How These Nerd-Burlesque Pioneers Have Kept It Fresh for Fans for a Decade
Last year, the monthly burlesque show Peepshow Menagerie hit a snag. Scarlett Letter, the show’s co-founder and co-producer, moved out of state. Fellow co-founder Chris Beyond was trying to run the production on his own, but managing the rotating cast of performers, plus opening bands and other entertainers, is a job for more than one person. “I was kind of in a bad place,” Beyond says by phone.
That’s when Angie Cakes, a regular Peepshow Menagerie performer since 2009, stepped up to help. “I knew Chris was struggling because the show was starting to suffer a little bit without Scarlett there,” she says by phone. She reminded Beyond that, if he need help, she was there. Then, last August, he asked her if she would co-produce. She said yes. “Maybe it’s because I’m a little selfish, I have invested way too much into this show with themes and the costumes,” she says. “I didn’t want them to go away.”
Peepshow Menagerie, which will celebrate its tenth anniversary on August 17, is the longest running monthly burlesque show in Los Angeles. That’s no easy feat, but Peepshow Menagerie has an advantage in that it’s a show that draws influences from multiple subcultures. You could call it a “nerd burlesque” show and that would be accurate. After all, they’re biggest hit is the Harry Potter send-up Cherry Potter and the Wizards of Burlesque. That theme is such a hit that it spawned a spinoff, Vamptastic Beasts and Where to Tease Them, which they’ll be performing for the anniversary show. But, their themes also draw from kitschy B-movies (Burlesque Orgy of the Dead), ’80s and ’90s alternative music (tributes to Morrissey and Depeche Mode), and cats (Kitty Grabs Back). They have worked with touring shows too, like the “Weird Al” Yankovic tribute “Al-Stravaganza.” Peepshow Menagerie taps into the unexpected, the places where you don’t think burlesque will go.
Even stille, in a city where there’s no shortage of things to do, keeping crowds excited isn’t easy. “I think one of our biggest challenges is that our competition isn’t really other burlesque shows, for the most part, it’s L.A. itself,” says Beyond. Take for example the time that their popular David Bowie-themed show fell on the same night that mega-hit Black Panther hit theaters. Beyond recalls thinking, “Oh, great, this show is going to do terrible.” It didn’t. “Only Bowie can survive against Black Panther, he says, adding, “Which I would like to see in comic form, by the way, because you know they would end up fighting together.”
Beyond came to burlesque through journalism. Back in the late ’90s and early ’00s, he helmed No-Fi “Magazine,” which covered music and culture. His work covering the burlesque scene led to hosting shows himself. When he decided to produce his own show, finding a partner was a bit difficult. “I asked my producer friends. They weren’t into this crazy idea of nerdy burlesque that I wanted to do because that wasn’t the norm back then,” he says. Then he contacted Scarlett Letter, with whom he had co-hosted shows in the past. She was down. Beyond had two ideas that he wanted to see on stage: a David Lynch tribute and a Disneyland parody. Both happened during Peepshow Menagerie’s first year.
Cakes caught her first Peepshow Menagerie in 2009. Her own background was in the nightclub world—she was a go-go dancer for Miss Kitty’s Parlor—but Peepshow Menagerie sucked her into the world of burlesque. A couple months later, she made her debut with the troupe. “I’m a very loyal performer,” she says. “Once I find someone that I like performing with, I’m yours. I will be completely loyal to you.”
“And it was a two-way street,” Beyond adds. “We really liked working with Angie all the time. She got the spirit of it right away. She got that we were doing this weird version of burlesque.”
Peepshow Menagerie evolved inside multiple Los Angeles venues before settling at Fais Do Do, where it lived from 2012 until this summer. After scheduling issues led to the cancellation of the troupe’s July show, they decided to make another move. The August show is Peepshow’s first at downtown’s Iron Triangle Brewing Company. The producers are excited about the new location, noting that the venue has a speakeasy vibe that works well with the Vamptastic Beasts performance.
The anniversary performance also marks Peepshow Menagerie’s 151st main show. They’ve also produced numerous smaller productions, like a recent appearance at horror convention Midsummer Scream. Says Beyond, “We’ve seen a lot of people come through our shows.”
Peepshow Menagerie’s Vamptastic Beasts and Where to Tease Them, Fri., Aug. 17, 9 p.m.; Iron Triangle Brewing, 1581 Industrial St., downtown