Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Dangrrrous Habits

I have listened to this song on repeat nigh constantly for at least a week with only a few breaks for other music.  Spotify doesn't count plays as far as I can tell, but I've listened to it at least one to three hours a day- a few hundreds of times.

This is absolutely insane behavior. I know it is, but I can't help it; I spiral. 

Like many folks I know, I suffered from pretty serious depression as a teenager. It was common for me to spiral down into myself and just become numb with emptiness. I dealt with this then by diving into art, becoming over absorbed by whatever project had my attention at the time. It probably wasn't very good but was at least a positive outlet for my unhappiness, and rather than becoming encased in my anxiety and obsessing over the unimaginable scope of the universe and the vacuum of death, I would instead become obsessed with the creation of beauty from nothing. I wrote pages of songs, pouring over chords and lyrical progression. I wrote insane stories; I drew thousands of eyes, I learned to costume. I would spiral into my art instead of my sadness.

The depression cleared up like pubescent acne, but my brain is still constantly buzzing with curiosity and analysis. Humans are complicated, beautiful, tragic; both unimportant and extremely important, pure joy and utterly terrifying all at once. I love people. I find us enthralling and exciting. How can we all be so different and yet also so prone to falling into the same patterns? What's the point of anything we do when in the end we'll just be dust? What is it about our mortal time limit that causes some people to lash out with hate and anger and others to live with boundless impulsive love; and how are the people who simply live their lives from day to day able to do it so routinely, knowing that they're going to die sometime far too soon? I'm sure faith in a god concept helps somewhat. I don't know; I’ve never been able to hold onto one, myself. It's a negative consequence, assumedly, of being an overeducated, overprivileged and acutely self aware child of both the suburbs and the Holocaust. My fear of death and inability to rationalize it has left me laying awake in a panic more often than I should probably cop to.

Anyway, as you can imagine music has always helped me when I would start to feel the existential crisis coming on. It’s a reminder that there are many people around who aren't complacent, who’re just as aware and confused about the human condition as I am and trying to handle it the best they can as well. We are instinctively herd animals; knowing that you aren't alone is probably the most important thing to remember to maintain sanity and comfort in your life. 

All told, it's no surprise that I gravitated towards burlesque. It combines so many of my favorite things; music, visual art, storytelling, theater, costuming, social interaction, sociopolitical subversion, and nudity.  It's an artform that wholly allows you to explore the human condition, if you want to; to pull apart the shame we place on the things that ought to connect us the most, the taboos we have created to establish authority and hierarchy, the baseless societal restrictions that diminish certain people and qualities simply to establish a false sense of order and comfort. I mean; or it can just be a celebration of titties. That's pretty great, too.

Now that burlesque is my main artform, usually (though not always) I wind up finding the spark of inspiration in a song and become instantly obsessed. Like I said before, I will spiral down until there's nothing but that four minutes of music in my head. Nine times out of ten it'll be a song described accurately both musically and lyrically as bittersweet; in other words, I tend to fall in love with the acknowledgement that life is more complex than black and white visions of Good vs Bad. There are consequences to all actions; a beautiful new relationship may entail the end of another, or a horrible mistake may reveal a lucky turn of events that would have never happened without it. 

A perfect example of the sort of songs I crawl into bed with is the one I used as the basis for my number, "My Love is Destruction." It's called You Destroy Me, performed by an amazing band called VAST, and it is slow, seductive and beautifully wistful. The lyrics are deceivingly simple, just four lines confessing emotion with more weight than a freight train;

You destroy me
When you walk into the room
You destroy me,
And you always will

These lyrics are everything. Why? Because they say so much in so few words. The unspoken desire and grief, happiness and pain between these lines could weave a novel, but they choose not to. They stand there, honest, wanting and vulnerable, leaving questions unanswered, just like they are meant to do.

I debuted that number in July but I started working on it in March. That means at least four or five months where I listened to very, very little besides this one song. I would force myself to take breaks from it every now and then; to rehearse other numbers, or just to break myself out of the spell when I needed to be more mentally present. The act itself is a two song performance, with You Destroy Me crossing faithfully into Hozier's Arsonist's Lullaby, a complementary and beautiful song in its own right. 

Here's what happens: the song envelopes my brain, and through it one of the many faces of my personality and outlook appears. At first it's fuzzy, unfocused. But then it begins to take shape, slowly taking its time until it has grown fully into a monstrous image; a little piece of reality shoved through the music's prismatic lens and emerging, metamorphosed, as a fantasy.

