By Mason Johnson
Gorilla Tango Theatre
1919 N. Milwaukee Ave.
What does the word burlesque bring to mind? The “hit” movie starring Christina Aguilera and Cher? Scenes from dad’s favorite spaghetti western where a woman sings, dances and slowly takes off her clothes on a saloon stage as gunslingers hoot and holler?
Hopefully it doesn’t make you think of either. Hopefully it makes you think of burlesque at Gorilla Tango Theatre — some of Chicago’s best burlesque.
Let’s be perfectly clear: in Chicago, burlesque is some of the funniest, most intelligent entertainment you can find on a stage. On the outside, it’s often exaggerated and goofy parody and satire at its best. Below the surface, you’ll find a more subtle current tugging and pulling complex ideas of gender and sexuality off the stage and sticking them comfortably into the audience’s minds.
Gorilla Tango is really good at burlesque. They parody the obsessions of nerds: Star Wars, Mario, Indiana Jones and more. They do this because they themselves are nerds (who doesn’t love nerds?). With these parodies, Gorilla Tango is able to make some of the most absurd and enjoyable shows, sneaking in bits of meaningful wherever they please. Their newest show is a parody of Doctor Who, the fifty-year-old British Sci-Fi television show that just refuses to die.
Which is good. It’s one of my favorite shows.
Dialing my Doctor Who nerdiness down as much as possible, I politely asked director Katherine Seigal a few questions about Gorilla Tango’s Doctor Who parody, showing every Friday until the end of May and aptly named “Don’t Blink” (after 2007’s Doctor Who episode “Blink”). Here’s what she had to say…
Mason: Why Doctor Who?
Katherine: Why not Doctor Who? Like all good parody, our show is coming from a place of affection. Everyone in our cast and crew is a Doctor Who fan. And with such a wonderful, long history and the show’s recent turn towards a more serious tone, it gives us an awesome foundation to produce a show with both comedy and social commentary.
How do you go about creating a burlesque parody of pop culture?
Like any project you start with your source material. Between everyone working on this show, we’ve probably logged thousands of hours watching and re-watching episodes of Doctor Who, reading interviews with the cast, and talking to other Doctor Who fans. From there it’s a combination of distilling the show down to its essence and narrowing down those specific things that make people love Doctor Who. We really had to ask ourselves what is Doctor Who about and more importantly what does Doctor Who say to us as a creative team. The answers to those questions let us know what kind of adventures we want to send the Doctor and his companions to confront. Finally, and I’m pretty sure this is everyone’s favorite part, we go back to those specific things that we love as Doctor Who fans and try to find fun and inventive ways to make them part of the story we’re telling.
What kind of Doctor Who history does the show touch on? Can you list an example or two of how you parody Doctor Who?
“Don’t Blink: A Doctor Who Burlesque” is an incredibly ambitious show that addresses the eras of four different Doctors. We focus on Baker, Eccelston, Tennant, and Smith, but really savvy fans will also find jokes and references to other Doctors. One of the aspects of this show that I love the most is how far we stretch the definition of parody. Of course there’s comedic parody, roller skating Daleks battling stairs and Doctor 11 recognizing just how hard it is to get 9 and 10 to cooperate when there’s a girl involved, but we also reach into the often neglected realm of dramatic parody. One of the show’s many high points comes from a rather serious performance by an Ood discovering the beauty and joy inherent in being a woman. It’s a beautiful number that really serves to highlight the parallels between the Ood’s journey of self discovery and the struggles that all women face in trying to discover their own inner beauty.
Are there British accents in the show? Is it hard to do burlesque with a British accent?
Absolutely there are accents! It wouldn’t be Doctor Who without British accents. It’s just one more awesome element that makes this show stand out from other burlesque performances.
“Don’t Blink” is showing now until the end of May at Gorilla Tango Theatre. Check it out.