Date of Graduation

Spring 2013


Master of Arts in Theatre


Theatre and Dance

Committee Chair

Christopher Herr


burlesque, neo-burlesque, boylesque, camp, drag, gender performance, feminism, theatre, sexuality, striptease

Subject Categories

Theatre and Performance Studies


There are distinct patterns in American history, culture, and society that are present during the times when burlesque seems to truly flourish, and it appears as though these conditions not only create a need for the art form, but allow it to evolve to fit the specific needs of the spectators throughout those particular times. When Lydia Thompson erupted on the American stage in the late 1800s, she did so at a time of theatrical boredom, social insecurity, economic decline, and cultural distress. These same elements were again present when burlesque entered its Golden Era in the late 1920s, and yet again in the 1990s with its revival, neo-burlesque. But while early forms of burlesque appear to have challenged the societal gender roles of women, it is debatable whether some forms of contemporary burlesque truly become liberating, or merely reinforce capitalist and patriarchal imposition. However, today it appears as though the rebellious spirit of burlesque is kept alive through male burlesque, often called boylesque, which not only aims to expand the audience's preconceived ideas of a "man," but also features male performers in a predominantly female art form, putting men—sometimes literally—into women's shoes. Therefore the goals of this paper are to compare the characteristics of each evolutionary stage in burlesque's development, its critiques, and the conditions in America when the form truly thrives in order to see the liberating and subversive potentials of the art form, as well as its shortcomings.


© Kacey Allyn Pennington

Campus Only