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My Game of Thrones Burlesque series was born innocuously enough. In the summer of 2012, having finished season two of Game of Thrones and beginning to work my way through the books (I had binge-watched season one during a bout of strep throat, had been relieved and thrilled to find out that season two was starting just a week later, and couldn’t stand the idea of now waiting almost a year to find out what happened next), I was scrolling through Facebook on a slow work day and came across a violin cover of the title credits music. “So beautiful,” I thought, as I listened to it over and over. “Wouldn’t this be great to strip to?!” Maybe I should back up just a little! I’ve been a burlesque performer since 2009. Burlesque is many things to many people and probably needs its own essay to fully explain, but suffice to say it’s a theatrical performance, often with elements of parody and always with elements of striptease – emphasis on the tease. A burlesque performance is about the journey, not the destination… which is also how I’m choosing to look at Game of Thrones. Ahem. In 2012, I had a small burlesque troupe, with varying levels of commitment and, as with any collective, a lot of compromising on creative elements. We did small bar shows that were fun, but we had a theme coming up that I, frankly, wasn’t very inspired by. I had never produced something that was truly my own vision before. This music captured my imagination the way all the classic burlesque standards I was considering for the troupe’s upcoming show failed to do. When I imagined dancing to it, playing it over and over, I knew without a doubt which character I would portray: the scared, abused girl who became a dragon queen.
Daenerys Targaryen was the first character I became emotionally invested in during that season one binge-watch, and it was her journey that initially really hooked me on the show. The things that happened to her, combined with Emilia Clarke’s expressive, vulnerable performance as she reacted to them, made me empathize with and root hard for Dany. Moreover, she appealed to me for one of the same reasons burlesque itself did: she was still allowed to be a sexual, feminine woman while being brave, strong, and inspirational. Too many Strong Female Characters™ lacked any nuance and reinforced the idea that only masculinity equalled strength, which I didn’t actually find very feminist or inspiring at all. Daenerys, however, was a badass who didn’t have to squelch her femininity or sexuality in order to be one.
I won’t bore you with all the details of the thought process that led me to decide I needed to produce my very own burlesque show paying tribute to Game of Thrones, but basically, I decided I needed a giant dragon prop to do my queen justice onstage, and that the only way I could pay for it would be to produce a show where I didn’t have to split the profits. Creatively, too, I knew my troupemates wouldn’t be into the theme, and I was right. I had their full blessing to produce a solo show. I then immediately set about messaging all the performers I liked whom I’d seen posting about Game of Thrones on social media and asking them to be part of my show, which I wanted to make happen as soon as possible. I hadn’t worked with most of them before, but they all enthusiastically agreed, and most already had characters in mind. The Game of Thrones theme also made it easy to secure a larger venue than I’d produced in before, and we were off and running.
"A Dirty Dance with Dragons: Game of Thrones Burlesque" was an experience and a success unlike anything I’d had before. Worrying about ticket sales is a way of life for indie producers, but for this show, advance ticket sales just came pouring in, and I was able to pay my performers twice the going rate while still affording that dragon prop and a custom-made costume. I sold the house beyond its official capacity, and the crowd, all huge fans of the HBO show, was the most ecstatic I’d ever heard. Every performer brought clever, passionate, inspired acts, and the crowd responded wildly to every costume, reveal, Easter-egg reference, and joke. It was an absolutely electric mutual lovefest, and I rode the high for days. Soon, with the encouragement of fellow performers and people who had been in the audience, I decided to remount the show the following year. I didn’t want to just have this experience once, and with new material coming from the TV show, there were so many more creative possibilities to explore. I have now done Game of Thrones Burlesque seven times, with titles like “A Girl Has No Shame”, “A Storm of Sequins”, and “The Night is Dark and Full of Tassels,” and am gearing up for the eighth and (probably) final one this fall. After year two, I decided that all the acts had to be brand-new, and after year three, I decided that they had to be based on the events of that year’s season of the TV show (we did do a best-of show last year, in the absence of a new season).
Some professional highlights directly related to Game of Thrones Burlesque include being featured in a BBC article about Game of Thrones fandom in 2013, as well as Captain freakin’ Marvel coming to my show in 2014! She wasn’t Captain Marvel yet, but Brie Larson was in Toronto working on Room, as was my friend Kim, who was also playing the most hilarious Renly Baratheon ever in my show. Kim told Brie about the show, and she bought tickets! I didn’t get a chance to meet her, but was told she loved the show, and that was enough. From this series of shows also came opportunities for me to perform my Daenerys acts (I have now done six, including two duets) in other shows, as well as the confidence and experience to produce other themed shows on my own and the ability to attract high-quality performers to those projects. Every success I’ve had in burlesque since, including things like partnering with the Royal Ontario Museum to bring a couple of my other themes to their acclaimed Friday Night Live event, I ultimately owe to Game of Thrones Burlesque, and therefore to Game of Thrones itself. Being a solo burlesque producer is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done, and it’s all thanks to that TV show.
On a personal level, the cast of my show has had some changes as characters were killed off or added, but a core group has stayed the same for every show and become my Game of Thrones Burlesque family. I’ve made strong friendships with people I probably wouldn’t have gotten to know, at least not as well, if it weren’t for Game of Thrones, either through them being involved in my show or me being involved in their shows through it. I can’t imagine my life without some of those people now. I recently read an interview with Emilia Clarke where she said playing Dany helped shape her identity in some ways, and although I can’t claim to have played her on the same level at all, I feel the same way. When I felt scared or weak, I’d often think of the character and how she always rose from the ashes and stood up to abusers. When I finally called out a sexual harasser in the burlesque community a couple of years ago, “fire and blood” and “be a dragon” were words I often repeated to myself to power through it. Daenerys Targaryen became my character too, and a part of me as well.
I admit that I’m among the many people who felt let down by season eight. To be frank, I hated it so much that I was temporarily ashamed of how invested I’d become in the show, at all the hours I’d “wasted” loving it and at any inspiration I’d been “stupid” enough to take from Daenerys. Obviously, though, the truth is that Game of Thrones has been anything but a waste of my time. It gave me my signature show, the one that’s still my baby and launched a satisfying producing career. It helped me grow as an artist, businesswoman, and person. It gave me lasting friendships with the most amazing people. It truly did change my life. And hey, even season eight was a gift, because burlesque thrives on parody! So: THANK YOU for so, so much, Game of Thrones… and I’m looking forward to roasting the crap out of season eight at The Long Farewell: Game of Thrones Burlesque VIII on September 28. Dracarys.