My Daughter-the-Burlesque Queen

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I’ve written about parents who have trouble understanding their adult children’s jobs, including What Is It That You Do? and Their Career, Your Advice. Generally, the offspring in question are employed in high-tech fields. This week, though, I sat down with a father whose daughter is in no-tech, yet in some ways her career is just as hard to explain.
Before turning to academia, Ross Brown was a comedy writer and producer for such TV shows as The Facts of Life, The Cosby Show and Who’s the Boss?, while his wife, Wendy, started out as an actress. Still, he maintains, they had a decidedly unglitzy home, and he had no preconceived notions of what his two daughters would do for a living. “Wendy and I were committed to helping them be whatever they wanted to become. Our older daughter worked in the business world and is now a stay-at-home mom, which is right for her. I knew the pitfalls of show business, but after my own TV career, when Rachel said she wanted to become an actress, what could I say, ‘You can’t make a living in this field and you can’t follow your dream?’ I don’t think so.”
Rachel majored in theater at Sarah Lawrence College. After modeling and acting for a few years, she saw an ad for a burlesque class. According to Ross, “Rachel was having some body image issues and she thought this would help with them.” Graduation consisted of performing in a bar, where Rachel was such a hit that she started getting calls to do her act elsewhere. She had found her calling and “Sapphire Jones” was born. Now 35 years old and married, Rachel Allulli makes New York her home, although she performs and produces all over the country, even doing a gig in Anchorage, Alaska.
While burlesque is not akin to prostitution or selling dope, it can still be awkward when people ask, “And what is the college graduate up to these days?” Even Ross wasn’t sure. As he recalls, “When Rachel said, ‘I’m doing burlesque’, I wasn’t clear what that meant. The first time I actually saw her perform was on YouTube, where she did her Hot Lunch act. That opened my eyes as it was clearly not stripping but performance art in which she created a character and a dance routine around that character. She was obviously enjoying herself—and she was good! After a couple of years, I saw her perform in person at a club. While the customers were respectful, it was still a little unnerving to hear some of them shout, “Yeah, Sapphire!” More recently, I went to a burlesque show she produced and emceed in New York with the Big Apple Circus, and I was so proud of her. Wendy and I had to get comfortable with talking about Rachels’ career, but now I spread the word through my social media.”

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Although the terms striptease and burlesque are used interchangeably, both Rachel and Ross are quick to point out their differences. In the former, the emphasis is on titillating while in the latter it is on delighting. Rachel says burlesque is a way to celebrate the human body: short, tall, fat, thin, whatever. Far from the tawdry bump and grind of the Bada Bing Club, burlesque is campy and, believe it or not, good, clean fun. Moreover, this mashup of comedy, dance, and acting is starting to return to its more mainstream, vaudeville roots. Rachel applauds this trend but just hopes the genre won’t lose the zaniness that she finds so appealing.
Secure in her professional choice, Rachel is quick to give her parents a shout-out. “My folks have always been hugely supportive of my career, for which I’ll be eternally grateful,” she says. “Some people in the biz hide what they do for a living, but I’m lucky I don’t have to. Even my 91-year-old grandfather and my husband have enjoyed my shows.” Right from the start, instead of worrying what her parents would make of burlesque, she could revel in the thrill of getting paid to perform. Still, “My folks knew I was taking classes, but when they were finally going to see my act, I must admit I chose numbers where the emphasis was on humor and not on being super sexy. Really, though, I was never in fear of their judgment, but only on being a really good performer. It’s daunting to have a father who’s a comedy writer. I just wanted to be funny enough to make him laugh.”

Be sure to catch Sapphire Jones in person or on YouTube. And do let me know if your child also has an unusual or mystifying career; your fellow POGOs and I will be all ears.

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