I can't let go of the song until the act debuts. The likelihood that the audience understands the overwrought intention behind my number is slim; usually they just see the crazy costume and the boobs and the faraway look that fills my eyes, and leave it happily at that. Burlesque performers rarely get the chance to explain our numbers; but then I can't pretend to know if most people overthink their premises in the same way that I do.

All of my favorite numbers were born this way. To be truthful I'm writing this with tears rolling down my face, fully circling the drain of my current song; it's breathtaking and whimsical and has been possessing me since I stumbled upon it. 

I know that its catalystic melody will haunt me until I can finally free it onto a stage. I can't help it; I spiral.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Holy Trigger Warnings, Batgirl!

I wish they hadn't pulled the Batgirl cover.

Before we begin, let me issue: A trigger warning. No, seriously; a very real one. In discussing this, I'm going to go Full Frontal and tell you some personal experiences that are going to make you feel really squicky inside. You're going to have to deal with it; the masses can complain enough to cancel a cover, but you can't erase my true life experience. 

Some background: Recently, DC issued a Batgirl cover as part of a "Joker appreciation month" deal, which had a callback to the Killing Joke, in which the Joker sexually and physically abuses Barbara Gordon, leaving her disabled, broken, and humiliated on a whim. 

It's a sore spot for people because it's… well you know, horrifying. And he's not even attacking Barbara Gordon to attack Barbara Gordon; she's a pawn in his plan to hurt others.

The controversial cover portrays Joker holding a gun downwards at Batgirl, having drawn a crude Joker smile onto her face in.. paint, blood? Who knows. She has true fear in her eyes. He is smiling and holding her with casual ownership. I can tell you personally, it definitely inspires some truly painful gut feelings.

Let's flash back for a second. It's the summer of 2008; a young Dangrrr Doll is brutally, helplessly in love with an abusive sociopathic lying sonofabitch. 

Baby Dangrrr, much like Current Dangrrr, was not much of a masochist. But I was addicted to this man. Emotional abuse is a crazy thing folks. I was trapped in a Harley Quinn prism, brainwashed, isolated from my friends, trained to think I was terrible and could do no better.

In June 2008, on a day much like any other day, I went to see his shitty punk band play at one of the bars we'd frequented. The catch of it was, the girl he was fucking behind my back was there. Ok- it wasn't super behind my back. I knew it was happening. But I'd been told I was "just" crazy and paranoid so many times that I talked myself out of my own knowledge.

Anyway I guess he "didn't expect me to come," even though he'd told me I was a piece of shit if I didn't come. He manufactured a lot of circumstances like this. One time, my house lost power and so he told me I could go over to his place in the morning to take a shower before I went to work, told me he would leave the door unlocked for me and that I should come wake him up to say hi before I left. And of course, I went there, as I was told to, and found him with another girl in his bed. DELIGHTFUL.

So here we are at this show. He gets drunk as hell, and she leaves in a huff. He grabs me and says "FUCK that bitch! She shouldn't have come anyway! Drive me home." Well, I did, but he stopped me halfway there. Dragged me out of the car into a cornfield, threw me down and fucked me while I cried and screamed no, stop! 

The rest of the way home, he yelled at me for "ruining and complicating his life." By the time we got to his house I was sobbing violently and shaking. He shoved a blunt knife into my hands and goaded me to end my worthless life.

After almost an hour of this, when I finally started scratching away at the skin on my wrists, he quickly grabbed my hand. "You idiot," he laughed, "I was only joking!" and with that, laughing like a schoolboy, he skipped inside his house.

About two weeks later I tried to break things off, so he smashed a lamp over my head, then cried hysterically in the bathtub holding a razor to his own wrist this time until I apologized for making him feel bad.

Mine was the epitome of the Harley/Joker romance. A sociopath manipulating and abusing a once-intelligent woman into an empty shell of a hopeless soul, all for amusement and little else? Yeah, that was me.

Ok, so now you know that this is sort of personal for me, right? That's clear? Do you feel uncomfortable? Good, you should. 

Here's what I hate about Harley Quinn: she cannot be saved. She has been torn down into nothing; she savors her own abuse, starved for any attention at all from her drug, the Joker. She will do anything for him, anything: Even kill herself. She is defeated. And she is ever present in nerd culture.

This is why we need that Batgirl cover. We NEED that Batgirl cover. 

I know what you're thinking: Why, Dangrrr!? Why would you want to be confronted with those feelings?

