Big Top Burlesque

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Big Top Burlesque


As Burlesque continues its resurgence, we  see performers stretch in a variety of directions

As burlesque continues to ride the wave of its resurgence in Australia, we are also starting to see performers stretch the genre in a variety of directions, from gorelesque to explorations of politics to integrating elements of vaudeville in their acts.

“The Burlesque revival has been booming for over a decade all over the world and continues to go through cycles,” says ‘King of Burlesque’ Chaz Royal. “It shows no signs of slowing down.”

Chaz Royal a.k.a. Mark Henderson is the brains and producer behind Big Top Burlesque Follies, which will be making its way to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane from October 15 to 17. The show is a mash up of circus sideshow stunts, sexy carnival showgirls as well as honours the true tradition of vaudeville by incorporating a good dose of old-time dry and witty comedy and thought-provoking entertainment.

18 years ago, Royal was better known as Henderson, a promoter and booker for music and live events. “To be honest, [there’s] not much difference at all [between Royal and Henderson] as even before Chaz Royal was formed I was very much into retro pin ups, burlesque, vintage music and niche underground forms of entertainment.” However, it wasn’t until less than a decade ago that he created the name ‘Chaz Royal’ and started focusing solely on producing burlesque shows.

“I stumbled upon some old stag reels at my local late night video store when living in Toronto in the late ‘90s,” explains Royal. “By 2001, I had started to develop a plan to start Chaz Royal and book a North American tour for Canada’s first and foremost burlesque show, The Fluffgirl Burlesque Society from Vancouver.”

Since then, Royal has produced over 500 burlesque and variety shows, and is also responsible for creating the London Burlesque Festival, Amsterdam Burlesque Festival, and numerous other sell out road shows around the world. These days, ‘Chaz Royal’ doesn’t just refer to the man himself, but also to a reputable brand.

“Over the past 8 years of producing shows under this banner I’ve released hundreds of tour posters, dozens of T-shirt designs as well as a poster book and 3-D movie, Burlesque Vivo. Eventually I will take a departure from stage shows and develop merchandising lines for online and retail.” But for now, the focus is very much on Big Top Burlesque Follies, which features a range of ‘Big Top Talents’, emerging Australian burlesque dancers, and the mysterious, “twisted” ringmaster, Armitage Shanks.

“Armitage Shanks is an entertainer to be reckoned with!” says Royal. “He has the dark, satirical humour of a traditional, twisted ringmaster; the bold energy, charm and wit that could give any contemporary comedian a run for his money, and the true showmanship that will guarantee to keep the show flowing, commanding the attention of the crowd and running with it!”

Also joining the line up is Europe’s leading ‘Exotique’ Beeby Rose, whose repertoire includes oriental dance and classic burlesque. There there’s New Zealander, Magenta Diamond who will provide “an element of circus sideshow with her block head housewife routine”, and Lilikoi Kaos who will perform an extraordinary hula hoop act. Finally, from Australia, showgirls Sarina del Fuego, Dolores Daiquiri, Kelly Ann Doll, Lauren Larouge and more, make up the Big Top Burlesque Follies cast.

The show will include acrobatic acts, an old school carnival feel, sideshows, classic showgirls, and just the touch of carnival-goth from Armitage Shanks. “I have been producing similar events like the Sexy Circus Sideshow and Cirque du Exotique,” says Royal. “Where those events focused more on actual sideshow and circus, the Big Top Burlesque Follies is more of a circus inspired burlesque revue.” It is these innovative and unique ideas that have kept the King of Burlesque in the game, and sealed him as one of today’s top burlesque show producers.

“Burlesque allows me to be a creative producer, director, bringing together elements of dance, art and multimedia under one banner. It’s what you make it – DIY!” exclaims Royal.

However, with so many shows under his belt, how does he approach new productions? “From all angles,” he explains. “Usually I develop a theme with certain performers in mind and start booking venues, performers and draft artwork with my designer all at once. I produce and promote all of the events developing the theme and show top to bottom.”

Big Top Burlesque happens in Melbourne on October 15 at The Thornbury Theatre with two shows – a dinner show at 6pm and a late show at 9.30pm. Tickets are $22.50-$30, or for both dinner and show it’s $62.50-$75. For more info and ticket sales go to