Sweaty, half-dressed bodies grind against each other, trading partners at breakneck speed. A poet rhapsodizes about “black girl magic,” and a bawdy, scantily clad comedian works the crowd while 40 women in lingerie attack the stage in a tightly choreographed striptease. This is The Fly Honey Show, the eight-year-old burlesque now synonymous with Chicago’s sticky summer heat.
Created by director and choreographer Erin Kilmurray, Fly Honey began as a way for her to experiment. “I wanted to try some stuff but didn’t want to be alone,” says Kilmurray, who is a classically trained dancer. “So I asked 30 friends to join me, and they all said yes.”
Over the years, that number grew—Kilmurray has tapped local heavyweights such as the indie band Ohmme and soul singer J.C. Brooks—and what started as a small experimental performance fast became a highly anticipated annual affair. “It’s a celebration of whatever gets you off,” says Mary Williamson, who has been the show’s writer and risqué ringmaster since its inception.
This year, Fly Honey continues the tradition with more than 300 dancers, writers, singers, comedians, drag performers, and poets in a two-hour lineup that changes weekly. And while no two performances are ever exactly the same, Williamson says one thing always holds true: “Once you’re there, everyone taking off their clothes just feels natural.”
Go:The Fly Honey Show runs August 10 to September 2 at the Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. $20 to $80. theflyhoneyshow.com