White, faux feathers float through the air, settling onto the stage below.
She pulls a boa through her gloved hands, teasing the audience. Keeping an eye on the crowd, she slowly unzips her floor length gown.
Within moments, the dress is off and she’s left scantily clad, with only two feather fans to shield her.
It’s burlesque. It’s risqué. And it’s one facet of The Manic Menagerie Vaudeville Company.
The group preformed Saturday at The JAM, located 817 W. University Ave., in Gainesville.
Tessa Paulsen, the founder and artistic director of the company, created the variety show in March.
After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Paulsen dropped out of Central Washington University and moved to Florida to be closer to her mother.
She soon found herself in Gainesville with her boyfriend, but without a creative outlet.
With no time to devote to a local theater company, Paulsen decided to create her own company.
The troop, which formed in March, had its first show in June. The venue sold out, with stragglers still trying to get in through the front door.
At the age of 12, Paulsen knew she wanted to be a performer after seeing the movie “Striptease.”
“I always thought burlesque was beautiful,” she said. “I thought it was a great art form that really empowers women.”
Paulsen now finds inspiration through burlesque icons like Dita Von Teese, Gypsy Rose Lee and Mae West.
“I don’t want to do anything but this my whole life,” she said.
Paulsen isn’t the only one in the troop who hopes entertaining will prove to be a permanent career.
Chris Ramirez, a fire spinner who works for Spoonies Entertainment, accompanies disc jockeys while showing off his fire skills throughout their shows.
His most memorable performance was in Las Vegas, Nev., where he performed for an audience of about 4,200 people.
Ramirez found his affinity for fire while on a road trip to California.
A man was spinning on the beach and Ramirez asked him if he could give it a whirl.
“I was just naturally gifted at it I guess,” Ramirez said.
The Magic Menagerie asked Ramirez to join the troop after seeing him spin fire at The JAM.
He not only brings fire spinning to their act, but skills that range from wielding fire swords to fire nunchucks.
“I love the fire, the adrenaline rush – the fact that whenever you’re spinning you don’t hear anything but the fire,” Ramirez said.
The variety show not only features an assortment of fire acts, but dance routines, comedy and original music performed by a live band.
The four-piece band is occasionally accompanied by three additional horn players.
Patrick Oberlin, the bandmaster, composes music for the band. He also sings and plays the guitar, trumpet and trombone.
Oberlin said the shows put on by The Manic Menagerie are the best open shows he’s been to.
“It’s some of the stuff you can’t do if you tried,” Oberlin said. “It’s like a circus. It’s great.”
He said he likes how much the troop has to work together. With a group of more than 30 people, there is a lot of necessary organization.
“It’s a lot of dedication, and we end up getting the payoff we deserve at these amazing shows,” he said.
Dedication to the troop and to each individual act is a definite necessity amongst the Vaudevillians.
Each performer is responsible for creating his or her own act, and the troop doesn’t see it until the night before they are set to go on stage.
Acts sometimes fall through and new ones must be created the day of the show.
“They can throw anything together in no time,” Paulsen said.
The money collected at the shows is put toward costumes, lighting and sound equipment and bettering the group as a whole.
New members are always welcome, and the number of performers in the troop is constantly fluctuating.
The troop performs one show per month, each with a different theme, challenging the performers to get creative with their acts.
Paulsen said troop members bring ideas to the table for everyone.
“We all just kind of bounce off of each other,” she said.
Paulsen sees her menagerie as a family. She wants to tour with them and travel around the world.
“I just think people really need to see these people,” she said. “It’s amazing what they do.”