Photo by Sarah Reed Photography
Article by Kelsey Ronan

Flint actress Kristina Lakey had daydreams of burlesque. Pin-up shots. High heels. Mae West-style winks.

Lakey lived in Chicago for a few years, and she brought her cosmopolitan ideas back to Flint with her. One of those ideas was the Zombie Walk: a cultural phenomenon in big cities across the U.S. that Lakey introduced successfully to Flint two years ago. Remembering the professional burlesque troupes that thrive in Chicago, Lakey decided to make Flint a sexier place. Friends expressed interest, and soon her daydream became a gartered, martini-holding, feather boa-ed reality. The Fischer Bodies' first show, Candy Cane Spectacular, took place at the Lava Room on Hill Road this week. 

As Lakey and friends developed their burlesque personas, they took a few pole-dancing classes and watched a lot of YouTube videos to learn the necessary "strategic shaking." The innuendo-laced, character-driven repartee at the heart of burlesque, however, came naturally to the troupe—each of the performers comes from a theater background.

As well as Kristina Lakey as Victoria Nightshade, the troupe is comprised of Megan Donahue as Sadie O’Swirl, Jessica Back as Nada Teezovich, Karla Dzurak as Pepper Marie Berkley, Tessa Betts as Paige Turner, Rhonda Young as Trinket La Fae Woodsprite and William Howard as the cross-dressing Dusty Firebird. Dean Vanderkolk emcees under the moniker Mickey Mandrake.

The troupe's name is the clever invention of Donahue. The group wanted something "uniquely Flint"—an in-joke between the performers and their home crowd.

With no intention of becoming, in Lakey’s words, "glorified strippers," the Fischer Bodies looked to the burlesque of the 1940s as their inspiration: a mix of comedy and vaudeville and mocking the conventions of sex appeal. "It’s about making fun of the archetype," Lakey said. "The idea of the perfect body, of being rich and glamorous."

Despite years of acting experience, Lakey said she approached the Fischer Bodies' first show with some stage fright. "In theater, you're playing a character and you have to work within those boundaries. There are more demands on you in burlesque, as you play a character you’ve created and you don’t know what people are expecting from you. The feedback is verbal and immediate, too, where in theater the audience watches quietly."

Donahue said she thinks of burlesque as an audacious expansion of theater. "It's really brash, I think, to go out on stage thinking, 'I'm going to take my clothes off and you’re going to like it.'"

But, Donahue and Lakey explained, the show is more about the strip than the tease, and at the heart of the Fischer Bodies is a feminist ethos. The performers represent a wide range of ages and body types, promoting empowerment and self-acceptance.

"The feminist stance is important to all of us," Lakey said. Like most women, Lakey said she has struggled with self-image throughout her life and being a pin-up is a dream come true. "It's important to show that lots of different things are beautiful—not just the media image. When the audience leaves, we want them to know that every girl they saw was a unique beauty." The burlesque show becomes a vehicle for the performer to combat negative self-image and gain self-confidence.

Donahue says women are given a cultural lie that the Fischer Bodies’ particular brand of burlesque challenges. "There's something really powerful on an individual and a community level to reject the popular media idea of sexy and say, 'That's not me, but I'm still going to be sexy.' We're not covering up and hiding. Burlesque has a kind of sexual agency: I'm in control and we're in this together, me and the audience," Donahue said.

Asked what kind of crowd they were anticipating, Lakey said she wasn't sure. Theater lovers, classic film buffs, nighthawks, and anyone with a sense of humor, she predicted, would likely enjoy the show.

As a big city phenomenon coming to a smaller community, Lakey and Donahue have no illusions about anonymity. Lakey said her childhood babysitter would come to the show. "I had to call her and say, 'You're sure you know what kind of show this is right?'" she laughed. "But I think friends will understand. They might go, 'Wow… you're in a garter belt,' but the'll be supportive."

"My grandparents don't need to know about this," Donahue added, "But this isn't a secret."

The troupe will be performing again in January at the Lava Room and February 10-12 at the Mott Community College auditorium.

Calendars and 8 x 10s will be available by photographer Sarah Reed.

© Kelsey Ronan, 2010