The Joker is a sociopathic, psychopathic, crazy smart lunatic who loves to torture for little to no reason. He's also a representation of an actual sort of person that populates the real world, sans the clown schtick. If we pretend that the Joker does not exist, if we hide the Joker deep inside…. people like the Joker are given more power to hurt us.  Do you think removing sexual violence from literature is going to erase it from the world? You are only hiding the problem, which allows it to fester and grow even further unchecked. Banning books and banning book covers was never, EVER the way to education. What sort of backwards thinking have we succumbed to as a society?

We need strong abuse survivors in pop culture to look up to, acknowledge, respect.. Barbara Gordon was paralyzed but instead of letting that trauma ruin her life, she rose up and became Oracle. She overcame her history and became a stronger person because of it. 

When I was in my abusive relationship, I lost the ability to cry for over a year. I stopped expressing any emotion, fear, or pain; it was too much to handle. I made myself numb to the outside world. I could barely breathe, let alone cry. And if somehow I did manage to tear up, I got beaten down. If I expressed fear, I was abused. Batgirl crying on that cover shows me that she still has hope. Her fear means she is still trying to think of ways to escape. Thinking of ways to escape means she has not been defeated. It means she can turn this thing around.

Unlike how people often romanticize the Joker/Harley dynamic, absolutely noone can deny the onesided abusiveness of that cover. Noone will be seduced into thinking rape is okay by viewing it. However, they will be reminded that villains are out there doing unspeakable things, so unspeakable that even their slightest implication will create scandal far more easily than the outright graphic portrayal of violent murder. We need to admit that sexual violence is real, and that villains like the Joker will rape if they are able to rape, because if we can pretend that he would never do something like that- I mean for fuck's sake, if the Joker, pure chaotic evil, would never rape someone, how could you ever convince a jury that a frat boy or a straight A student or a CEO would? 

Comics are the twitter of literature, easily digestable for short attention spans. Don't you want to teach younger generations that sexual violence isn't ok? Because honestly, Batgirl is a perfect place for that lesson. Showing that a strong superheroine like Batgirl can still be affected by sexual abuse will teach that sexual abuse survivors aren't "just weaklings". It will teach them that everyone, EVERYONE can fall victim to abuse. And then when you show Batgirl rising up, destroying the Joker, clearly confronting that history and then defining herself as more than just the victim from the Killing Joke- that's important. You help give abuse survivors hope; you help show moldable minds that sexual abuse has dire consequences; you help bring awareness to a huge, often-censored problem- as we're seeing now. Especially with its current team bring such badass feminist energy to the comic, this is the perfect time to show Batgirl dealing with the same problem that that majority of women on this Earth have to deal with at some point in their lives.

And in some ways, they did! Gail Simone particularly spent some time on Batgirl's PTSD and reclaiming her life when she wrote for the series. Why hush it up now? I keep seeing in the articles I've read that one of the main reasons this cover was an issue is because the series has been trying to move past that part of Barbara's history. Well I'm sorry to say it but it is still part of her history, and that cover is probably the image that would pop up in Batgirl's mind when thinking about herself and the Joker, whether she's past it or not. (The next image in her head of course is probably of her grabbing the gun and punching him smack in the jaw before shooting him in the nuts. Bam! Pow!)

Listen, it's been six years since my abuse ended and I am totally on with my life- I'm happy, able to have normal relationships, very good at saying no, and also pretty good at saying yes when the mood strikes. But I will always, always have it in my history. I have it, I acknowledge it, and I'm not going to pretend it didn't happen just because it makes other people uncomfortable. And yep, every now and then- like right now, writing this blog post- I think about the pain I felt and I cry; and then I smile at my victory in being able to feel that pain and still be a totally kickass human being.

Whether the cover should have been produced in the first place is a different story perhaps, but once created, it certainly should not have been taken back. Some have claimed that the production of that cover is an anti-feminist move, but there is nothing more anti-feminist than quieting the truths of the reality we face daily. There is no progress in that. If you think she can only be strong if this part of her character is ignored, then you are inherently calling her weak. This trauma is part of what makes her so strong, just like Batman having watched his parents get murdered is part of what makes him so strong. They have both risen above and become not just survivors, but superheroes. They both have reasons to want to dish out justice. Let Batgirl claim her history as her history, instead of banishing it to be another story that only affects the history of the men involved. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Cost of Burlesque

Good morning, world!

