with slideshow: Ann Arbor's Tickled Fancy Burlesque Company hopes to grow beyond burlesque
The Tickled Fancy Burlesque Company, "Ann Arbor's only burlesque and vaudevillian entertainment," is moving beyond burlesque. Gradually.
Founded in 2007 from the basements of its founding members, the troupe has grown from five members to 13, consisting of 11 females and 2 guys.
Despite relying largely on word-of-mouth and its online presence to generate publicity, Tickled Fancy was named Current magazine's "number one performance group" 2 years running. Its monthly shows regularly draw 250-plus people to the Blind Pig, or the State Theater, or Ypsilanti's Elbow Room.
Now that the burlesque company has something of a following and has attained some accolades, it feels comfortable to take more risks, said Mabel Syrup, troupe manager and founding member. This will entail adding a trapeze act and more of a circus element to its shows.
"We've been moving beyond burlesque for some time," Mabel said. "When we started, it was classical burlesque — the Bettie Page stuff, with a big emphasis on the tease aspect. Now there's more of a vaudeville element. We knew pretty early on we were too creative to just do burlesque."
Mabel, who did not want her real name printed for the sake of privacy, said that none of the troupe's members get paid. That's how they prefer it, for the time being, as the proceeds of its shows go back into renting practice space, buying materials and transportation to out-of-town shows.
"Everyone's here because they want to be," Mabel said, "and that's when you get people's best work."
Last Friday, Tickled Fancy held a fundraiser at Hathaway's Hideaway, in the old Third Ward Building, for its effort to buy a trapeze rig. Mabel Syrup said that 1 of the troupe's goals this year is to incorporate more of a circus element in its shows.
Friday night's fundraiser, a dance party with cheap drinks, merchandise, and a kissing booth, raised about $600 toward the $3,000 the company needs to get its trapeze act up and running. That will open doors for the troupe that brands itself as more than burlesque.
Several of the company's performers have already begun training at the Detroit Fly House in anticipation of the new trapeze.
But once the trapeze is bought and paid for, Tickled Fancy will have another problem on its hands: finding a local venue spacious enough to actually use it.
Its normal venues probably aren't big enough. For a time the trapeze might be more of a staple of its traveling shows in larger venues.
The Power Center and Hill Auditorium might work; whether such venues would accept a burlesque act is another matter. That's part of the reason Tickled Fancy is looking to expand beyond the burlesque label and the stigma that comes with it.
"Circus is easier to promote than burlesque," Mabel explained. "Sex is so common; what we offer is sex appeal, which is much more interesting and less limiting."
"We do a lot more than just take our clothes off," Mabel added. "And once we get the trapeze we're going to be doing even more."
The Tickled Fancy Burlesque Company will hold its next show, its annual Fable and Fantasies show, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 8 at the State Theater.
James David Dickson can be reached at JamesDickson@AnnArbor.com.