Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Inspirations 2013

So! I wrote about my year in review, but I'd also like to shout out some of my top inspirations from this past year. I'm not doing a "top 10" format or anything like that because, well, I just don't feel like numbering right now.

Ray Gunn's Jabberywocky Act
Photo by Starry D'Light

As a person who does abstractions on nerdy themes in burlesque aaaaand, to be honest here, sometimes has a problem with the too-narrow scope of most nerdlesque acts currently, AND as a total literary dork, this performance appealed to me on so many levels. The Jabberwocky, a totally nonsense poem that illustrates Alice's descent into dreamland and madness is one of those literature things that 75% of all the nerds you've ever met had memorized at some point, and probably used as an audition monologue (which they will probably never admit to, but I swear it's true.)

I saw Ray do this at Colorado and immediately fell in love with it. Here is an act that so clearly illustrated the poem, and yet also was extremely accessible to audience members who had no idea what he was representing. Thoughtful and gorgeous. I know people get all gaga about Ray's bod but he has a fucking sexy brain and that is the best thing a person can have. This is what nerdlesque should be- brilliant, powerful, and inclusive.

Nasty Canasta's Everything
Best ever. Photo by King Morgan

Nasty was one of the first people I saw perform when I came to New York a few years ago, at a Wasabassco show I went to on a sort-of-not-really date, at which I got black out drunk and woke up the next morning in the spare room of hottie Hazel Honeysuckle & her husband, with a stolen bowler hat. Mr. Hazelton had left a gatorade by the side of the bed for me to wake up to- clearly, these are the best people in the world.

Anyway, tangent- I don't remember many of the other performers from that night but Nasty did her Unknown Stripper act, and I remember thinking "holy shit, I suck and this is INCREDIBLE." I was correct on both scores; it made me want to be better. 

Anyway I've gotten to do multiple 8+ hour roadtrips, many shows, and lots of brunch with Nasty since then and she still remains one of my favorite performers (and has become one of my favorite people) of all time. It feels like she creates numbers by penetrating convention with a giant middle finger, as though she is saying "fuck you burlesque, you're not the boss of me! And you're GONNA ENJOY IT!" Oh, I definitely enjoy it. 

Gina Louise: Calmest Producer Ever
Photo by Emma Freeman

I did a billion festivals this past year (read: eleven) and the best one by far was also one of the first: Minneapolis Burlesque Festival. Gina Louise, with Ophelia Flame and her team of fabulous festival coordinators put together a festival that really lived up to the "Hey! Community Rocks! We love community!" vibe that most festivals try, or pretend, to have. They coordinated free housing, free food and booze, free viewing of the shows, free afterparties; they produced a fabulous lineup, had an organized and tightly run backstage and show, AND Gina was on top of helping us all personally with our millions of likely-repetitive questions. I appreciate that there were many people involved in the organization of this festival, but Gina really shined; smiling, calm, and alert, she did that festival right. 

AND THEN, in the middle of it all, her entire costume went missing two hours before she was supposed to perform. She laughed it off, borrowed costume pieces from other people backstage, went on and did a really fucking good job. Totally impressed; and incredibly sad that there is no Minneapolis Burlesque Fest this year.

Imogen Kelly's White Dress Number

Simple, poignant, whimsical, gorgeous. Pretty straightforwardly incredible.

Doc Wasabassco's Producing Wizardry
I'm not going to lie, I chose this photo cause it says ASS, and I really like ass. Photo by Mo Pitz

When people ask me what performing in NYC is like, and "are you in a troupe" and stuff, I giggle a little bit and tell them that NYC is a mercenary place of individual performers, and that troupes don't really work here the same way. And then I tell them that Wasabassco is the exception, a quasi-troupe that operates outside of the rest of NYC burlesque.

Drawing from a regular pool of performers, Doc puts together very carefully curated shows in all manner of venues. Each performer brings something unique to the show, and they've been diving more into scripted productions (written by previously-noted-brilliant-lady Nasty Canasta) which I find extremely exciting; he's very smart about his branding, and the loyalty of Wasabassco audiences is almost terrifying. It's like drinking the koolaid, except instead of poisonous red sugar water it's perfect derrieres and boobs and I AM INTO IT. I've had the pleasure of performing with Wasabassco a few times this year and I can say with certainty that they have one of my favorite backstage vibes. The performers aren't just great onstage, they're fun as hell offstage, which makes a huge difference; plus, Doc makes sure his performers are safe and well-paid which, although it should go without saying, it rarely does.

Like I said in my last post, Doc's producing class this year really inspired Stella and my direction with RAWR. Stella is very branding-oriented and I am very critical of burlesque in general (if I am being unoffensive towards myself here) and so Doc's producing style really appeals to us. He had wonderful advice generated by years of success and the occasional failure, and more than that, he offered his class *for free* which is a really lovely service. I hope we've done him proud. 

Paco Fish's Journey
Photo by Sarah Kimble

I always love watching Paco perform. He's consistently entertaining and many, many of his acts put the hugest shit-eating grin on my face. 

I've been hit hard by wanderlust this year, having been sapped of my energy for NYC, and so I've watched Paco's cross country tour with interest and excitement. It takes a high level of self awareness and drive to realize you need to completely switch the direction of your life, ask for help, and then DO IT; I love that and I love him. Follow his blog here:

Albert Cadabra, Evelyn Vinyl, Nina La Voix, St Stella, Trixie Little, and everyone else I've watched workout in person or on social media

You all and your goddamn muscles and yoga. I've been lucky to slide by on natural metabolism thus far, but working out would make me a better dancer and offset the eventual effects of all these cheeseburgers I eat. Watching all these fit showgirls and showboys has made me want to step up my efforts in fitness, dance, and flexibility. And next time I get the chance for naked pull ups with friends and peers, I want to *actually be able to do one*. You guys, seriously.

These are not *all* the people who inspired me this year, nor all the people who taught me something; but they are the people who stick out so strongly in my mind that I don't even have to think about it to write it down on the page. Watching them, their careers and their strengths has motivated me to keep trying harder in my own life and career.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013- It Totally Happened

Because I think self reflection is healthy and necessary, but even more so because I don't want to do anything productive right now, I'm going to partake in the trend of posting about my year.

2013 was a year of progress. I started it off by dumping most of my old, shitty acts and improving the ones I still loved (polar bear, owl, 1984).

Rhinestoned beaks were all the rage in 2013

Better costuming, more rehearsal time, and- nails. This year I discovered acrylics, and also learned how to do my hair properly thanks to fancy lady Bettina May.

I also made a decided effort to go to a billion festivals. To be honest, I was starting to get a little worn out from the NYC hustle, and I really wanted to check out other places and spread my name. Check that off the list- eleven festivals later, I've spent all my money, but it was intensely worth it. I have met some of the most incredible people and seen some of the best performances during my travels around America this year. I've fallen in love with Seattle and Toronto and all of the people inside of them.

Whilest doing said billion festivals, I also won a few awards. That was pretty sweet.

Narcissism Queen '13

In March I started my burlesque company, RAWR Burlesque with the raddest lady I know, my co-conspirator Stella Chuu. I'm so proud of the shows we've put together, and I can't help but also mention Doc Wasabassco, whose producing class really set Stella and I in the right direction.

Typical RAWR Burlesque business meeting

I quit sugar this year. I also began stretching towards my goal of doing a split. I started raising my standards, and decided I'm okay not doing every show ever.

I quit my dayjob and embarked upon a journey to start a business. It's still in progress, but the best thing that has come from it, it seems, are my cage panties/jocks, which are my answer to assels.

Also: Valid excuse for crotchtography

I made some new acts, of which I'm pretty proud. JD Oxblood of called my acts both high concept and defiantly weird; compliments which I hold close to my heart and which motivate me to keep trying harder.

Classic Metal: Like a boss

I became a coproducer of a festival, and wrote a list of things I feel burlesque festivals can do to appeal to performers, which got republished by 21st Century Burlesque... which is pretty badass.

My mom came to see me perform for the first time, loved it, and complimented my butt. Best mom. She gets credit for that butt, she worked harder for it than I did.

