BENNINGTON, VT – Downstairs in the Oldcastle Theatre Saturday night, members of the cabaret company, Gypsy Layne, slipped into costumes and ran through choreography one last time. Upstairs in their seats, patrons eagerly waited for performers to trample all boundaries.
Nicole Rizzo, founder and artistic director of Gypsy Layne, said while the troupe has done political skits in the past, Rizzo said she’s not interested in pushing political agendas. Rather, she’s mindful of the direction of the show and its integrity as a cabaret.
“This is about unity with us and the community and the bigger sense about what’s going on in the nation and the world,” she said. “I’ve definitely experienced a lot of censorship and a lot of ignorance when it comes to this troupe in this area. I feel like it’s heightened the last year, so the message is even stronger to advocate body positivity, women’s rights, gay [and] transgender rights.”
While the troupe has sometimes mocked women who’ve come in between presidents, like Marilyn Monroe and Monica Lewinski, she said, it always comes with “tongue and cheek humor.”
“I want to keep it light like that, like an SNL feel,” Rizzo said. “For us, for me, with this troupe, where Gypsy Layne thrives, is we have the platform for this. I want people to recognize that this has been around for a long time and we have the opportunity to showcase that. It’s honestly a privilege to get up on stage to be a member of this movement that’s occurring.”
Of the 22 numbers in the show on Saturday, only one directly conveyed political ideas.
Rizzo, who grew up in North Adams, founded Gypsy Layne in the summer of 2010. She now lives in Williamstown.
“It’s my baby,” she said.
At the time, Rizzo had just moved back to the Berkshires from Los Angeles and New York City and felt she needed to start a burlesque troupe. During the show’s first season they put on a two-month run, first performing at The Red Herring in Williamstown.
Rizzo, who earned a degree in theatre from the Circle in the Square Theatre Conservatory in New York City, found the first members of Gypsy Lane by posting an open-call for performers, singers and dancers on Craiglist.
Current member Morgan Quigley, otherwise known by her gypsy name Kitty “Bang Bang” Halloway, was the first one to respond to Rizzo’s ad.
Rizzo first experienced burlesque while living in Los Angeles and had planned to perform in a burlesque show, but said the show’s funding fell through.
“Through my research and learning about burlesque, it just stuck with me,” Rizzo said.
Gypsy Layne holds performances throughout the year. For more information, visit www.gypsylayne.com.
This article first appeared in The Berkshire Courier.