Tired of men dictating her sexiness, Lindsay Mullan redefined it for herself in this burlesque show
'Tease' blends burlesque and comedy to invite a bigger conversation about societal expectations for women
For years, actor and comedian Lindsay Mullan has been slotted into the same few roles by casting directors. In her early 20s, she was the nagging girlfriend or the smartass coworker; now that she's turned 30, she's been landing roles as the mom. While Mullan is always grateful for the work, she felt restricted by the parts she was being offered and what they implied.
In response, she's created the new show Tease — a titillating blend of burlesque, sketch comedy and confessional monologue — that asks bigger questions about societal expectations for women. Why should a man get to define when a woman looks good? Why did they feel entitled to comment on a woman's appearance and performance? Throughout her career Mullan has been bombarded by men telling her how she should dress, how she should act and when she was allowed to be attractive — but with Tease, she's defining those things for herself.
"I got frustrated with always being put in the role of a wife or girlfriend partnered to a sloppy man. That felt limiting," Mullan tells CBC Arts. "Anytime I was sexualized on screen, it was dictated by a guy in an office I never met. I'm not getting cast as the ingénue, but I wanted the opportunity to stretch those muscles. I wanted to feel kind of sexy on my own terms. I think a lot of women hit that point...After finishing up at the Second City mainstage, I knew I wanted to use the revue format and make a show that was equal parts funny and sexy."
Tease first premiered to rave reviews at the Edmonton Fringe Festival in 2018. Now, a reworked version of the show is running at the Next Stage Theatre Festival in Toronto. For this production of Tease, Mullan cast dancers/comedians Bianca Alongi and Cristina Gonçalves to fill out the ensemble. Finding the right talent was pivotal to the show's success.
"Being sexy is about the most high status thing you can do. To be comedic is to lower your status and make yourself the butt of the joke," says Mullan. "Finding women who don't mind going into both worlds can be a real challenge because we've been conditioned for so long to be one thing or the other. But it isn't true."
While the show makes poignant statements about a number of challenges women face in everyday situations, the vibe of Tease feels like a party. For Mullan, making sure the audience is enjoying themselves is key for expressing bigger messages about politics, feminism and body image.
"It's super important to me that the messages in this show don't come across as arrogant or self-righteous because I don't think that's the way to win over the hearts and minds of people who don't think like you," she says. "This show is a sexy, funny, good time, but there is more to it too...When you get people laughing and having a good time, that's the best time to say something disarming. If they already like you, they might actually listen."
She has been particularly interested in how her play has been received by men in the audience. While she isn't concerned with how the men perceive her, she wants to make sure she's being heard.
"I want the guy in the audience who just came to see girls stripping to have a moment where I touch his heart. There is a monologue in the show where I talk about sexual objectification, and in that moment I'm always seeing how the men react. Having people cheer because they agree with me isn't as useful as trying to challenge perspectives."
Though Mullan has landed pilots with TV networks and appeared in movies alongside superstars like Marvel's Dave Bautista, Tease has been one of the most creatively fulfilling projects she has ever been a part of. The show has allowed her to highlight different elements of both her personality and her acting abilities that her previous roles haven't explored. But beyond the personal sense of accomplishment she has felt from the play, the audience feedback has been outstanding.
"People have let me know that they leave the theatre feeling better ownership over their own sexuality — that their sexuality is theirs and it shouldn't ever be dictated or tampered by anyone else."
At a performance of Tease over the weekend, it was clear that these sentiments were deeply felt by the audience. After the show, the cast held a short Q&A. During the last question of the night, a woman took the microphone and told the performers she was 77 and adored the play. Then she asked if Mullan would ever consider letting a 77-year-old in pasties be a part of the performance.
Mullan was overjoyed at the concept. Tease puts out the idea that people's sexualities shouldn't be limited by other's expectations. What better way to prove that point than a senior participating in the performance? The two exchanged information. While it remains to be seen if the new dancer will be added for the show's next remount, it's clear its messages are striking a nerve with the crowd.