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BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE

The men behind the popular male burlesque show stop by for a chat, maybe wearing pants, maybe not.

BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE Twinky Boots and Milo Pony are the stage names of two Broadway singing and dancing actors who discovered, one day, that their dedication to their craft could open doors that they had not, previously, considered in their work lives. With that realization Chad Sapp and Aaron Libby became business owners, and MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE has been keeping them busy ever since... even in quarantine.

Wildly curious about the Burlesque industry and about the increasing role of men in the business, I asked Libby and Sapp to share some of their experiences about keeping their company alive these last nine months, the perception of the fans, and what it's like, working in the nude.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced with minimal edits.

Hi Chad and Aaron, welcome to Broadway World and thanks for talking to us today about your show MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE. How are you both faring during the holiday season and show business shutdown of 2020?

BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE Twinky - This year has definitely been a trying one for sure. Our first anniversary show at the Beechman had to be postponed indefinitely (would have been the week after everything shut down), and we had to cancel plans for our first international endeavor together because we had both been accepted to perform in the Vienna Boylesque Festival. I had just quit my full-time job before the shutdown to focus solely on doing Film/TV work as well as Burlesque Full-time, I had gotten to a point where I was doing burlesque performances in shows around town 4-5 nights a week, and working on Film sets any day that I wasn't doing shows. So at the beginning of the shutdown I realized just how exhausted I was but I wouldn't have it any other way. I have been performing in front of audiences for 3 decades (yes that's correct) so when that was basically stripped away in March I didn't take it well. But eventually I just said to myself, ok I need to channel my energy into something creative to take my mind off the crazy things going on in the world. And that has led us all the way up to the holidays with our new show.

BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE Milo - I think the hardest part was watching future planning get canceled and fall apart. We had planned to expand our company this year, start some new projects, travel, and really push ourselves to see what we could come up with creatively. After multiple canceled gigs of all kinds, and being furloughed from my day job, I watched my calendar clear and I thought I would be very bored. I took a mental break to wrap my head around the situation, and then started creating again. We put our efforts into creating an online show, which has now been monthly since May! As for the holidays, I'm very much looking forward to them even though they will be VERY different. It's still my favorite time of the year.

Chad, you work under the professional name of Twinky Boots and Aaron you are known as Milo Pony. I know drag performers who prefer to be addressed as their drag persona when doing professional appearances and interviews. How do you gentlemen prefer to conduct our interview today?

Twinky - I am comfortable with either. Boylesque performers don't usually face the same potential dangers that our female counterparts have to deal with from their fans. Or maybe we do and I just haven't met that super fan yet. Plus we have both worked in the theatre world for a long time before getting into burlesque. So the long answer to your question is I will respond to both haha.

Milo - I will of course answer to both as Milo is just a persona and an extension of me. However, if I am performing burlesque somewhere, and someone were to introduce themselves to me after the show, I would introduce myself as Milo. That's who I am for the evening, that's who you saw, that's who you want to meet.

BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE

How did you guys devise to create Members Only Boylesque?

We had been working and performing together for a few years already. We noticed what a great working relationship we had, and when the show that we had started performing in together was coming to a close we decided to bite the bullet and create our own company to produce our own shows. Between the two of us we had the right professional contacts to secure a venue for our show, develop marketing, and cast our talented performer friends. So we decided to give it a shot.

Had either of you had a background in Burlesque performing, was it on your radar at all?

