If you walk into Streets of London on a Sunday night, you’ll see people getting naked. That may be enough to get you in the door, but you’ll want to stay for the music, the vibe, and the attitudes of the people who make it possible.
On any given Sunday, you will see people of all shapes and sizes, cis women, nonbinary individuals, trans folks, and men in drag, stripping down and collecting tips. Everyone who wants to partake in Punk Rock Burlesque is welcome; the only requirements are that acts should involve stripping in some way, and everyone needs to be body-positive, affirming, and inclusive.
“I honestly think that everyone is sexy, sexual, and deserves a platform to own that,” explained founder and MC Squeaky Springs. “That doesn’t mean that I want to have sex with everyone, but I hold the belief that everyone is sexy and there is power in our sexuality. There is a message we are sent in our culture, especially as marginalized groups, women, queer folks, people of color, to not have power in our bodies and to not take up space. I want our stage to be a place where people can take up space and put all of their size and color and body hair and sexuality and everything out there and be accepted.”
While this type of rhetoric is embraced by a lot of organizations, a quick survey of the people actually performing and being included reveals that PRB is actually living by what they preach. While they make it a point not to tokenize or specifically look for queer folks or minorities to join their cast, those looking for a place to fit in seem to be drawn to PRB.
“I just really make it well-known that this is an open-door policy,” Springs added. “I identify as queer, and so it’s really important to have a safe space that grows. I want people to be able to say to their friends that they are able to be here and be who they are and be accepted. I think it’s empowering, not just for the performers but for the audience, to have a safe space where they are not going to feel judged, and feel like they can express this side of sexuality.”
Originally formed as a punk rock bingo night in the Highlands, PRB slowly but surely added burlesque to the mix, eventually growing to be a burlesque show with punk rock or sex trivia at the end, after the performances. The show has also moved from Tennyson Tap to Streets of London on East Colfax, and the low lights and cheap drink specials in the punk bar make it the perfect setting for ethical sleaze.
As for the punk rock angle, music is a big part of burlesque and Springs identifies as punk, but the music isn’t always punk rock. They perform everything from punk to metal to Lana Del Rey and other beloved pop stars. She feels that the real importance of the word is the political connotation and not the music.
“Inclusivity is a very important part to me of how it all fits together, so not having this dogmatic idea that everyone has to be punk or listen to punk rock, but that it is the spirit of revolt, of counterculture, that you belong with us, is what it’s really about,” she explained. “Honestly if I had to do it over I may not call it Punk Rock Burlesque, but that’s still really important to me.”
The group embraces the punk ethos of standing up against society by advocating for and affirming nudity and sex work, while also speaking out about topical issues. It’s not unusual to find Springs or the fill-in MC making political references or statements, and pre-performance topics are often things like sex work awareness or gender deconstruction. And while they keep it bawdy, the MCs also make it a point to censor themselves, backpedaling with they accidentally use a slur, like “lame” in reference to something uncool.
Those involved with PRB don’t just stick around for the tips or drink discounts. They believe that being part of a troupe with a strong message is important.
“I’m a strong proponent of art as a form of protest, and my particular medium happens to be burlesque,” explained Parker Go Peep, one of the occasional performers and MCs. “Whereas some other gigs may have more structure around what types of acts they are looking for, PRB gives us the chance to exist in that space and moment, without any limitations on what we can do. It allows me to be my angriest, queerest, most Nasty Women self without any restrictions. This is a space that allows us to be whatever unconventional brand of sexy we are, and we’re allowed to be fucking proud of it. In this culture of self-loathing, that’s basically the punkest thing I’ve ever heard.”
In addition to seasoned burlesquers, those who are newer to the artform are welcomed into the fold. While it is helpful to newcomers that the group doesn’t hold auditions or weed anyone out, it is also important that those just starting out in a stripping profession feel safe to be themselves.
“I came to Punk Rock Burlesque and stayed because I felt included,” said Shel Silverslice, one of the newest troupe members who just started kittening for PRB. “The fact that they are really inclusive and want to make sure everyone feels welcome is something I want to be a part of, and something I felt really good about joining.”
“I initially was drawn by the values of PRB, especially the inclusivity,” added frequent performer Clitter Bell. “I truly respect and appreciate Squeaky and the other members for being outspoken about their values, and they back up their words with their actions. The threat of repercussions, especially for marginalized people, of being outspoken is difficult, and even dangerous, to overcome. I am proud to stand with a group that stands together against such harassment and cares so much for each other. I have found family in PRB; everyone is genuinely supportive. In the short time I’ve known them, I have been able to call on my new friends for help more than once.”
PRB takes place at 8 p.m. every Sunday at Streets of London. The show wraps up around 10 p.m., and trivia and games follow the performances.