It’s so much about this part,” Katherine Neary says, tweaking her cardigan to the side. “It’s being cute about it, but it’s actually stripping. We start out with loads of costumes and try to make it more exciting as you’re going down.”
Neary leads local neo-burlesque troupe The Hot Tail Honeys under the stage name Pope Katherine I. For the past five years
of its existence, she’s choreographed the moves, booked the shows, performed, recruited singers, dancers, jugglers, and made the costumes.
“Of course in a burlesque show,” Neary explains, “it’s not just one costume. You have to have about three layers for every show that you do. And you have to rig all the costumes to be removed easily and beautifully. You can’t have any ‘why isn’t this snap working?!’” Thanks to a background in costume design—Lawrence University, The Rose Theater, Ralston Costumes—she’s able to indulge her love of complex, sequined costumes in her basement/costume shop.
“I’ve always been the ‘clothes or no clothes’ type of person,” she says, displaying an enviable confidence. “And I’ve always liked getting on stage.” She did try stripping but knew after only a couple nights that it wasn’t for her.
“I can’t give a lap dance, and I can’t spend eight hours a day in those heels. But dancing around on a stage wearing almost nothing, that still sounds like fun,” she says, flashing a red-lipsticked grin. “For a short amount of time, with lots of costumes and jewelry.”
Burlesque, Neary explains, is the art of the tease. A typical Hot Tail Honeys show involves four to five cast members and a pretty classic look. “We’ll have Carmen Sutra singing,” Neary says, describing an upcoming show at The Wilson & Washburn. “She’s a great singer, used to do some burlesque in Las Vegas. She’ll do some classics, like “Nasty, Naughty Boy” and “A Guy What Takes His Time.” And then I’ll be coming out in a full Victorian costume to Frank Sinatra and slowly taking it off piece by piece.”
How far does the lady go?
“We go down to pasties.”
Taking it all off isn’t as easy as people think, Neary warns. Aside from committing to 10-13 rehearsals per show, a burlesque performer also has to have a few key strengths. “You have to be an actress,” Neary says. “You have to be able to give off a lot of personality. You should promise change throughout the act. Then you’ve got to be fairly athletic. You’ve got have a certain aesthetic sense. Being able to put one foot in front of the other in a pair of heels is helpful. And then just the drive to do it.”
“I feel like Katherine does a great job bringing burlesque to Omaha,” says “L. May”. Neary recruited May for The Hot Tail Honeys about two years ago. “I think we really give Omaha a slice of entertainment that other cities get to have. Omaha is finally ready for burlesque.”
For Neary, this year is about getting ready for burlesque again. She’s committing to four-hour-a-day workouts to get back up to performance speed after giving birth a year and a half ago. Portioning out meat, veggies, and a few eggs, as well as keeping very hydrated, are all part of the plan.
Yes, she and partner Shane Staiger have a young daughter, Vivian, and Neary couldn’t be more in love. “She looks like him. She’s beautiful,” Neary coos. “She is the prettiest, sweetest little girl in the world.”
Being a mom hasn’t changed her opinion of burlesque at all. “I’m really proud of doing it,” she says. “It’s so much fun. I imagine she’s going to be the happiest little girl in piles of boas and sequins and fringe and jewelry. She found a jewelry box this morning, actually.”
Of course, she probably won’t be a burlesque performer forever. “There are women out there in their 80s still doing it, and I don’t think I’ll be one of those types.” But, she adds, “As long as I still like
looking at myself naked in the mirror, we’ll go for it.”