It began as a publicity stunt. Three years ago the first Mayor of Seattle Burlesque was elected. The title and faux politics were dreamed up to serve as a fundraiser and a community builder for the growing burlesque scene, but it has since evolved into something with actual impact. This past September the third Mayor of Seattle Burlesque was elected by popular choice during an event known as the Seattle Burlesque Games at ReBar. Outgoing mayor Paul Philion (who won the title the previous year on a campaign platform of pantlessness) passed his sash wearing duties onto the newly appointed Jo Jo Stiletto who (along with continuing Philion’s pantsless legacy) has plans to use the position to build and strengthen the burlesque community.
When not wrapped in a feather boa onstage under the performance name Jo Jo Stiletto, Jessica Obrist is hard at work as a producer and scholar of a genre called nerdlesque, basically burlesque with acts built around pop culture favorites like Star Trek, the X-Files, and Harry Potter among others. She has a book on the national cultural phenomenon of nerdlesque in the works, but in the meantime Obrist continues to produce nerdy pop culture themed burlesque shows as well as work in every conceivable way to build the local burlesque community. “I'm already somebody who dedicates all my time to supporting the community and I feel that this position just puts a little more spring in my step,” says Obrist. “It allows visibility to people who maybe don't know much about the burlesque community. When the muggles see someone walking down the street wearing a sash that says ‘Mayor of Seattle Burlesque’ it tends to catch their eye. It's nice to be able to represent this thriving Seattle art community that doesn't get maybe as much attention as other art forms.”
Obrist says, “A lot of us come to it (burlesque) because we feel like we are maybe outcasts, or we are other. Burlesque is a place for a lot of different types of people to express themselves.” Obrist knows that to make everyone feel welcome takes work, and space and regardless of what the election’s outcome she had made it her goal to spend her spare time helping to preserve and maintain art spaces for burlesque performers. She has poured herself into various positions in the community, she's on the board at Theatre off Jackson and discusses the issues with venue owners regularly all around the city in this quest. Obrist speaks solemnly when she says, “I see this trend of us loosing important art spaces for fringe artists. As development of the city happens, these are the first spaces to go. The performers who one day end up on the stage at Velocity, or the Triple Door, or On the Boards are people who perform in the back of bars or in dirty little fringe theaters, so it's important to me to keep those spaces open.”
In addition to her new sash-wearing responsibilities Obrist continues to perform in and produce those nerdlesque shows that are becoming her calling card. Her main platform when campaigning was to make burlesque an inclusive community, in her words, “to simply celebrate the idea that everybody is welcome here. Everybody.”