Wayne Moriarty: 'Big, splashy, over-the-top burlesque Christmas' with a Cherry OnTop coming to Playhouse

Lindsay Wood is a Vancouver burlesque performer who goes by the stage name Cherry OnTop.

I am having a coffee on a weekday afternoon with Cherry OnTop.

Cherry is my guest and not a garnish for my drink. She is a burlesque performer. When we meet, I call her “Cherry.”

I am assuming, of course, that Cherry OnTop is her stage name. If it isn’t — if it is, in fact, the name Mr. and Mrs. OnTop gave her 40 years ago — well, then, burlesque, it would seem, was her destiny.

“Lindsay Wood,” she tells me with a smile that is, quite literally, the happiest thing I’ve seen in months. “When I’m performing, it’s kind of taboo to call me by my real name, but here, right now, Lindsay is good.”

My guest this afternoon is something of a local legend in the burlesque community — having been performing and instructing for the past 14 years. She will be among the most anticipated dancers at this year’s Vancouver International Burlesque Festival, which runs Friday and Saturday at The Playhouse Theatre.

“This is our big, splashy, over-the-top burlesque Christmas,” she tells me. “It’s not a competition; it’s a showcase. It’s the biggest event of our year.”

The origins of burlesque can be traced to the 16th century, though most of what will be on stage at the Playhouse next weekend owes its spark and absurdity to the theatre of burlesque from the Victorian era.

“There’s a real sense of tongue-in-cheek to it all,” she says. “It comes from the lower class mocking the upper class. A lot of burlesque is highly comedic — the costumes, the characters.”

The fabulous Ms. OnTop came to this business when she was 25 and was asked to perform with a friend at a Christmas party for the staff of Gold’s Gym.

“It was at this club on Granville,” she recalls. “A bunch of us came together rather randomly at that show. We got on stage, did our thing, got off stage, then we were all, ‘Boom! Doing this forever!’

“Honestly though, at the time, it was an underground fad that I figured would last a year or two. But here we are, 14 years later, bigger and better than ever.”

On the subject of bigger, a few years back, Cherry was pregnant.  She is giving a “tit talk” at this year’s festival on life as a “showgirl mama.” The speech isn’t fully formed yet, but it is, shall we say, in the third trimester.

“I am going to start with the trials and tribulations — how hard it all is. For example, having a child is super expensive, so there comes a point when you ask yourself, ‘Do I buy food for the baby or rhinestones for the costume?’ Of course, the answer is obvious.

“And then there’s the matter of how physically exhausted you are after your pregnancy, as well as all the stuff about how hard it is to come back into your old self again — physically and mentally.

“But then there’s so much good stuff, too, about coming back. Burlesque is really accepting. Everyone comes in all shapes and sizes. So, to be able to be on stage, post baby, and feel super accepted and comfortable, well, that’s awesome.”

Acceptance and inclusion is the soul of burlesque, it seems. Cherry uses those words often in our short time together.

“I think, in general, the burlesque community is political. I’m talking here about body politics and gender politics.

“The majority of burlesque performers are women. And they are strong. And they are badass. And they are outspoken. It’s amazing to be surrounded by all that and to be involved in conversations with those people.”

For more information about Lindsay, I mean Cherry, and a lot of other badass women (and men) performing at the burlesque festival, go to vibf.ca

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