In the past several days on my facebook, which unsurprisingly has a very specific mix of naked people and nerdy people, I've been seeing many cosplayers post "cost breakdowns" of the costumes they make. This is a reaction to silly trolls on the internet saying that they only do it for attention, and them trying to show how much love and effort goes into every costume.

Well... they put a lot of money into it, and to be honest, that makes me think more that they do it for attention. Don't get me wrong- this is not what this blogpost is about- and to be completely honest, I see nothing wrong with putting tons of time and effort and love into a hobby (which sadly can't often translate into a career) and then being pissed off when people don't recognize how fucking hard they've worked. Holy hell would I be angry if I made a giant suit of armor with wings and horns and walked around and no one took my picture. Anyway.

This comes at a time when the burlesque community is (once again) bitching at itself about pay rates, which haven't changed in ten years, and which often don't change (nearly enough, anyway) when you improve, or put effort in. True, when I first started I accepted 20 and 30 dollar gigs and now I don't do anything under 50 per show even for people I like. Most of the time, I don't accept those, either, unless I really love the producers AND know they'll let me get away with experimentation and fuckery (aka, they will let me practice my craft on stage- a very valuable resource for sure.)

As a burlesque performer, the more effort I put into a costume, the more attention I want it to get, directly translated into dollar signs. When I posted about potentially doing a costume cost breakdown, one performer (with responses in agreement) said that sometimes she would just pull stuff from her closet for one off acts, to offset the fact that she was unable to make much if any profit from that act.

I get that when you're first starting out, but we are being paid money to be on a stage in front of people and give them an experience- it shouldn't be an experience they can have anytime in their own living room with the $25 Hulk costume they got at K Mart. I watch burlesque performers scoff at regular joes on Halloween who don't "put any effort in" and shell out for store-bought clothes; to then turn around and justify performing out of your closet is just lacking self awareness**. Those people are dressing up for funsies- we are dressing up for money. We should be putting more effort into it. We should be ABLE to put more effort into it.

SO, with that prologue I give you the costume cost for my "Classic Metal" act. This is the costume cost alone- it doesn't reflect act creation and rehearsal time which is just as if not more important for a burlesque number. I've decided it's dumb to include costs of stuff like makeup and travel, which I would have to pay for anyway and which I use multiple times (even my eyelashes, which I wear a billion times each even though it's probably totally unhygenic). I also didn't include the cost of sewing tools because, as a regular costumer, I would have that shit anyway. Rest assured that I have more tools and makeup than if it were Not My Job, by at least if not more than $1000, but it is my job, and it's not imperative to this cost breakdown.

I DID include labor because many performers do not make their own costumes and either order custom or embellish off of readymade bases, and since I make custom work, I think it's relevant to show how much my time is worth- how much I charge other people for it when I do custom costuming. I chose this costume because it is a typically burlesque piece, that many other performers can relate to. My labor quote is less than it normally would be because I did not have to make the dress from scratch (it was a gift).

Are you ready for this?

Photos by Tom Casey

Not pictured is my ostrich feather fascinator which I use to hold my hair up, and my extraordinarily tiny yet ridiculously sparkly underthings (my barely-there thong and tassels pasties).

I spent a total of $409 on materials for this costume, even despite the free dress, with 20 hours of labor, making this a costume I would charge another person $909 to make for them. My labor charge is also less than many other costumers in the area by the way, if you were wondering.

Thank fuck I didn't need an ostrich boa or feather fans for this number, which cost a minimum of $100 for low-quality China-made stuff, but really cost $200-$300 if you want something that doesn't look like shit.

I'm pretty skilled at buying stuff cheap (three yards of that gradient charmeuse for $40 was a deal) and this is probably one of the cheaper costumes I've made, materials wise. So let's break this down:

At $50 a show, I need to perform this act, specifically, 9 times to make up for material cost alone. Including labor, I would have to perform it 19 times.

I perform 12-18 shows in average every month, which is more than most performers but about average for professional performers in NYC. Now, ask me how many I would be performing if I just did this same one act over and over again...

For NYC, you really need a minimum of four acts in rotation, especially since many shows require two acts, and every show has a different need and niche. I have close to thirty acts, and the majority of them use costumes which cost equal to or double this in materials and time.

Let's say I just have four though, and that they all cost $400 and 20hrs to make, for ease of Math-ing. That means I spent $1600 on my costume and 80 hours, or $2000 in time. That means, at $50 an act, I need to perform 32 times to cover materials costs alone  and another 40 times  before I can make a profit on having four costumes.

