Philly’s all-star foodie-turned-Bearlesque founder is no stranger to our city, and this summer he’s about to land a permanent residency here. Josh Schonewolf Bears it all for Thotyssey!
Thotyssey: Greetings from NYC, Josh, and thanks for talking to us! Philly Pride is coming up real soon. Any plans?
Josh Schonewolf: I do have some plans! I have my own float in the parade itself: the “Josh Schonewolf Presents” float, with some serious Josh Schonewolf All-Stars from my events marching with me. Then I’m running a midway Pride Brunch at the Victoria Freehouse from 2 to 6.
Have fun! You’re clearly one of Queer Philadelphia’s finest. Is Philly your native land?
Thank you. Yes, I’m actually from Philly.
There’s a pretty diverse scene there.
Astala Vista has described it as being all over the map, in a good way.
Yeah, the scene in Philly is a hotbed for really good burlesque and drag. And being a producer and performer, I’m always trying to cultivate new and exciting acts, as well as keeping my events at the top of the game.
How did the performing arts begin for you?
Well, growing up I always loved anything creative. I would put on concerts for my grandmom; I always wanted to make people happy or laugh.
I actually fell into it by accident. I had a food blog for a few years, which oddly became very successful. And I wanted to have a food-related charity event to meet my readers, who I thought were bots. Turned out they weren’t bots at all, and I had a huge turn-out. And I fell in love with the drama of event production, and entertaining people on a greater scale.
Are you still doing that blog?
No! I canceled it a few years ago, after my event life took over. I’m a full-time performer and producer now. i filmed a pilot with a major TV network, and after they passed on it. I felt like it was a sign to move on.
I imagine that becoming a successful event producer is a very long process of finding the right sponsors, collaborators, and venues that work for you.
Yeah, I took big risks. I started a few shows and saw how people responded to them. Ratchet Wednesday was up first. It was a weekly dance-party at Tabu in Philly, and was extremely successful. I ran a live-singing drag cabaret called “Eat It!” which wasn’t a big hit, but then Bearlseque happened, and it’s my biggest show I’ve ever created in 5 years.
It’s all about building trust with the venues, building relationships with performers and creatives, and showing them that you are capable of handling it all.
What specifically attracted you to burlesque, initially?
I had friends who were burlesque performers about 10 years ago, and I would go and see their shows. I literally fell in love with the art form, but never in a million years thought I’d be one of them.
And of course, burlesque tends to promote body diversity in a way that other erotic performance arts do not always do.
Burlesque has helped me love myself. Our general message is to spread body positivity everywhere we go. Lots of people in the audiences over the years have thanked us for having Bearlesque, because it made them feel great things–better about themselves, and accepting their bodies.
What’s your own personal burlesque style? Do you tend to be more sexy, more dramatic, more funny… or all of the above?
I literally like to play with all the genres. I’ve recently fell in love with performing classic burlesque. I think I’m known for my over-the-top costumes and kooky numbers, but lately I’ve been testing myself to do all kinds of stuff.
What do you look for in a performer when you’re recruiting for the troupe?
Someone who I think the audience would relate to/want to fantasize about.
Bearlesque is one of the best known bear burlesque troupes in the country, maybe the world! You’ve really evolved enormously since you started it.
Thank you! Connor and I started the Philly show four years ago. We used to have, like, five people in the show, and now we have 24. And we’re performing all over the place; it’s very exciting.
What do you think the secret to Bearlesque’s success is?
Being unique, always changing and growing, producing really good shows and putting forth a really strong product.
Here’s some exciting news about Bearlesque, for all of us New Yorkers who don’t get much of a chance to see you during your travels: you’re getting a New York residency!
I actually co-produce Bear Milk. Jorge and I have become good friends. I met him at Bears on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City last year, and he was like “I want to work with you.” He was simply a promoter from Brooklyn, and owns Deep End now.
Well, it should be a great fit!
Yes! I’m beyond honored that [H.E. showrunner] Matt Knife is asking me back. This is my second time doing Homo Erectus, and to be invited to be a part of the 5 year anniversary is a huge honor.
Anything else to report that’s coming up for you?
Good for you and good luck! Okay, last question: what is, in your opinion, the worst song a person can burlesque to?
Anything that doesn’t mean anything to you. Burlesque is a beautiful art form, and if you put forth sloppy work, then you aren’t holding this art form to its highest regard. Performing meaningful, well-done, thought-out work is very important. And this has kind of been my mantra about everything in my life.
True wisdom! Thanks, Josh!
Josh Schonewolf promotes various nightlife events in Philadelphia. His burlesque troupe Bearlesque will begin a monthly residency at the Deep End in Brooklyn starting July 28th. Follow Josh on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube.