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The Flamingo Revue Marks Five Years Reviving Charlotte’s Burlesque Scene

Anniversary show scheduled for Visulite Theatre on April 6

 

A burlesque performer onstage
Silver Kitsune performs at Flamingo Revue’s ‘Rising’ show. (Photo by Josh Faggart)

The Visulite Theatre spotlight comes down on Shirley Sweet, gracefully swaying to the timeless jazz rendition of “Pink Panther” as she slowly and cheekily sheds her handmade pink costume to reveal tassel pasties and a glittery thong underneath her fuzzy boa.

For those whose knowledge of burlesque doesn’t stray further than Christina Aguilera and Cher’s 2010 film Burlesque — not the most accurate depiction, by all accounts — burlesque is an art form where the human body is used to convey stories. Performers depict satire, political statements or personal narratives through their songs, costumes and characters.

“[Burlesque is] people recognizing that they can use their own body, their own talent to make statements and empower themselves,” said Troy Thresher, co-producer and emcee with The Flamingo Revue, a burlesque troupe based in Charlotte.

Established on April 6, 2019, The Flamingo Revue started as a way for friends to have fun together, explained Thresher. It was never meant to be what it turned into: a post-pandemic catalyst for the revival of burlesque in Charlotte.

In the lead-up to its fifth anniversary Greatest Hits show scheduled for April 6 at Visulite, we spoke to a number of Flamingo Revue performers and organizers about how they have since made it their mission to cultivate burlesque in the Queen City.

Bringing burlesque back

Around 2009, the burlesque scene in Charlotte was scarce. There was a larger troupe in town called Mandyland, but it served more as a variety show that featured some burlesque.

The few smaller shows and individual performances in the city were monthly gigs, nothing like New York, where you can catch a show on every other corner some nights. Even other North Carolina cities like Raleigh, Asheville and Durham housed a vibrant burlesque scene, so what made Charlotte different?

“In terms of the larger North Carolina burlesque scene, Charlotte, at the time, was kind of an afterthought,” Thresher said.

“I think that maybe somebody just needed to want to build it,” added Sweet.

A burlesque performer onstage
Shirley Sweet performs during a Flamingo Revue show. (Photo b Josh Faggart)

 

The Flamingo Revue team — affectionately referred to as “the Flock” — heeded that call. A main goal in establishing the Flamingo Revue in 2019 was to turn Charlotte into a burlesque hub, attracting national and international industry professionals. Over the past five years, they’ve made great bounds in accomplishing that goal.

Many burlesque troupes and performers couldn’t survive the pandemic because their venues shut down, but the Revue weathered the pandemic and came out stronger, Thresher said.

The troupe put on virtual shows for a low fee during the height of COVID-19, and when restrictions started lifting, the Revue supported local venues by hosting virtual benefit shows at local dives like Hatties, Petra’s and Tommy’s Pub to support the venues.

“Right now is the first time that Charlotte has seen such growth in our industry, where we have a lot more performers who are actively performing [and] booking,” Shirley said.

Edie Edison, associate producer and performer with Flamingo Revue, told Queen City Nerve the scene is growing because of the troupe’s regular shows, both large and small, bringing in outside talent to build connections and cultivate the evolution of the community in Charlotte.

“It’s small but mighty,” Edison said of the city’s burlesque community. “It’s definitely growing … [but] having one group and little baby shows sprinkled around to fill the void is still not enough to create the consistency of a scene.”

Prior to burlesque’s comeback in Charlotte, Sweet, Edison and other burlesque performers were taking most of their shows out of town, needing to travel to perform.

A burlesque performer onstage
Edie Edison performs at a Flamingo Revue show. (Photo by Kris Engelhart)

This is why Sweet believes that, as big of a city as Charlotte is, it deserves to have a creative space to showcase different forms of art without leaving city limits.

That includes variety within the burlesque genre. With Flock members plucked from across the country performing in solo shows, each person brings their own expertise and niche talents from their experiences outside of the troupe.

“I look up to the Flamingo Revue because we genuinely do have this amazing blend of individuals, because that’s not true with every troupe,” Edison said.

In a recent show in Philadelphia, Edison’s performance in a classic burlesque show fed the crowd only a sliver of what is available to them in the art form.

“Whereas with [the Revue’s] shows … each show is going to be very unique,” she explained. “You’re going to be seeing a lot of different types of performances that you wouldn’t get from every typical show.”

Sterling Maxwell, a drag king out of Raleigh, performed an emotionally vulnerable piece about coming to terms with their gender identity in a show called “Rising” in 2021.

A burlesque performer onstage
Mona Loverly performs during a Flamingo Revue show. (Photo by Josh Faggart)

Thresher said audience members approached Sterling after the show in tears, saying Sterling gave them perspective on their own internal struggles.

