I meet up with Burlesque co-director Moriah Richardson at Lutkin Hall, the location of this year’s show. Currently, there is a lecture taking place and students staring at computer screens fill the seats. But in less than a month, the floor will be covered with glitter, the stage will be filled with girls wearing pasties, and bored students will be replaced with a lively crowd. “I think we really transform it and bring this energy to it that’s not necessarily always there,” Richardson says.
Richardson never intended to be a part of Burlesque, yet in the glitter-filled theater, she found a place that gave her confidence and inspiration. After ending a bad relationship during her freshman year, Richardson went to watch her friend perform in the Burlesque show. By the end of the last routine, tears filled her eyes. “You could feel the confidence radiating from the stage,” she says. “I knew I had to do it.” Although not entirely certain of her abilities, Richardson decided to audition for Burlesque her sophomore year. Now a senior, Richardson says her confidence has skyrocketed thanks to the strength and comfort that Burlesque has provided her with since then.
Burlesque aims to be a freeing environment where performers can express themselves through their bodies, according to Richardson. It is a space for people to push against society to “live their own truths.” Along with its rehearsals, Burlesque also holds confidence workshops to improve the performers’ self esteems. In one of these confidence workshops, performers write love poems to themselves in which they both reflect on their insecurities and highlight what gives them confidence.
“We all have the capability to love ourselves,” Richardson says. “It’s difficult but we can do it.”
Richardson, along with the rest of the Burlesque performers, wants to redefine the meaning of sexy. They are rebels in every sense of the word, not conforming to one definition of what society deems beautiful. The eclectic cast consists of people of all ages, shapes, races, ethnicities, gender identities and backgrounds. Burlesque gives a spot to anyone who auditions, allowing each member to choreograph their own routines however they wish. At 140 people, this year’s show has the biggest cast yet.
Richardson has used the space to discover herself and her confidence. Others have used to space to openly talk about depression, body image, and other taboo topics. “A lot of cast members joke about ‘Burlesque therapy’ because it is a good check-in for themselves,” she says. “People ask, ‘Why are you doing Burlesque?’ and they go, ‘Because I needed it. I needed this space. I needed to push myself to do this reflection.’”
After three years of being in such a welcoming space, Richardson says she feels like she has transformed into a more self-assured person. While she has yet to decide what her piece in this year’s show will be about, she hopes it will reflect her transformation and growth after an earth-trembling experience with sexual violence.
Richardson will be among several other performers living their truths this April. When Lutkin Hall is covered in glitter and the spotlight is shining centerstage, it is no longer a lecture hall-- it is a space of acceptance, love, and appreciation.
“Nobody is entitled to share this with you, but you’re allowed to be here, and we ask you to share this with us,” she says. “I want people to take on other people’s stories and other people’s happiness, and other people’s joy. I want them to be open to it. I want them to be honored by it. I want them to feel that radiation and realize their own capabilities to do that.”
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