I attended my first Burlycon- intense and incredible- and did a peer review, which was probably the scariest performance of my life.

I also competed in the Miss Coney Island pageant, which I lost, but I loved regardless.

My "reverse bikini" for the swimwear portion of the competition

Oh, and, lastly... I finally debuted my boylesque alter ego, Dangrrr Dude.

Dangrrr Dude loves the ladies... and the boys

So... what's my plan for 2014? Keep on keeping on. RAWR will hopefully begin branding and branching out; I want to travel more, but not quite so much for festivals; I WILL be able to do a split; and I'll be taking dance classes. Bigger, better, and brighter things ahead!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Festivals

Over the course of the past year or two, I've been pretty critical of myself and my art and have been doing everything I can to improve (painful rewatchings of filmed rehearsals, gluing what feels like billions of dollars worth of rhinestones, pretending to try to stretch..) For the most part, I think I really have done a pretty good job in producing progressively better costumes, ideas, and choreography. Between that and a desire to see the burlesque world outside of NYC, I was motivated to apply to Basically Every Festival Ever in 2013.

I didn't apply to everything, and I didn't get into everything I applied to (it would be really weird if I did, right?) However, I did wind up getting into- and attending- A LOT. I just came home from my 9th festival since January, and I still have two more to go- Alternatease and NYBF.

Because I'm not going to be spending much time at Alternatease beyond the show I'm in and so it probably won't change my feelings much, and I also performed at NYBF last year, I thought that now seemed like a good time to let you know what I think makes a good festival- for PERFORMERS.

I don't think I need to speak on what makes a festival great for your audience (great performances, alcohol, seating), but since festivals are often a volunteer and expense-ridden situation for the performers involved, it's important to create an atmosphere that will make those performers happy, so that they speak well of their experience and repeat their visit. 

Since I'm not going to festivals expecting to be paid, I have a different set of expectations and needs, in this order:

-Opportunity to network
-Opportunity to experience good burlesque from burlesque performers outside of my everyday life (in other words, I want to witness what burlesque is like in different parts of the country)
-Fun and comfort
-Level of expense

I judge festivals based on these four things. If I have spent money to be there- which is impossible not to do if you are an out-of-towner visiting a festival (exempting headliners)- then I need these things in order to feel that I have had a satisfactory and worthwhile experience. Especially since I am now involved in helping to create a festival myself, I think it's important to consider these things, and the desires/needs of the performers in your event.

That said, I have created a list of things which, in my opinion, I think festivals can do to appeal to performers. These are all based off of things I really liked at festivals I have attended, as well as some things I really did not like at others. Here they are! 

This is so important. No out of towner wants to be the rude person who talks during the show- and sometimes when there are expensive tickets, we can't even afford to GO to all the shows, so afterparties are where you do the most networking. Everyone has seen you perform, everyone is relaxed and feeling social- they are absolutely crucial to an out of towner's experience. Equally, don't make your afterparty another show. Most festival shows are already 2 to 3 hours long- it's okay to have a break from performances in your weekend, and having it be more burlesque nullifies the ability to network (again- you can't talk during a show.) Don't charge admission to your afterparty. Try to find a venue for the party that is either close to your host hotel, or your venue.

If you are doing your festival in the summer, make sure there's air conditioning in the dressing room. Heating if it's in the winter. Make sure the venue respects you and the money/crowd you are bringing in. Don't force your performers to change in a dusty backroom without enough clean tables/surfaces on which to set their expensive costumes. Provide enough mirror space for the 15+ people you will have backstage. Make sure your stage is a STAGE, and that performers can get to the stage from the dressing room without walking through the audience. If your stage is made from panels, and you have NO OTHER VENUE ALTERNATIVE, make sure that the cracks between the panels are securely covered and that there are no holes for stilettos to slip through. Make sure that the venue has space for all the tickets you want/need to sell to make your money, PLUS space for your performers- which brings me to…

3) LET YOUR PERFORMERS SEE THE SHOWS FOR FREE (or at least at a discount)
It is almost pointless to go out to a festival without seeing the shows. Like networking, watching the burlesque is IMPERATIVE for an out-of-towner. Let your performers go to the shows that they are helping you put on by offering them free admission, or at least giving them discounted prices for the weekend (the whole weekend- not just one show out of many). Remember, they are paying to travel and stay there, missing out on paid work at home, AND they are offering you free work. Saying that you are offering performers "free admission to the show they are performing in" is nonsense and slightly insulting (noone would ever say that at any other show, would they?) The performers ARE the show- you have no festival without them volunteering their time and boobs (and/or cocks.) 

