Myriad of love: new burlesque company Hypnotique’s upcoming temptation


Sara Bernson

Hypnotique Productions owner and founder Kelsi Judge (center) with cast and crew.

The story of the Garden of Eden is commonly referred to as “the fall of man.” But what does that story’s outcome mean for woman?

Hypnotique Productions, a new burlesque company, invites guests to explore the rest of that story in their first show, “Eden: An Evening Of Sheer Temptation,” at Mulberry Station Brewing Company on Feb. 10-12, 18 and 19 around Valentine’s Day.

“I remember seeing a [burlesque] show one time and I remember being confused,” owner and founder Kelsi Judge said, “like, ‘Am I supposed to be turned on by this, or is it fun and funny?’”

She said it’s important for her shows to have a comedic element, a common theme in classic burlesque. In the true fashion of most burlesque, the show will feature no nudity, though the costumes, some of which are locally designed, promise to be sensuous.

Guided by emcees, the audience can expect to explore the fully scripted show’s exhibition of love and the full spectrum of the feminine experience. 

“It’s not all pretty and pink,” Judge said. “Sometimes it’s fucking hard, and it’s dirty, and it can be angry, and it can be so many things.”

Hanging out as they await their big week. Photo by Sara Bernson.

The show will feature a coordination of dancing, acting, singing and live music by band director Glenn Tucker, guitarist Baynayah McConnell, bassist Ethan Swett and drummer Darby McConnell.

“Eden” will feature a big element of crowd interaction, including VIP tables and the more interactive and limitedly available 2-top “Forbidden Table” that will include special Valentine’s Day surprises.

With eight performers, Judge looks forward to shaping the new company around communication, respect and community.

Hypnotique proudly sources labor through freelance artists. Judge intends to include more local artists, curators, photographers, costume designers, videographers and other creatives in the future.

“This community is so incredibly talented,” Judge said. “It’s such an incredible community. So, I wanted to bring in elements of all of that.”

Burlesque is a form of self-expression like any other performance art.

“To me, it’s the ultimate performance art,” Judge said.

Like with all burlesque, “Eden” will showcase a story not necessarily of sex but, rather, all that surrounds sex — giddiness, embarrassment, innuendo, flirting, nonverbal suggestion or the innocent mistake of accidentally dropping your mind in the gutter when least expected.

Guests can expect the classic satire of sexual commentary that lies in the essence of burlesque through the eyes, hands, voices and moves of Chico’s homegrown talent.

“I think it’s powerful,” Judge said. “Having women come on stage in their beautiful, sexy garments and maybe stripping it away, and they continue to hold power over the audience the entire time. It doesn’t derail, it doesn’t go anywhere, it doesn’t go into a dark place. It stays.”

Judge said what inspires her vision for the show is women having fun as they take power in vulnerability.

“That’s the essence of what I want the experience of this production company to be — is women at the forefront, taking their power and having fun on stage,” Judge said.

She sees a lot of younger people more open-minded today than she remembers in Chico’s past. She encourages people interested in auditioning for or attending burlesque to enter with no preconceived notions of what the art could be.

“This is a really incredible time to be brave in this environment,” Judge said. She listens to the talent in her show for ideas on empowering their performances and expressing individual sexuality.

Judge said audiences love when the talent’s own ideas are showcased. She credits artistic and promotion team members Sandii Lynne and Kendra “Jeanie” and photographer Sara Bernson as the backbone of Hypnotique’s vision.

Judge has a freelance background in musical performance, theater, burlesque and dancing, and she created the company to carry out her own ideas instead of freelancing.

The crew makes a toast to all the beautiful work they put into making this company a reality. Photo by Sara Bernson.

Starting theater at 7-years-old, Judge was also a gymnast for 12 years. She began at the Chico City Light Opera house, which became defunct and is now the Chico Theater Company.

She joined the choir at Chico High School for four years. After high school, she went to Los Angeles to pursue acting then came back home a year later and worked with Chico Cabaret, a company last owned by Phil and Sue Ruttenberg but no longer in business.

From 2012-2018, Judge choreographed the shows for the Ruttenbergs’ holiday burlesque tradition and worked as an artistic assistant for those shows. Their last holiday show was at the El Rey Theater.

When Judge started writing original Vaudeville (burlesque’s umbrella genre) scripts for Chico Cabaret, she began building her platform for ideas.

“I got excited about being able to put my ideas into a live-action performance,” she said. “From there, that’s when I started my love affair of starting my own company.”

Judge’s aspiration to start her own company emerged after working with the Trinity Cabaret act at Oroville’s Union Patio Bar and Grill in October 2021.

“That was an experience in and of itself,” Judge said, “and I realized after that experience that I had a lot more than I wanted to show, and to give, and to do in this community, and I really wanted to explore more of a collaborative, artistic space.”

The “Eden” show will celebrate Valentine’s Day, a modern derivative of the ancient Roman Lupercalia festivities. Unlike the proto-holiday’s orgiastic traditions, this celebration will not feature literal bloodlust. Instead, it invites guests along our cultural journey in destigmatizing women’s sexuality.

Judge encourages open feedback from the Hypnotique group, giving performers space to discuss how they feel about what they’re doing and to explore their own creative voices.

“I really want everybody to feel like a part of what we’re doing,” Judge said.

As I spoke with her about the cultural stigma of women’s sexuality, we agreed that social change can not happen from within comfort zones.

“I’m asking a lot from them [the performers],” Judge said. “I’m always, always wanting them to feel safe. But I am asking them to push their boundaries of what that looks like.”

She said she doesn’t want to just put on a show but that she also wants Hypnotique to be a journey of learning and growth.

Privileged to have been in Judge’s warm presence, I can tell that Hypnotique exhibits the same family dynamics as any other performance group such as the Florida theater company and performance troupe I was with in the 2000s. 

Catch the event’s poster around town! Photo by Sara Bernson and poster layout by Sandii Lynne.

Hypnotique currently plans to work with Greenhouse Studio and Gallery for a Halloween 2022 show. For updates, follow Hypnotique on Facebook and Instagram.

Tickets for “Eden” are on sale at $30 for general admission, $35 at the door, $85-150 for VIP tables and $180 for the Forbidden Table. They can be purchased through the link on their Facebook and Instagram pages.

The show starts at 8:30 p.m. but guests are encouraged to arrive early for dinner. After the show starts, Mulberry will offer limited menu items but will keep the bar open.

Shae Pastrana can be reached at [email protected] and @Pineyfolk on Twitter.