential to each performer’s set during every aspect of its development, whether brainstorming how to integrate paint into the piece, choreography, stage design, props, or story. The goal is for each set to stand alone as an art piece, then weave each performance into an overall synergistic show.
Many may wonder why performers choose burlesque as their art form. It requires passion and vulnerability beyond what many can fathom themselves performing. Art director Asheley Baker says that in order to elevate the sets into true art, “inner thoughts and experiences” are transformed into “outer projections” for others to view and “analyze for themselves” such that “simple ideas” become a crafted expression of each performer’s unique point of view. Though new audience members may consider attending burlesque as a novelty, what they ultimately encounter is a well-coordinated ephemeral masterpiece, devised to provoke the senses in an immersive way meant to be both socially experiential as well as deeply personal for performer and viewer. Terlingua Burlesque embodies the need for vulnerability in art, and, arguably, that vulnerability is a practice of love: love for fellow troupe members, love for their community, and, perhaps most significantly, self-love. Few things in life are as enjoyable as love - thus the appeal to take part in Terlingua Burlesque.
Though when thinking about burlesque, we may first envision females, Terlingua Burlesque includes men. Additionally, people of all shapes and sizes participate in the show. While our society influences our opinion on what is sexy, namely what body type is most attractive, Terlingua Burlesque will change your mind. There is nothing sexier than empowerment, confidence, artistic expression, and fun. Certainly, the word “sexy” should morph into something else while viewing and contemplating the show. Eroticism is not the point here; rather it is arousal, an incitement of something within you as you watch another human dare to “bare their soul” in front of so many spectators in such a “vulnerable and courageous” way, as one coordinator, C.R. Farmer, puts it. Witnessing empowerment is empowering. Farmer goes on to say, “Burlesque annihilates that rigidity and makes everyone in the room feel sexy regardless of their name, age, gender, or flavor. It’s transcendental…” Absolutely, Terlingua Burlesque transcends norms, even those norms set within the traditional burlesque world. Such freedom, lent in part by the performer’s persona, embraced so openly, reminds the audience what is possible in their own lives, namely that taboo is not a showstopper, and all the world is a stage.