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The 3rd Annual Burlesque Extravaganza is a Safe Space for Sex and Creativity

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There may soon be a glitter and rhinestone shortage in San Francisco. Why? For the third year in a row, over 30 local burlesque performers will convene for the annual Burlesque Extravaganza at EXIT Theatre. It’s all going down March 18-21.

As a frequent patron and performer at EXIT Theatre, take it from me: You don’t want to miss the opportunity to attend any kind of festival at this friendly indie theater complex.

Burlesque performer Ifn Whendy. credit: Mariah Carle

Started in 2018 by busy local performer and producer Red Velvet, Burlesque Extravaganza is a weekend full of all kinds of burlesque performances, both classic and boundary-pushing. “We try to bring diversity onto the stage at The EXIT” Red Velvet says, “because sexy comes in all different shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and pronouns. So many audience members never see anyone that looks like them represented as sexy. But I want to change that. Because we are all sexy.”

With a wide variety of themes, there’s something to suit any taste at this festival. Shows include All About the ’80s (which is predominantly 1980’s themes, but has a couple of surprises from other centuries); Silly Strips Laughs Again; Flora, Fauna, and Fantasy, and even an Improv Contest. You can imagine how much fun that last one is for both the performers and the audience. And, if you’re feeling inspired, they even have a full day of workshops anyone can attend.

A “Shining” themed burlesque act by Odessa Lil Photo credit: Jeffrey Gullett

One might wonder how you can have an entire festival of burlesque acts without it getting repetitive – how many times can you watch someone take their clothes off? But the fact is that burlesque is a genre that has not only evolved into an empowering medium, it also has become one of the most creatively free mediums out there. Over the years I’ve seen many burlesque acts, and although they often end roughly the same way (with some kind of thong and/or pasties reveal), no two are the same. Between the different styles, body types and themes, the possibilities are endless.

Performer Dola Belles Photo credit: Rasilind Berks

Although it can be difficult to understand how stripping off layers of clothing is empowering, according to Red Velvet it all has to do with the unique relationship between the burlesque performer and their audience: “Media and others often tell womxn that we are not enough. That we need to be something we are not. (It often tells men the same thing, but in different ways, which is also problematic.) Burlesque isn’t about that. Burlesque is about being yourself. About speaking your mind, giving your message, sharing what and who you are. It is both vulnerable and empowering, because we create our acts, we share ourselves, we open ourselves up to the audience. But on our terms. On the performer’s terms. And so, you get variety. You get silly, and sexy, and sometimes you get sad and angry, because we are not silenced on the burlesque stage.”

And what about the future of burlesque? Red Velvet believes it should be normalized, even in places other than the bubble of acceptance in San Francisco: “Embracing our sexuality is NORMAL. Appreciating bodies in a safe atmosphere should be NORMAL. Wonderful, yes, but still normal. I want people to embrace burlesque, to enjoy burlesque, and to stop being afraid of what burlesque brings to the table. Because we don’t need to be afraid of our own or others’ sexuality.” I couldn’t agree more.


Burlesque Extravaganza runs March 18-21 at EXIT Theatre, right near Powell BART Station, with shows at 8pm. Workshops run from 10am to 5:30pm on March 21st– find the full schedule here. Individual tickets are $20-$40 and can be purchased here.


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Genie Cartier is a San Francisco native. She graduated from UCLA with a BA in English/ Creative Writing and earned an MFA in Creative Writing/ Poetry from SFSU. Check out her novella Fog City Summer on this website. When not writing, she is also a professional circus performer of 24 years and will be directing Dark Side of the Circus, a circus choreographed to Pink Floyd, in April 2020. Find out more at