Can one have a serious talk about burlesque? About pie-in-the-face antics and fan dancers doing the strip tease?

“That’s the classic idea of burlesque, but contemporary burlesque, or neo-burlesque, since the ’90s, is a lot more varied and the performance possibilities are wider,” said Amanda Clark, 26, a Portland burlesque performer. “There’s still lots of dancing and strip tease, but there’s also monologues, skits, comedy, political topics. There is more room for personal expression and opinion.”

Burlesque as personal expression, now that’s a topic for discussion.

At least that’s what Clark hopes. She is organizing an “artist talk” Friday at Elements coffee shop and bookstore in Biddeford. Besides Clark, the performers Nova Luster and Bunny Wonderland (not there real names) will be discussing their craft, how and why they got involved, and where they see neo-burlesque headed. Then they’ll answer questions from the audience.

The artist talk is part of the three-day, second annual Oak + Ax Fest, organized by the Biddeford music and art venue The Oak + The Ax. The festival features 21 bands, plus a documentary film showing, the artist talk and various workshops.

Clark organizes monthly burlesque shows at The Oak + The Ax, and gets asked a lot of questions about what she does and what burlesque is.

So in the artist talk, she and the other performers will begin by talking about what burlesque is today and why they were drawn to it.

Clark grew up in Nashua, N.H., and was a ballet dancer and gymnast through high school. When she came to Portland, she was invited to join a new burlesque troupe. She immediately saw it as a way to put a new, personal, sometimes sexy, spin on her dance and gymnastics training.

She also became a student of burlesque. She actually did her thesis on it while a student at Maine College of Art.

Clark expects that she and the other performers will talk for about an hour, then take questions from the audience. The whole event should last about two hours, she said.

Because of burlesque’s risque side, the neo-burlesque performers do a lot with sexuality and gender-bending role play. In March, Clark organized a show called “Queerly Shakespearean” at The Oak + the Ax that was a burlesque show inspired by Shakespeare plays.

She said at the time that with that show, and all burlesque shows she works on, she hopes to “push on those buttons of sex, confusion and utter delight.”

“For me, neo-burlesque leaves room to do things with contemporary ideas around sexuality, to play with stereotypes and gender bending,” said Clark.

Sexuality, gender bending and strip tease. Looks like the artists and their audience will have plenty to talk about.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: RayRouthier