If you don't think your venue is large enough to fit all of your performers plus the regular sales you would make; that's GREAT! It means you are a great show and you need a bigger venue. Find one. This makes a HUGE difference in how performers view their experience with you and is the number one complaint I hear (and have). On another hand, if you think you won't make any money if you don't get your performers to buy tickets, you should maybe consider if your scene is too small to have its own festival. I have been at festival shows that were 90% populated by performers from the other nights who had to pay full price for their tickets, and it felt very exploitative.

I know it's probably hard to get local housing for EVERYONE, but do the best you can. Hotel costs suck. Also, setting out of towners up with local hosts helps a lot with networking, and really improves their ability to have fun around a city they don't know. Also also, remember that performers are BROKE. Try to facilitate rideshares for performers to get from your host hotel to the venue and back, if they are not within walking or easy public transportation distance. And especially...

I know this may seem small, but it's a very common complaint. After all, they just spent $250 on a plane ticket. Don't make them spend another $100 round trip on cabs. If you're a public transportation city and no one local owns cars, or there's an easy/free shuttle straight to the hotel from the airport, then it's probably fine not to do this; but if your airport is miles away from the city and there's no good way to leave it without a car, make sure everyone can have a ride.

Enough said. It helps offset costs for the performers at little to no cost to you.  

I get that it's obnoxious to rewatch 40+ videos to create your setlist, but it's even more important for long festival shows than it is for normal shorter ones. Make notes on costume colors and types and act mood/music/theme when you watch videos so you have an easier time creating your setlist. Don't put fan dances back to back. Don't put two pink shimmy numbers back to back. Don't put numbers with the same song in the same show, ever.

Similarly, consider staggering your headliners over the course of the show instead of saving them all for the end. It brings more life to the body of your show, and just as having a "headliner block" might make the headliners feel more special, it can also make the rest of the performers seem less special, which certainly isn't true or else they wouldn't have gotten in.

I have been to festivals with small casts and two shows, and festivals with hundreds of performers spread out over four to six shows. The thing I have to say about this is: Long shows are extremely tiring. They're tiring for the audiences, and they're tiring for the performers (I always feel a little apologetic for headliners who are last to go after a four hour show block). 

Listen, if you can create a four hour show that is top notch from start to finish, I commend you and I will watch the heck out of it- and I have, at several festivals! But I would rather watch a show with "only" 10 mind blowing performances than a 25-number show where I'm only drawn in by a portion of the acts. All performers, no matter the skill level, are critical of festival shows, and they WILL go home and tell their peers what they thought. If you have an awesome but smaller show, they'll all go home and talk about how good it was, and the next year your application pool will have even more talent to pull from in order to create a longer but equally exciting night- if you want. You don't "need" to have twenty performers for a festival show. On a similar note..

Even just some celery sticks and hummus backstage makes a difference. Remember that when your performers are starting tech at 4 or 5 and staying till potentially midnight often without a chance to leave in between, they don't have the time or ability to get dinner. Equally, boxed wine is cheap and WAY better than nothing. At the very least, barring all of this- THERE ABSOLUTELY HAS TO BE WATER.

Speaking as a New Yorker, most of our shows, even the most prestigious, happen in tiny dive bars, on little stages with crappy nightclub lighting, or in black box theaters. It is REALLY hard to get video at all, let alone good video in this environment. Because of this, most of my favorite videos of my acts come from festivals, and I am really sad when I can't get that footage. If you can offer the video cheap or free, even better, but at least offer it. Bonus if you offer packages, so I can choose to pay less just to get a raw unedited file and fix it up myself if I want.

And finally...