Twinky - We originally met dancing in Broadway Bares (though we have still yet to do a number together). Aaron/Milo had just started doing burlesque away from Broadway Bares and invited me to one of his early shows and my date for the evening turned to me about 3 numbers into the show and said "you should be doing this." And I thought to myself "I should be doing this!" So I reached out to the owners of that show at the time and expressed my interest in "auditioning" for them and they put me in the following months show with no name, no act, no costume prepared, no questions asked. So because I had made a commitment I needed to do my research and figure out what my first number would be. Luckily a dear friend of mine is David "DW" Withrow who has costumed numbers in Broadway Bares for years as well as working on many Broadway shows. I reached out to him and he was thrilled to help me create my first tearaways because I am like those contestants that you see on drag race or project runway that don't sew and you scream at the television saying how are you coming on this competition show knowing full well that's a skill you need. Yep if I were ever cast on one of those that would be me. I put the number together in about 2 days because the inspiration just came to me. And from that show I was booked in a couple other shows from that company as well as some mostly female burlesque troupes. So we had both been performing burlesque individually for about 2 or 2 and half years when we decided to start Members Only Boylesque.

Milo - My only background was my theater training and my love of old school musicals and vaudeville. Broadway Bares gave me a grand vision of what burlesque could be, and I had to work on simplifying that and figuring out what it meant to me in my body. The rest is as Twinky explained. You start solo, you do an appearance for this person and that person, and you build up your repertoire and your audience.

Your show was reviewed by Broadway World for a performance at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. Do Burlesque companies travel from one venue to another, or is it more commercially viable to find an artistic base and audience that always knows where to find you?

It's a little of both. We love the Beechman for many reasons, and are thankful to have a show there, because audiences always know where to find our show "Members Only Boylesque presents: ONLY MEMBERS". We made a conscious decision early on in our development that whenever we have a show in a different venue, on a different platform, or in a different city, we would use a different show name so that it wasn't necessarily competing with our show at the Beechman. It would just be a show produced under our company name Members Only Boylesque. We've had "Members Only Boylesque presents: Private" at Bedlam Bar, "Members Only Boylesque presents: Round the Globe" on instagram live and now "Members Only Boylesque presents: Hard Drive" on Crowdcast. To clarify, Members Only Boylesque is the name of our company, and then we name each show depending on the venue and feel of the evening.

BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE

Does every performance your troupe does need to be a new show, or can you coast on the same show for a period of time before creating a fresh one?

We have yet to do a set show that repeats. Everyone of our shows is different in some capacity. We operate with a rotating cast of performers from all over the globe, so whether it's the fact that there are new performers every show or that those performers are doing fresh acts, the audience is never going to get the same exact show twice. That's not only for our audience to get a fresh show each time, it's also so that our performers aren't getting bored doing a number of theirs over and over.

Put a picture in my head of what goes into the creation of a Burlesque show.

BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE Twinky - Putting together our streaming show gives us a lot more flexibility than we are used to with putting together our live show. With the live shows we reach out to about 10 performers that we have in mind to see if they are available for the evening at the Beechman, and then go down our list of alternates til we fill our roster for the night. Once that is solidified, I will curate the show running order to give the best variety for the show and Milo will work on all the promotional material to pass out among the cast and the venue. With our streaming show we aren't restricted to performers that are going to be in New York City on the day of the performance. It allows us to to cast performers from further outside the New York area like Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Scotland, California, Vegas, Seattle, and more. We prerecord the numbers for the show, which gives our cast flexibility to perform for us no matter where they are located. A big proponent for us has always been trying to have as diverse of a cast as possible. With "Only Members" at the Laurie Beechman, our show leans towards male or male presenting acts. With "Hard Drive" we wanted to open it up to more variety acts, and to having female or female presenting performers in the show. We want our audience to see a performer that reminds them of themselves because for a very long time people have had a specific image in their head of what is considered "sexy", and we want to show that everyone can be and is sexy in the body that they have. Body Positivity and Racial Inclusivity are big messages that we stand behind. We also love playing with gender norms.

Have you found that the nudity involved with being a Burlesque performer leads people to make assumptions or have misconceptions about the artists and the craft?

BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE Twinky - Haha, well there are always misconceptions about people in an art form that celebrates body positivity and sexual power. One of the most common for me comes from seeing me on stage versus seeing me off stage. Many people think that my persona and extroverted sexual nature on stage and in photos is how I am off stage as well. Most are very shocked to learn that I throw on my oversized sweats after the show, take the train home alone (or with Milo) and then usually wind down by playing video games or reading a book. That misconception extends to many of my fellow performers as well, and I love finding other nerdy friends within this art form. It just hammers home that I made the right choice and found my people following down this artistic path. I actually really love proving people wrong on their misconceptions of me and always have.

BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE Milo - I have had a few instances that an individual thinks because of what they saw on stage or online, that you must match that in real life. I was once asked, "What do you all do after the show? Do you all go out together? Are you sexually charged for the rest of the night?" A common misconception. I'm exhausted after a show. Yes, we may grab a drink with the performers or visit with friends who came to see the show. Normally, I drag by butt home, and eat a sandwich while watching Drag Race reruns. I like being out, but I love being in.

There is a famous saying - you know from where it originates - that declares Burlesque performers need to have a gimmick for their acts; that philosophy is decades old - do you think it still holds true in an age of such athleticism in dance?

Twinky - When I first started performing burlesque, I thought to myself what is going to set me apart, what is my "gimmick". I have had a diverse background in dance (Ballet, Jazz, Modern, Hip Hop, Latin), plus a long career acting. So I wanted my "gimmick" to be dance heavy numbers that tell a story. I wanted it to be easily determined that I got my start dancing in Broadway Bares. But without even trying my extra gimmick kind of became I end every number with at least socks on my feet (but usually shoes). I guess I subconsciously took the Boots part of my name to heart.

Milo - As an actor I'm very much a character type. I'm not your brooding heartthrob. I am, however, a versatile singer, actor, and a pretty good dancer. So I brought that into my numbers. I like each number to be a short character driven story, and sometimes I sing live. Burlesque allows me to bring that sexy aspect into my performance that I don't normally get to dabble in. What's great is realizing how many different types of sexy there are. For example, being silly can be sexy. Being vulnerable can be sexy. Being powerful or political can be sexy. All of that can be done in a burlesque number.

Burlesque was once a female centric business. What has the development of male Burlesque looked like from your viewpoint?

Twinky - Over the last few years we have definitely noticed a surge in more male burlesque performers emerging all over the country (or at least ones on our radar). When I first started and was performing in shows with women I often felt I was there as the "variety" act for the show. It is still a heavily female centric art form and rightfully so. They put in the work and paved the way for the art form to reach the level it is today. And thankfully I have never encountered anyone who has any ill will towards male burlesque performers coming into their art form. In my experience Burlesque has been one of the most welcoming and inclusive art forms that I have ever been involved with.

Milo - I'm happy to be a part of something that still holds strong as a female presenting art form. Women are amazing and deserve all the credit. I think the male aspect of it just adds some variety. I enjoy and learn from working with any and all of my burlesque family.

BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE

In the clubs, there is a lot of lighting and production values. You recently took Members Only online for your patrons during pandemic. How has it been, creating shows at home without the benefit of the theatrical trappings?

The learning curve has definitely been a challenge. For instance, we had to teach ourselves how to broadcast software from YouTube tutorials, and neither of us had extensive experience editing video. However, it has also allowed for us, and our performers, to be truly creative and make some incredible numbers that we would never have been able to feature on stage at the Beechman. Like Kita St. Cyr doing her fire acts, Mr. Big Stuart doing his acts on stilts, or an incredible aerial act from Max and Mariama out of Vegas to name a few. Part of the resilience of performers and artists is that in order to create, you learn to adapt so you can continue to channel your creativity. We've enjoyed the new challenge of trying to elevate our numbers through editing and locations that we wouldn't be able to do in person.

BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE

What has been the response to the online shows?

The response has been positive. Our audience is happy that we haven't let the shutdown stop us from producing work for them to see, and for once a month (or as many times at they go back to replay the show) they get to escape like they did at the Beechman.

Which of you does all the tech involved in curating and editing together the numbers that the dancers film and send you for broadcast?