With how much I perform currently, that means I wouldn't start making a profit until six months in. Of course, having only four costumes also would probably mean I couldn't perform in half the shows I do (theme shows would be right out). So, let's say I perform 8 times a month- that's still really respectable, every friday and saturday perhaps- it would take me 9 months before I could turn a profit. And after that, my profit for the year- 8 shows per month for three months at $50 each- is $720.

Did you read that? $720. That's your annual profit, if you only have four costumes, and if you perform at least 8 times a month.

I recognize that it's hard to just turn the status quo on its head, but instead of just saying "I can't, we can't" and being scared, its time for us to say "I can, I can," revalue ourselves, and push for more. All of us, together, can do it. Movie tickets cost $20 with snacks that cost $15 minimum. Drinks in NYC cost $14 each. Burlesque provides venues with a valuable audience, an audience that drinks without causing chaos and destruction. They need us. We can charge more, from our venues, for our tickets. The audience is there.

Let's push for a living wage.



**Edit: When I'm talking about people pulling stuff from their closets, I don't mean reusing expensive stagewear like fans, dance shoes, fringe sets, etc. I'm talking about them using "that cute panty set I got from target for dates" or "this pompom hat that I wear every day in the wintertime," aka regular non-costume clothing. As professional performers, it's true that many of us have really epic closets!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Everyone knows that I'm a pervy lady now, but as a kid I was a total prude. It was no fault of my mother, who was pro (safe) sexual experimentation and tried in vain to teach me that sex was healthy and fun. During our first sex talk she told me, "Honey, boys are going to do some things for you and they'll feel really nice, and you'll do things for them in return- it's only fair..." I mean, that's some fantastic and wonderfully open minded advice for a teenager in retrospect, but I remember yelling over her, disgusted, that I didn't want to talk about it. A unique experience to say the least.

I think it mostly had to do with the fact that sex was a thing you did with "friends", and I did not have friends, so I equated it with people I did not enjoy or respect; and therefore it appeared unenjoyable and disrespectful. Terrible teenaged logic, but it's how I felt.

None the less, organically I'm an extremely sexual girl and before I discovered sex, I had spontaneous orgasms probably once every week or so, maybe more. I imagine it was just like what boys experience when they're going through puberty with preteen erections and wet dreams and such; awkward and confusing and unavoidable and exciting and shameful... And delightful. Still, I never even touched myself.

People in my school bullied me constantly about being ugly and uncool, and so I figured sex was not a thing I would ever have to worry about, anyway. Instead I spent most of my time worrying about online chat roleplay games, dragons (I fuckin loved dragons), and the video games I played nonstop in my basement everyday after school.

When I became a sophomore in high school I somehow managed to score a boyfriend- a really hot boyfriend, too. He was three years older than me and was new to our high school- a second year senior after being kicked out of military school. He didn't have the preconceived dislike of me that the rest of my school had and so was able to see that, in fact, I was neither ugly nor gross (and my uncoolness was apparently very cool to him.) 

He told me he decided to ask me out after he saw a girl dump water on me, and watched me respond by chasing her down with a stick.

He had an eyebrow piercing and a car. As a teenager these things are basically like gold. He had pitch black hair, thin eyes and big juicy lips. He was very dark skinned naturally and even darker in the summer- watching him take off his watchband was a delightful lesson in tanlines, not a thing I had ever personally experienced, being so pale myself that my skin is practically translucent. He was- is- the only Jewish guy I've ever dated, much to my mother's chagrin. Oh well. Let's call him Ben. His name obviously was not Ben.

My mom and Ben got along famously, and when we started dating she turned to me and said "he'll be a great fuckbuddy until you go to college." She was right, of course, but it was still very embarrassing.

Ben was a perfect first boyfriend. He loved video games and swords and fantasy just as much as I did. He did not balk at my monstrous stuffed animal collection and he loved that I loved metal (even though he was more of a jam band guy.) He was understanding of my initial aversion to sex and walked through the bases with me slowly and respectfully. He started giving me head months before I felt comfortable with the idea of putting a dick in my mouth and never made me feel shitty about it or complained about unfairness. 