Glass walking is one of those things that always looks impressive, but can be very dangerous for other performers in your show if he/she doesn't really know what he/she is doing. I know a lot of sideshow performers and I've seen a ton of glass walking, good and bad. This is a big deal to me. A glass walker CAN NOT leave their tarp without cleaning off their feet first. Remnants of the glass will leave their feet, get on your stage, and cut up another performer's soles. Glass jumping and dancing done improperly can also send glass shards flying onto the rest of your stage, where they will go unnoticed until they hurt someone. I have seen MULTIPLE FESTIVALS in which a glass walker's routine has messed up the stage and another performer's safety. Sometimes it's an accident, but a professional glass walker won't let someone else handle their glass cleanup, and I have absolutely never seen a glass walker walk away without checking and cleaning the stage his/herself until I saw it at a festival this year. It's poor form and bad practice. If you really, really want glass walking in your show, make sure you know the safety implications and that you specifically talk it over with the performer prior to day of show.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Nerdlesque, and What We Need to Grow

I love burlesque. I love it for a lot of reasons- the variety of personalities, the range of ideas, the vast amount of creativity, the costumes… the boobs. (Sometimes: the cock.)

Since I was a little girl, I've been a big old dork. I like video games and fantasy worlds. Dice are fun. I think a friday night playing scrabble with some wine is a pretty rocking evening. Again- big old dork.

Neo burlesque relies on so many tropes and cliches- in many ways, you can say EVERY act is based that way. The sultry seductress- the naughty nurse- the powerful policewoman- the nun gone wrong- the playful minx. These are all stereotypes that hold a specific image in each of our heads, with which burlesque often toys.

Additionally, we all bring the things we love- and that get our rocks off- to our burlesque. Classic burlesquers with a love for pinup style shine with Bettie Page influence in their numbers. There are ladies who base almost all their acts off of animals, because they find them to be the most inspiring source material.

So if I find rpgs and fighting games sexy and evocative (and I do, frankly), why shouldn't I express that in burlesque? Of course I should! Pop culture references are beautiful and in many ways perfect for burlesque because our own realities change our perceptions of their meanings, and so we all see them differently, just as we all might read the characteristics of a feline differently.

I hear a lot of arguments about how nerdlesque is just people cosplaying and getting naked and its just misappropriating and copying characters. I think you can reasonably say that this is what BAD BURLESQUE is, without applying it solely or specifically to nerdlesque. There are lots of bad regular burlesque acts that can be summed up as "OMG A HOUSEWIFE! Oh...and now I guess she's naked but why?" Or, "That dress is completely gorgeous!! But… ok, so I don't really know what else is happening here."

There are bad performances all over that haven't had enough thought put into why, or how, they are happening. But just as there are also many GOOD sparkly acts, there are also many GOOD nerdlesque acts, of all types.

I think it's fair to say that nerdlesque is nothing like cosplay, because cosplay rules dictate that you need to be as close to the costume as humanly possible. In nerdlesque, your costume is, sure, based on a character, but interpreted in your own way of what that character means to you. It doesn't have to be exact, it just has to be recognizable. That's why you can get away with something like Victoria Private's Robin (of Batman & Robin fame) act, where her Robin looks more like Mary Tyler Moore, swooning over Batman as "My Guy" plays in the background, than a super hero, and still have a successful act. To Victoria, the part of Robin that she wanted to explore was his devotion to his main man. You could never do that in the cosplay world; but you can do it in nerdlesque, and it makes sense.

This is what I love about nerdlesque, because if you've ever really loved a book or a movie or a game, you probably do what I do and wonder what happens to those characters OUTSIDE of that context. What does Spiderman read in the bathroom? Who does Frodo think about when he masturbates? Do you think Wonder Woman eats gluten? I mean seriously. What makes nerds NERDS is that we think about these characters like our friends and wonder how they're holding up on their off days. And THAT is what nerdlesque is about- looking at real life through the reflective lens of these pop culture icons.

Specifying the stripping out of a costume for no purpose problem to nerdlesque bothers me for two reasons. One being, as said before, I think it is a problem that applies to ALL burlesque, even something simply classic and sparkly. And the second being that, while I do think that nerdlesque has a large problem to consider, it is not that one.

Nerds are by nature obsessive and over thinking. I can see how, to a person who doesn't get the reference, an act might APPEAR to only being stripping out of cosplay- but usually it isn't. Even bad nerdlesque acts usually have a concept. The problem is that the many little easter eggs the performer probably worked hard to create in their number are usually only visible to people who understand the source. So, while someone who doesn't know anything about Star Wars may see a Darth Maul act as a cosplay strip, a Star Wars fan may see a whole different (and complete) story.

So, basically, this is the REAL problem we have: Accessibility

You need to consider the audience. For a generic anything-goes burlesque show, you want your nerdlesque number to be accessible to everyone- of course. By this I mean: you want your number to catch the attention of non nerdy audience members, DESPITE and REGARDLESS OF the little details you put in that make your number referential. But even for most nerdlesque shows, where the audience is far more knowledgeable, they still may only get six out of seven of the comic books the acts are from. If they can't still enjoy that act, I do honestly think that's a failure for the performer.

I used this comparison recently and I think it is a good one. Naughty nurses and mischievous felines are so old hat, they don't really compare to nerdlesque because they are very universal. A better comparison would be Coney Island or I <3 NYC themed acts. How many performers do we know who have these? Your act may be incredible to NYC audiences, but take it to Seattle, and they probably won't get it. Nerdlesque performers, in many ways, are constantly creating I <3 NYC acts and bringing them to Seattle audiences. 

This is the biggest issue for nerdlesque. To be viable, every act needs to be a double entendre, a concern which does not plague most other burlesque niches that I know of.

To be a little immodest here, I want to talk about my Sonic the Hedgehog number. I think this is a successful nerdlesque number for a general audience. If you KNOW Sonic, a classic Sega video game franchise character, you know that he's a smart little blue guy with a spiky head who spins in a ball, collects gold rings, puts 150% into everything, like chili dogs. If you don't, that's cool too- you don't have to.

My Sonic act is designed like a classic number. It's a headdress, a corset, a skirt, a rhinestone encrusted bra. There's fringe and sequins and tassels. It makes sense, as a classic act. It's pretty and fun to watch. You don't feel left out. I don't bring out anything that anyone can't understand.

But if you DO know Sonic- you ALSO notice that my blue umbrella I use at the beginning and the end looks like him when he's speeding along as a ball. You notice that my feather headdress is designed to resemble the spikes on his head. You notice that my tassels are the gold rings he collects. You notice that the instrumental track I've chosen sounds like it's straight out of a video game. You realize that what I've just done is complete the imaginary Burlesque Level of Sonic's adventure. High score! Two billion points! Take that, bad guys!

These are simple, fun little bonuses that don't take away from the appeal of the act for those unknowing, but still add a lot for those who are nerdy enough to notice them.

I think it does a disservice to to the entire burlesque community to misunderstand pointless stripping out of a costume as a problem specific to one nerdy niche. It lets bad performers of other persuasions off the hook for that, and frankly I'm far more pissed off by a person who only put 8,000 rhinestones on a costume and thinks that affords her stage time, than someone who put thought and hard work into a concept but hasn't been taught how to, OR EVEN THAT HE/SHE SHOULD, make it understandable to everyone.

It also does a disservice to nerdlesque by focusing its eyes on the wrong issues. What we need is for more nerdy performers to learn how to work a Shakespearean tongue on the fabric of their acts. If everyone thinks the only problem is having a story, they'll let down their guard once they've made one, not realizing that what they actually need is to make their story dual purposed.

Nerdiness is by nature exclusive, and in such an (almost exceedingly) inclusive art form as burlesque, I think we need to work harder to allow non-nerds to "get it" (in much the same way as the male nerd community needs to start welcoming us ladies into the clubhouse). 

In order to grow, there needs to be more education and workshops intended for teaching the skills needed to make it accessible without losing its integrity, so that nerdlesque can continue to relate to the rest of the burlesque community instead of segregating itself and becoming disconnected. There has to be guidance from successful performers who understand the intent of nerdlesque and the work that goes into creating dual purposed acts.

Let's make it happen!