Holy Thursday will take on a whole new divine significance, as Quad Cities burlesque fans can worship the area’s longest-running burlesque troupe, Bottoms Up Quad City Burlesque, with a special show at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse.
BU is celebrating their 10th anniversary with three shows — the first on April 14 at 7 p.m. on the main stage (1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island), and two April 15-16 at their normal home next door, the Circa ’21 Speakeasy (1818 3rd Ave.).
Bottoms Up Burlesque (now hosted by Steve Jennings, after many years by Josh Kahn) was formed in 2012 with performers who had previously been part of Danielle Colby’s former Burlesque Le’ Mustache troupe.
“From their first show on April 27, 2012, Bottoms Up has connected with local and regional audiences and have sold out many of their shows,” said Brett Hitchcock, Circa ’21’s director of audience development. “Bottoms Up Burlesque has been a very important part of the success story of The Speakeasy. Their shows not only draw audiences from the greater Quad Cities, but the entire Midwest!
“It’s really a testament to the time, energy and talent they put into all their shows,” Hitchcock said. “They have become a regional destination for burlesque fans. I think the big reason for their success is at the very core of their mission statement — to promote body positivity for both women and men. It doesn’t matter what you look like, as long as you are comfortable in your own skin. This is a positive message that everyone can understand and appreciate.”
Over the years, the troupe has brought in guest performers from across the United States. They also have introduced many award-winning burlesque performers to Q-C audiences.
This is just the third time BU has hosted a show on the Circa stage, said Mac DeVille, one of the founders and the event organizer: This is the first time they’ve had a three-day festival.
“I wanted to flood the Quad Cities with as much burlesque history and future as possible. It takes more days to accomplish that,” she said recently.
Guest performers are mainly from the Midwest, and headliners have performed with Bottoms Up before.
“It’s really exciting,” DeVille said. “There are a couple people that have never performed with us, but like have been to shows, or we’ve been performing with them. Mostly, it’ll be just a big party of long-lost friendships.”
The troupe is set to welcome Lilly Rascal and Lady Ginger, from Chicago; Coco Dupree, from Minneapolis; Ebony Reign, from Des Moines; Captain Sin Big, from Decatur; Bawdy Bawdy Ha Ha, Ginny Tonic and Magenta Moxie from Iowa City; Iona Fortune, from Omaha and Johan Makeyamoan from Denver.
Lady Ginger is “just the sweetest person imaginable,” DeVille said. “I look up to her so much. I sent her the invite and she said, ‘Oh my goodness, that would be so nice for me.'” She’s also excited to welcome Calvin Climax from the QC’s Taboo Burlesque.
With the number of guest performers, this will be the least number of group routines the troupe will present, she noted. “A lot of highlights,” DeVille said.
“We have pretty much one performer from every local group,” she added. “I made a lot of effort to be like, let me try to get representation. But it’s a weird time of year.”
She also didn’t realize this was Easter weekend until a couple weeks ago. “A lot of people had scheduling things, family, out of town, things like that,” DeVille said.
The Circa show being on a Thursday night helps, since most burlesque troupes don’t perform that night (Thursday is an off night for Circa’s main productions). There will be between 15 and 20 total performers on the 14th, with less than half regular BU members.
“It’s Bottoms Up 10-year anniversary., but it’s taken a lot of people to get us here — other performers, a lot of support, advice,” DeVille said. “So as much as possible, we put out spots for everyone else, and wherever else we could squeeze our little rhinestone selves in, we popped in one or two of us.”
Every night will be different
The entire weekend is stacked with guest performers, she noted, and every night will be different. DeVille will be at all three nights, and has written and produced many of the routines.
It’s fun for them to perform in the main theater, since it’s much larger than The Speakeasy (330 seats versus 125) and its grand 1921 atmosphere.
“It’s just a bigger space, with a lot of bold, beautiful, creepy energy in it,” DeVille said. “Just the grandiose of the stage itself is different. And to crossover our audience from The Speakeasy, we have a tendency to be neo-burlesque, and so on the Circa stage, we do more classic burlesque. Their audience has a better palette for understanding, but then we slide in some random spicy things here and there.”