We split it pretty evenly. Twinky curates the show and edits it together and Milo does all the technical elements for live streaming the show and getting it setup for replay after the initial airing.

Members Only has been nominated for a Broadway World Award in the Cabaret division. There are those who see the art of cabaret as an artform of singers only, while others consider it an art form with broader parameters that includes all different types of performing arts. What has been your experience, as Burlesque artists playing a cabaret room in New York City?

Twinky - I have never personally encountered anyone that doesn't think of Burlesque as a cabaret art form. But I have also performed burlesque everywhere ranging from inside Dog Cafes, to 2000 seat theatre houses. However, some of my favorite performance memories are from performing in more intimate cabaret spaces. In the before times I would have numbers where I mingled amongst the crowd teasing the audience and bringing them into my acts. That's part of the fun, and I can't wait until we can eventually get back to that. It's hard to do a number where you sit on an audience member's lap virtually.

Milo - I feel like we are very welcome in cabaret spaces. Remember, even cabaret was considered a bit naughty at some point. The Beechman welcomed us with open arms, and we have developed quite a home there. I think burlesque can work on so many levels. You can have large numbers from Broadway Bares, grand performances from Cirque du Soleil or Dita Von Teese, or intimate performances in small theaters.

Have you found that the growing understanding of fluidity has impacted the Burlesque community?

BWW Interview: Chad Sapp & Aaron Libby of MEMBERS ONLY BOYLESQUE Twinky - I have definitely noticed an impact, and I love it. I have seen a growing number of Trans performers, BIPOC performers, Masculine and Feminine Male Burlesque performers, Drag Kings and Queens who explore their gender expression. There is place for every expression at the table and we are happy to showcase it on our stage. Because like I have said before, we want our audience to see themselves in our performers, we want them to come to our shows and see someone who is so authentically owning who they are and take away something positive for themselves.

Milo - Absolutely! I say bring it on. I think people often times get uncomfortable because they like something and they aren't sure why. Perhaps society says they "shouldn't", or maybe it's a new concept and they can't quite put their finger on it, or maybe they are turned on but embarrassed. Bringing male, female, nonbinary, pansexual, trans, gender fluid, etc. performers to the stage pushes an audience's boundaries on what they may or may not know, but allows them to simply experience the beauty and sexiness of an individual. I consider myself a very open minded person, and even I have found new levels of what I enjoy just by experiencing the fluidity of the burlesque community.

With the growing understanding of fluidity, sexuality, humanity, the body and the entertainment industry, where would you like to see the art form of Burlesque head in the future?

Twinky - I would really love for the culture of toxic masculinity to just die out. I want it to be acceptable for straight men to come and enjoy themselves at our shows because they enjoy the dancing or like the bawdy humor of certain numbers, and not be shy of the homophobic undertone of going to a male heavy burlesque show. I also would really love to see more burlesque performers reach the recognition level of stars like Dita Von Teese, Gypsy Rose Lee, or the Pussycat Dolls.

Milo - Who knows? Maybe burlesque will be the next thing to get a reality tv show. It really has no boundaries.

What would you say to people who have never been to a Burlesque show, to encourage them to try the adventure of Members Only Boylesque?

If you have never been to a burlesque show then a Members Only Boylesque show is definitely the place to start. If you think it's like the movie with Cher and Christina Aguilera, it's not. We offer variety spanning dance, circus, sideshow, pole dancing, and aerial. So it's a sampler of what the world of burlesque has to offer.

Where can people catch the next Members Only show?

They can join us for Members Only Boylesque presents: Hard Drive Holiday, streaming on Crowdcast December 17th at 8 pm. You can either stream along live with the show at that time, or enjoy the replay at your leisure.

Milo Pony and Twinky Boots - Aaron and Chad - thank you for visiting with me today and for helping Broadway World Cabaret to bring the art form of Burlesque to our readers. Merry Holidays to you both.

Follow Members Only Boylesque at these social media handles:
Instagram Handles - @milo_pony

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