Pink Box Burlesque returns to the Bama Theatre

Two women talked and laughed as they walked around a cluttered warehouse space with props, costumes and building supplies scattered across the floor and on top of a small stage tucked in the far corner. They diligently work on spray painting a collection of large foam pieces laid out on tarps in front of them, but neither were forthcoming about the purpose of the interlocking foam squares. Finally, when pressed, one relented slightly.

“I will say Monopoly, like most board games, requires dice,” she said with a smile.

This is Mama Dixie, the owner and madam of Pink Box Burlesque troupe, one of the largest burlesque troupes in the area. She is a woman with a commanding voice and a sense of humor, both of which she uses in her role as master of ceremonies for every Pink Box show.

Pink Box Burlesque will host its last show of the spring at 8 p.m. this Friday, April 15, at the Bama Theatre in downtown Tuscaloosa. The show, titled “Community Chest: a Monopoly Tribute,” will feature 22 different performers, including tease artists, contortionists, comedians, dancers and a live jazz band. Tickets are $15 at the door, and the show is open only to individuals age 21 or older.

Mona Squeels, a performer in the Pink Box Burlesque troupe who proposed the theme, said she was inspired by Tax Day and wanted to make the day a little more fun for show attendees. She explained that she and her fellow performers are particularly excited for this show because the venue is special to the troupe as a whole.

“We do love our Bama shows,” Squeels said. “It’s home for us. The Bama I think inspires a level of creativity and freedom in everyone in the troupe. I think that’s what special about this show and any show we do at the Bama Theatre. It’s where we are our most creative. It’s where we take the most risks.”

Dixie agreed, citing the versatile size and long history of the theater.

“[The Bama Theatre] is full of its own history and its own life,” Dixie said. “It’s the largest venue we perform in, so we have this huge stage where everyone can stretch into all that space. Or not, and that’s striking as well. I think the Bama Theatre lends itself to a unique experience.”

Dixie said a few new performers and a few old ones will try things they’ve never done before at the show this Friday.

“All of our theme shows are very unique to themselves,” Dixie said. “And I think from our standpoint, what’s incredible about it is the way the performers are stretching in ways they never have before. And I would like to believe that the audience enjoys watching that as much as I do.”

For troupe members, stage characters like Mama Dixie or Mona Squeels are vital to both the atmosphere of the show and the anonymity of the performers. Each member picks his or her name when they join the troupe, some spending weeks choosing the perfect name to fit them and their acting persona. As madam, Mama Dixie’s name is particularly poignant; she said she chose a name that articulated the mission of the troupe.

“It says we’re here; we don’t have to move away,” Dixie said. “This is my home, and you cannot drive me away. I grew up just around the corner, and I will not be ostracized in my own home.”

Coexisting with that mission is the reality that Tuscaloosa is a more conservative community, and the troupe actively works to respect that.

“We’re not militant about it,” Squeels said. “We understand that boundary.”

Dixie pointed out the importance of respecting certain spaces within the community.

“We aren’t going to rehearse in front of the children’s museum,” Dixie said. “We get it. But we think in a conservative area, it’s also important to be able to say I don’t care what you do; this is what speaks to me and I’m going to pursue it. I’m not here to change people’s minds; I’m here to let other people know there’s someone here like them who gets it.

Dixie said the response from the community has been almost exclusively positive.

“We’ve been very lucky to have nothing but support from the arts community here,” Dixie said. “I’m not sure I would use the word surprised, but we’ve been encouraged by our interactions with community members and, as a whole, other people. Having a community that stands up behind us and says, ‘No, they add something to the arts community here. They add something to the community as a whole. It’s important that they’re here.’ That means a lot to us.”

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