She likes to pay homage to the iconic images of burlesque, including from the ’20s, through the ’60s and ’70s. DeVille also appreciates having fancier lighting equipment at Circa to work with.
Moxie Rhodes of East Moline is especially excited to be part of the festivities, since she hasn’t done burlesque since before the pandemic, and never at Circa.
“It’s a totally different stage; the vibes are totally different on that stage,” she said. “It reminds me of the Cliff Bell’s in Detroit, a very old theater…I am thrilled to death to come back. It’s like a lost love — I can’t wait to do this.
“It’s literally a built-up tension,” Rhodes said of burlesque. “You have a love of the stage; I’ve always been a ham, and not being able to fill that void doesn’t make me feel like myself. Let’s do this.”
Rhodes started doing burlesque in 2006 in Madison, Wis., and soon found herself being booked nationality and eventually internationally. She was invited to perform at the Burlesque Hall of Fame (Las Vegas) in 2011 for their “Movers and Shakers” feature and in 2014, got to perform at the Jamaican Burlesque Festival at Hedonism 2, which was a career highlight.
“Now with COVID fading into the background, I’ll take the stage again at Circa ’21 on the big stage with other featured guest stars such as Lilly Rascal (Chicago), Coco Dupree (Minneapolis), Lady Ginger (Chicago) and Drop Dead Red (QC),” Rhodes said by email.
“I just enjoy showing up and being able to do it. It’s a ton of work,” she said recently. “I have a ton of respect for Mac.”
Rhodes has performed occasionally with Bottoms Up over the years, as they’ve featured many guests. Usually, BU has gone from 6 to 17 performing members, and tried to be as inclusive as possible — including men and women, different age groups, and non-binary.
“We do heavy-themed productions,” DeVille said. “This was great, because we have no themes.”
“It’s always exciting to do something somewhere you’re normally not allowed to do it,” she said. “Especially for those of us who are rebels. They don’t normally do panties and pasties there. There’s a bit of a thrill in that aspect of it. And any time you get to perform in front of more than 50 people, that’s exciting. That adds a lot of extra energy.”
The size of the theater doesn’t affect how the burlesque performers do their act, Rhodes said.
“You perform the same way as you’d perform in a tiny, punk-rock club bar,” she said.
“We are working with a bunch of wonderful, seasoned performers,” DeVille said. “Honestly, as long as everyone is performing their most sincere, it will be enough.”
Emerging from the pandemic
The troupe didn’t do much livestreaming of shows during the pandemic, since streaming would have been good for BU, but not good for the bar business, DeVille said. “It was always a delicate game trying to figure out how to keep the theater going, keep the troupe going, to make everyone a little bit of money.”
BU got back in person at the beginning of 2021, and typically perform every other month. As soon as the state allowed full-capacity audiences back, BU saw full audiences, since people were anxious to get out, DeVille said.
“That was one of the coolest things — I was hosting a Manscape show at half-capacity, the first time coming back and everyone was in their masks,” she recalled. “Everyone was beaming, wagging their happy little tails to be out and about. It was so cool, ready to follow whatever rule they had to, to be out again.”
The biggest difference between modern burlesque and stripping is that burlesque dancers create a character, put on (and take off) a costume, have more makeup, and exude strong personalities, DeVille said.
She works full-time as a stylist in the Village of East Davenport, and Rhodes works for a medical collections agency.
DeVille likes to blur the lines between male and female in her performances, including being the Gunslinger in a Stephen King-themed Halloween show in October 2019.
“I do like taking those moments and mess with the audience’s minds, just a little bit,” she said, noting she’s also worn a beard in burlesque.
Rhodes has also dressed up as an androgynous Uncle Sam.
Doors for the special Thursday show at Circa ’21 open at 6 p.m. and the show begins at 7. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 the day of the show. Food will be available for purchase.
On Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16, BU moves back to The Speakeasy to continue the celebration. Friday the troupe will be offering a male burlesque revue and on Saturday, all your favorite current Bottoms Up performers and some of your past favorites will make a special appearance.
Tickets for all shows may be reserved by calling 309-786-7733, ext. 2. Tickets for the Friday/Saturday shows are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the show. The doors open at 7 p.m. and show is at 8 for both of those shows.