by Patheresa Wells
What the Funk?! Burlesque Festival harnesses the power of funk music to showcase the art of burlesque by featuring Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) performers. The Northwest’s only all-BIPOC burlesque festival returns for its third year to the historic Triple Door mainstage Aug. 18–20.
Funk music was developed in the 1960s by Black musicians. The style is known for its danceable beats that incorporate aspects of jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues. What the Funk?! was born out of frustration or, as cofounder Mx. Pucks A’Plenty called, “an act of Oppressed Pettiness™️.” A prolific performer and producer, Pucks’ list of accomplishments in burlesque and body positivity include being named No.17 on the 21st Century Burlesque Magazine TOP 50 – Most Influential Burlesque Industry Figures of 2021; they are one of the founders of Curve Collective Cabaret and a coproducer of FAT CON 2023. Years ago, Pucks was developing an act for a local Seattle burlesque producer who didn’t believe that funk music sounded “classic” enough, so they decided to create What the Funk?! to show Seattle’s predominantly white burlesque scene that there are in fact, many BIPOC performers in the area.
Started as a showcase at The Rendezvous in Belltown in August of 2018, it quickly evolved. As the performers hung out with each other, they recognized the need for a space where BIPOC artists in burlesque could come together. Pucks and cofounder Rebecca MmDavis of The Stay Up Late Show decided to turn the showcase into an annual event, expanding it into a festival.
Opening night will start with emcee Seattle burlesque icon Ms. Briq House, funk band Off Da Hook-Old Skool Kool, and feature headliner Shimmy LaRoux. Night two will include a showcase with emcee Sparkle Plenty, a convening member of the Virago Nation Indigenous Arts Society. This evening will also showcase numerous headliners. The third and final night will feature the Grand Master Funk Competition, emceed by Rebecca MmDavis, where the winner will be crowned and receive a cash prize.
Not only is What the Funk?! the only all-BIPOC burlesque festival in the PNW, but it is also one of the few festivals in the country that pays every one of its performers. It’s an important fact, especially since BIPOC artists often face economic obstacles to performing. Pucks said, “The Seattle and the Pacific Northwest Burlesque scene is still pretty white. Part of that is due to economic privilege.”
Every year, What the Funk?! Fest has sold out. It’s a testament to the diversity and demand for BIPOC burlesque, although getting resources and funds is a consistent struggle. Pucks said that not only is the audience committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, but they want to support businesses that are as well. What the Funk?! hopes to secure $10,000 by partnering with BIPOC-owned businesses. “This is an ask to support a festival that continues to do the most with the very least. We would love to partner with folks and make our festival a premier destination event,” said Puck.
Despite the frustrations of rounding up funding and donors, What the Funk?! is a celebration and uplifting of BIPOC talent, which often shines all the brighter in the face of such obstacles. This is important, especially for those most marginalized. Art is often born out of struggle, as is the case with the genre of funk. “Funk music is Black Joy, activism, and empowerment. It’s hard to listen to Funk and stay in a bad mood,” said Pucks.
Patheresa Wells is a Queer poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She currently attends Highline College in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.
📸 Featured Image: The Pacific Northwest’s only all-BIPOC burlesque festival returns this August at the Triple Door. (Photo: Heather Schofner)
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