This is not a singular experience. In the same way music and different art forms speak to those who partake, burlesque and its performers evoke powerful emotions from their audience, Thresher said.

“My favorite part of burlesque is that you are watching somebody’s one-man production,” said Ebony Delight, a Knoxville-based performer. “They made their costumes. They designed their act, they’ve done their choreography. They picked their music, they made their own mixes. This is one person’s full production of themselves.”

Empowered performers empower audiences

The culmination of individual pieces of identity makes for a show that is always different but with one constant: empowered performers empower their audience.

Delight called it a transference of energy between performer and audience, each feeding off of and gaining conviction from the other. “They don’t even realize that that’s what they’re doing,” she said. “They’re just swapping this energy back and forth and they feel rejuvenated after the show. It’s a fantastic experience.”

“It’s like shedding your skin,” Revue member Ducky Delight said about performing. “It’s like all of your flaws, they’re gone. They’re not there because that’s not what people are seeing and that’s not what you’re feeling.”

Ducky Delight (Photo by Rick Dingwall)

As a plus-sized performer, Ducky never saw their body represented on stage, so she decided to become the representation they wanted to see.

“All bodies are burlesque bodies,” she said. “I can show other big-bodied people that [they’re] sexy and [they’re] worthy of being naked and being adored.”

Ebony and Ducky have both been on the receiving end of their audience’s genuine love and gratitude, each with their own stories of crowd members thanking them for giving them confidence simply by having the courage to be seen.

Crowd members look on during a Flamingo Revue show. (Photo by Josh Faggart)

Ebony noted how one-sided entertainment can be; there is a constant expectation that only certain bodies are meant to appear on stage. Burlesque challenges those conventional beauty standards.

“In burlesque, it can be anyone,” Ebony said. “If you have the drive and the push to put something on a stage, you can be on that stage.”

After her troupe in Knoxville lost their venues due to the pandemic, Ebony joined the mass of individual performers traveling the U.S. for gigs and festivals.

In her experience, troupe environments can feel insular and isolating after being around the same people all of the time.

“I love how [the Flamingo Revue] are completely willing to evolve into more but not push it, it feels very natural,” she said.

“They bring other people in … and they want people to see other types of burlesque outside of even their troupe.”

Thresher told Queen City Nerve that Charlotte needs to know these experiences are out there for them, waiting to be consumed by a wider audience.

“It’s an art form that I don’t think people expect to love as much as they’ll love it once they see it,” Ebony said.

“On the surface, burlesque is so much fun. It’s an entertaining experience,” added Shirley Sweet. “But under all the rhinestones, burlesque is an important art form … [that] celebrates diversity, promotes body positivity, challenges societal norms and provides a platform for expression and empowerment.”

One hell of a future

The fifth anniversary event titled Greatest Hits, commemorated by an appropriately dramatic countdown clock on the Revue’s website, will be held on April 6, the same day Flamingo Revue launched its first show five years ago.

“In many ways, it very much feels like a celebration not just of what the Revue’s accomplished, but where our local burlesque scene is now,” Thresher said.

Performers will bring back favorite acts from the past five years and beyond, per request from producers and fans alike, for one night only, bringing talent from Chicago, Knoxville and Atlanta.

Lucy Risqué (Photo by Kris Engelhart)

According to the Revue’s website, the show will feature acts “from classic to gritty, dinosaurs to pizza and everything in between.” The momentum built in the past five years will not end with the Greatest Hits show.

In November 2025, Thresher and his fellow Flock members hope to host the Buzz City Burlesque Festival, welcoming nationally and internationally recognized burlesque entertainers and instructors to share knowledge and deepen connections within the industry.

According to Sweet, not only will the festival allow Charlotte performers and audiences to learn from burlesque professionals through classes and workshops, but will introduce global talent to our city, furthering the Flamingo Revue’s goal of turning Charlotte into a burlesque hub.

“We’re not the only game in town, there are other shows,” Shirley said. “There’s a lot of [burlesque] here and I think that people just need to know that it’s here in order to find it.”

Silver Katsune (Photo by Josh Faggart)

Some newcomers already have. In the fall of 2023, the Revue held a five-week burlesque course called Flight School, with participants performing in a premier up-and-coming talent show called Taking Off. The performance oversold and became the Revue’s highest value per act they’ve ever had.

Thresher said the success and excitement built up from previous and upcoming performances shows the art form has “one hell of a future in this city.”

The sky’s the ceiling for Flamingo Revue as they continue to reach more audience members from around the Charlotte area.

Besides, as Ducky Delight eloquently put it: “Who doesn’t love glitter?”


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