When you hear the word burlesque, what comes to mind?
Some of us envision down and dirty night clubs populated by weary strippers clad in not much more than feather boas and G-strings. For most of the past century, burlesque has been synonymous with women doing a little bump and grind for mostly male audience members. Remember the musical "Gypsy?"
Well, Waxie Moon is here to smash those stereotypes. Waxie is the alter-ego of Marc Kenison. Kenison’s a tall, slim man, balding with a mustache and mutton chop sideburns. Kenison wears jeans and subdued cardigan sweaters. Waxie Moon prefers colorful tulle dresses, satin gloves and heels. Oh, along with the requisite boas and pasties.
"I call Waxie a gender-blending queer lady boylesque performance art solo stripping sensation," Kenison laughs.
That’s a mouthful!
Kenison created the character of Waxie Moon seven years ago when he took a burlesque class. Although Kenison wears women’s clothing when he performs boylesque (the informal term for men performing burlesque), he doesn’t consider himself a drag artist. To him, playing Waxie is an exploration of gender roles as much as it is portraying a particular character. "I’m like the weird uncle in the drag community," he explains.
When he performs as Waxie Moon, Kenison doesn’t disguise the fact that he’s male. His bald head, mustache and chest hair are perfectly evident to the audience, along with the makeup, high heels and fancy dress. Of course, once he strips off the gown and the gloves, Kenison’s gender is obvious.
In many ways, Waxie is the culmination of Marc Kenison’s decades of artistic experience. When Kenison left home for the Julliard School in New York, he had planned on a performance career that was a little more high brow than burlesque. "I thought I was going to be a ballet dancer," Kenison says.
But his Julliard teachers exposed the young man to a range of modern dance styles. After graduation, Kenison joined the acclaimed Jose Limon modern dance troupe. He toured the world with the company; Kenison even got to perform at the White House for the Clintons. But something just didn’t feel right. "I wanted to be dancing the women's roles," he says, not playing the leading man.
So Kenison quit Jose Limon and found work with edgier, less established choreographers. Some of them mixed text with movement, and Kenison was drawn to that theatrical element. He applied, and was accepted, to the University of Washington’s prestigious Professional Actors’ Training Program. Kenison assumed he’d go back to New York once he finished his master’s degree in Seattle. Instead, he and his classmates founded the Washington Ensemble Theater, a small fringe company located on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
For three years Kenison worked with his friends to create a body of new, often experimental, theater on a shoestring budget. They did everything themselves: acting, marketing, producing. The pressure took its toll. That’s when Kenison enrolled in the burlesque class to blow off a little steam.
"I’d always been aware of burlesque," he says, but, "I never thought I’d do it. I was a serious modern dancer, and an artist." In other words, a classically trained guy. But somehow, when Kenison transformed himself into Waxie Moon, it was like all the tumblers clicked into place. This was the artform he was meant to do. He started dancing and stripping, and he hasn’t really stopped.
Whether it’s due to his classical training, or his history as a more traditional artist, Kenison has taken Waxie to a wide array of performance venues. Seattle’s burlesque performers often take over the Triple Door for their revues. Kenison has also been on the bill several times at the contemporary performance art venue On The Boards.
Artistic Director Lane Czaplinski says new burlesque acts like Waxie Moon are perfectly at home at OTB. "I think, increasingly, statements people make within burlesque can be experimental, because of subject matter related to gender and sexuality." Sometime soon, Waxie Moon will make the leap from On The Boards to the stage at Seattle Repertory Theater, which has commissioned a new Waxie performance piece.
Marc Kenison says he doesn’t know how long he’ll continue to explore the character Waxie Moon, but he doesn’t think he’s tapped the potential. "I’d like to see Waxie play Nora in 'A Doll's House.'" He’s only half joking.