The Virginia Burlesque & SideShow Festival returns for its third act

by | May 22, 2015 | ART

The third annual Virginia Burlesque and Sideshow Festival has returned and it brings with it Boylesque, Queerlesque and of course, burlesque.

The third annual Virginia Burlesque and Sideshow Festival has returned and it brings with it Boylesque, Queerlesque and of course, burlesque.

The event takes place May 29th-31st at the RVA Event Space at 1 E. 4th St. and includes performances as well as workshops for aspiring burlesque performers.

Onca O’Leary, a.k.a “Madame” Onka O’Leary is the organizer of the event, and she’s no stranger to the burlesque stage. Since Burlesque is about challenging norms, both gender and other wise, O’Leary said Richmond is the perfect place to make that statement.

“Richmond has a really dynamic burlesque and side show scene that I’m really grateful for, so I try to build on that energy and bring in folks from the field that might not have the opportunity to stop in and see what we’ve got,” O’Leary said.

“There’s a strong progressive community here, I think that may be a response to Richmond not always being ahead of the curve on history, so there is a big trend to join the world culture of deliberation and conscious thought let’s say,” she said. “Plus there is a, dare I say it, a rebellious spirit in Richmond that makes people pursue what they love with passion.”

O’Leary views burlesque as more than just a performance. To her, it has an important message and that’s what she hopes she can bring to Richmond.

“What draws me to burlesque and side show is the empowerment angle,” she said. “Not everybody approaches burlesque that way, but I definitely do.”

“The modern burlesque movement is definitely do it yourself, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, it’s made by the artist for the artist. I think the whole international community is amazed to see that it’s become kind of main stream. Burlesque exists in part to create a soap box or a showcase for all body types and alternative mindsets.”

O’Leary explained the word burlesque in Italian means “Satire.” It started out as a comedy and still very much has its roots in humor. However, like any good satire, burlesque is meant to have a message.

“In the ’40s, burlesque came to be a never ending cat walk girly show,” she said. “At its best and at its roots it was the motion of the social send up, people being able to use the platform of burlesque to challenge social values.”

In recent years burlesque has branched off to embrace all members of the community. Boylesque and queerlesque are two relatively new forms of burlesque that O’Leary is very excited about including in her show.

“I’m really committed to the queerlesque component which is to say that burlesque can be by all people and for all people,” she said. “Which means it can look like lots of things, so we have a really cool act I am excited to present this year which is Bella Donna and Ken Vegas. They are a gender bending couple from DC.”

The three-night event will include a bevy of acts and performers including an aerial perfomer named Sadie Hawkins, a burlesque comedy improve show called “The Glitter Dome” and the great grandfather of side show; James Taylor.

“My gift to Richmond this year is James Taylor,” O’Leary said. “He is America’s side show historian; he is like the grand old man of side show.”

“He is about a million years old, he has giant mutton chops,” she added. “If you read any book or watch any documentary about side show he’s in it. Everything that’s in the palace of wonders in DC is his. He owns so much stuff. He owns the unicorn that traveled with the circus for so many years; he owns all the old sideshow banners. He really is the care taker of the physical history as well as the stories from the side show. It’s worth taking an hour out of your day to talk to him, he’s amazing.”

Tickets range from $15-$35. Grab yours here.

Amy David

Amy David

Amy David was the Web Editor for from May 2015 until September 2018. She covered craft beer, food, music, art and more. She's been a journalist since 2010 and attended Radford University. She enjoys dogs, beer, tacos, and Bob's Burgers references.

more in art

Dispatch From Cuba 2015

I wanted to give a bit of context for this piece. I was introduced to Bill one afternoon at the local watering hole by a mutual friend. Bill, a talented and experienced writer, shared some of his work with me, and I was interested to read more. When I asked if he had...

Richmond Named No. 1 ‘America’s Best Town To Visit’

CNN just crowned Richmond as the No. 1 best town to visit in the U.S. this year. CNN travel editors explored the country, searching for cities full of things to do, loads of personality, and not typically swarming with tourists. Richmond topped the list for several...

Milk River Arts: A Sanctuary of Creativity for Disabled Artists

After the death of his father and his retirement from the military, Aly Costanzo felt lost. That changed when his sister found Milk River Arts. “It gave me a purpose,” Costanzo said. “I really had no purpose. My sister found (founder Sally Kemp) for me, and Sally...

‘VASK8R’ | Starting Over at the Local Roller Rink

The rules are simple: don't get in anyone’s way and try to look good while doing it. The warehouse off Williamsburg Blvd mimics many of the same buildings near the Richmond International Airport. But on Wednesday night, when many of the local businesses have locked...