New burlesque company Noveltease brings the classics to life and to the stage — starting with Baron Munchausen
“When people are reading, they’re kind of envisioning themselves as the protagonist, in a lot of cases,” the burlesque producer and choreographer Fosse Jack tells me. “They’re putting themselves in the protagonist’s shoes in order to really experience the adventure, and that’s what we’re doing with the Baron (Munchausen). There’s this idea that people read adventure stories because they want to go on that adventure with this person.”
I’m at a Lower Queen Anne coffee shop chatting with Noveltease Theatre’s artistic directors Fosse Jack and Sailor St. Claire, a burlesque performer and producer and PhD academic, about their upcoming production. We’re here to talk about their new, collaborative project, Noveltease, which performs burlesque adaptations or interpretations of novels (or other pieces of literature). Their inaugural performance, a burlesque interpretation of Rudolph Erich Raspe’s Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia, takes place this weekend, Friday and Saturday, at the University Heights Center in the U-District. The other members of the Noveltease Core Company joining them are: Onyx Asili, Jesse Belle-Jones, Al Lykya, Trixie Paprika, and Polly Wood. Alas, much of our interview was eaten for lunch by my very hungry tape recorder.
St. Claire and Jack have collaborated on a few projects in the past, most recently “Tennessee Tease,” a burlesque adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Memoirs (and was outstanding), so it felt inevitable the two would collaborate on a larger project together. This combines their loves of literature with burlesque as an art form.
Noveltease should fit in well in Seattle, as it’s at least the third arts organization dedicated to interpreting works of literature through their chosen medium. Book-It Repertory makes stage productions of famous books, and the Bushwick Book Club does the same with a collection of singer/songwriters writing songs about, or inspired by, famous novels. Even the Seattle Public Library has produced a drag show based on banned books. That’s not to mention the thriving burlesque scene Seattle has cultivate over the last decade and a half.
I think something that St. Claire and Jack are getting at is that reading is a very sexy and intimate act, or at least can be, so a burlesque show based around an eighteenth century adventure novel feels like a natural fit, and it also, by choosing older works already in the public domain, provides some distance away from the cultural discourse around the collective zeitgeist. (Though I’m also on record as supporting adaptations of projects coinciding with the height of their ubiquity).
St. Claire noted, “It’s a slower consumption. This is somehow the antithesis of our instant gratification culture. It’s a little slow burn.”
Choosing books in the public domain has its advantages, not the least of which is that licensing fees and permission from copyright holders is taken out of the equation. But it also is using a source material that is available, free, to anyone, so no one has to buy a book or subscribe to a streaming service to be familiar with the source material. That is the same with the next book Noveltease is planning on staging a production of: Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s least well-known (finished) novel, in November.
Accessibility is something St. Claire and Jack talked a lot about, about making an inclusive, diverse, sex positive community where the Noveltease Core Company (and audience) can explore sexuality in a safe, nonjudgmental environment.
St. Clair and Jack are aware of the challenges (and opportunities) of adapting a book into a dance production, namely that five people may have five different readings of the same book. She told me, “It is about the power of the words on that page to shape and create and experience. But his experience of reading something is going to be completely different in my experience in reading this. And when we’re sitting and working on adaptations, we’re constantly like, ‘Oh, I see something totally different in this line, right?’”
There is another advantage of working in this medium with really old books: that you can pick and choose and disregard any sections of the book you want. Noting that some parts of Baron Munchausen may inspire some unease or worse, Fosse Jack says, “There’s a lot of stuff in that novel. And some of that stuff just needs to be forgotten.” That goes doubly for the subsequent Munchausen books.
They both say, a few seconds apart to be in unison, but right after the other, “That’s why we’re not doing book two.”
Tickets can be found here:
Adventure! Marvelous Tales of the Baron Munchausen
A Literary Burlesque
Noveltease Theatre can also be found on social media here: