Northwestern Burlesque makes changes after concerns about inclusiveness, diversity

Madeline Fox, Campus Editor

With Northwestern Burlesque surpassing 100 cast members for the first time this year, participants raised concerns that its solo and small group performances do not sufficiently represent different races, body types and experiences.

Following the concerns, the show’s directors said they are working to make the show feel more inclusive.

NU Burlesque, now in its fourth year, holds open auditions at the beginning of Winter Quarter. Although all who audition and can commit to attending rehearsals are in the show, NU Burlesque co-director Avril Dominguez said performers can choose to go through a second round of auditions to receive a solo slot. She said this year, for the first time, separate auditions were also held for duet and trio slots because of the large number of participants.

Dominguez, a Communication junior, said after the results were shared with performers who had gone through the second round of auditions, the show received criticism on social media and through emails to the directors that marginalized experiences were not sufficiently represented in the selected acts.

“It was brought to our attention that there are people in our community who feel that those solos and duets and trios are not best representing what the Burlesque community is,” Dominguez said. “We do have a very inclusive and representative cast at large (and) we’re taking that criticism into account and really trying to reestablish a safe space.”

Cast members discussed the concerns raised early last week at their Sunday rehearsal, when Weinberg sophomore Genesis Garcia said she was one of several cast members to speak about their feelings on the criticisms and the atmosphere of NU Burlesque as a whole.

Some members did decide to leave NU Burlesque’s cast, said Garcia, who added that she had also considered leaving because she could see that other people had been negatively affected by their experiences with the show. She said she ultimately stayed because she felt the cast was working to actively to address the concerns.

“I decided I’ll stay because I want to see changes being made — I want to make sure people are being held accountable and to be held accountable myself,” she said. “The biggest thing from here on out is accountability.”

Garcia, who participated in NU Burlesque as a freshman and called it one of the best things she did last year, said that while she was upset to see people hurt, she didn’t think it was intentional and appreciated that cast members were supportive in hearing and working on those concerns.

Dominguez and co-director Alaura Hernandez emphasized, however, they stand by the individual and small group performances they had selected prior to the complaints, which Hernandez said reflected a wide range of viewpoints, styles and experiences.

“People are upset because they don’t think we have diversity in our small groups, but they don’t know the people who got solos — all they see is a name, so they might have made an assumption based on those names,” the Medill senior said. “We see the diversity in our acts because we saw the auditions, but it’s not our place to broadcast what these acts represent.”

That role, said assistant director Victoria Case, belongs to the performers themselves.

“We don’t want to out a performer with something they don’t want to share,” she said.

Medill senior Taylor Cumings, who is in her third year with the NU Burlesque cast, said she appreciates the efforts made to make Burlesque an inclusive community, but she also stressed the need to consciously strive to be more inclusive.

“If we’re claiming to be the most diverse show on campus, we need to be better at representing the groups oppressed in our society than the rest of society,” she said.

Lauren Hamilton, the show’s third co-director, said although criticisms about the show’s diversity and inclusion had not been brought up before, that did not make them less important to address.

“Even though this is something new that we’re being confronted with, that doesn’t make it any less valid,” the Weinberg senior said. “It’s very important that we are always consciously thinking of deliberate ways to uplift people that are not uplifted in society.”

Following the criticisms, Hernandez said the directors worked on restructuring the show to allow more time for solo and small group performances and opened up a second round of auditions for those acts.

Hernandez stressed, though, the individual and smaller group performances are not considered the “lead cast” or taken more seriously than the show’s group performances, noting that some NU Burlesque members who had performed solo acts in the past opted to be in group performances this year.

“It’s upsetting to us that people not getting a solo or small group piece makes them feel excluded from the Burlesque community,” she said.

Cumings said the NU Burlesque cast discussed different ways to be more intentionally inclusive at their Sunday meeting, including a constitution to ensure the show is more representative at the outset moving forward. She stressed, though, the criticisms raised are important for all members of NU Burlesque, not just those who fall into traditionally marginalized categories.

“Issues of diversity and inclusion affect everyone to a different extent, but they do affect everyone, and everyone needs to be involved in the conversation,” she said.

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