His penis was a perfectly average size with a slight upwards curve. The bottom half of his shaft was the same color as the rest of him but the top half looked like it had been frankensteined on from a black person. He let me draw faces on it, and do this thing when it was flaccid where I would turn it inside out inside his body, cover it with his balls, and then release it and watch it slowly pop out again like a car coming out of a garage. This is apparently a very easy way to entertain a fifteen year old girl, in case you were looking for one (don't do that, by the way, unless you also happen to be a teenaged person.) After his cock and I had finally gotten acquainted, I could not keep my hands off of it.

The first time I ever touched his dick- my first of many future dicks- there was actually another girl in the room. She was trying to initiate a threesome but, I mean, she was clearly barking up the wrong forest. We were all in bed watching tv together. She started snoring, so we gave each other a look... He pulled his dick out from his pants zipper under the covers- I'd never even seen it before, and I didn't look then. I nodded consent at him, and he pulled my hand towards it. Trembling, I took it between my thumb and forefinger in the kind of way you might hold a plastic baggie containing a dead mouse; with both fear and unfathomable gingerness, as though it would break under the slightest pressure. I couldn't breath. It was so weird!

The other girl woke up and got up to go to the bathroom, and as soon as she was out of earshot he gave me an amused smile and said "look, you're not gonna hurt it." I exhaled, wrapped my hand around its flesh and fell in love.

That June he was kicked out of his parent's house and lived in my basement. We spent every waking moment together. He was leaving the state for college in the fall- I thought for sure that would be the end of it. I fell stupidly in love and so did he.

By the time my birthday rolled around in late August, I knew I wanted to lose my virginity to him. I meditated on it the whole week beforehand, getting my courage up to tell him to make love to me. 

My birthday was less than a month before Ben had to leave for school. I was ready, and had a smile on my face all day in expectation. At dinnertime, my parents took us and my family out for birthday tacos, buy right after we placed our order I started to feel like death.

Dinner was a blur- I could not force myself to eat even a single bite of my food. My father screamed at me in the restaurant, claiming I was being a spoiled brat for some reason or another. My eyes welled up with tears as I swore I wasn't trying to be a problem, I just couldn't physicallh eat.

We returned home to find I had a fever of 102 degrees. I cursed my father out and ran to the basement with Ben behind me. He held me and calmed me down, and even though I felt sick we began to kiss. Heart pounding, I sucked his cock until he was hard, then mounted him and started rubbing my pussy on his erection.

"Stop," he breathed. "We have to stop right now or I won't be able to stop."

"So let's not stop."

"I...really? Are you sure?"

I pulled out a condom I had hid among the basement couch cushions and handed it to him. He slid it on, and then...

We just couldn't get him inside of me. The pain was monumental. My body being already weak from the fever, I couldn't hide the shock and gasped for air.

He stood up with haste, looking like a man who'd just accidentally shot someone. "It's okay," he said. "We don't have to do this now."

My mom called us to the kitchen eventually- my dad apologized and I opened presents, mechanically, completely uninterested. I watched other people eat cake. I frowned and said I wanted to go lay down. 

Ben and I went upstairs to my parents bedroom to watch tv and snuggle. I was not put off by our earlier failure- I pushed, and I played, and eventually..

"Stop," he breathed, "we have to stop right now or else..."

"I don't want to stop. All I want for my stupid birthday is to have sex with you before you have to leave me."

When he climbed on top of me again I wrapped my whole body around him and pulled him hard, against our uncertainty, deep inside of me.

The pain burst like an explosion and shattered into waves of pleasure unlike anything I'd ever felt, or would ever feel again.

Despite the massive pain I didn't bleed even a little bit, and as soon as it was (unsurprisingly quickly) over we threw our clothes back on and held each other close underneath my parents' comforter- sorry, mom.

The next day I told my mother (mostly- I didn't say it happened in her bed.) She said mazel tov and took me to CVS where she bought me the biggest box of condoms on earth, glaring in defiance at the cashier as she told me, "you should never feel guilty about making sure you're safe. There's nothing shameful about buying condoms." Two weeks later she would take me to her OB/GYN and hold my hand through my first exam, signing me up for a prescription for birth control pills.

After that, Ben and I had sex three or four times a day until he left. We experimented with almost everything kids can think of- roleplay, crazy positions. We did bondage using satin ribbons. I had a riding crop left over from horse riding lessons. We used to fuck constantly while fighting against each other in Super Smash Bros. I never let him touch my butt, though. (True facts: the first sex I had with my next longterm boyfriend, which was several years later, was anal sex. In the woods. In a tree. No lube. Really.)

I thought our relationship was going to end when Ben left for school, but it stupidly didn't. He wanted to try being long distance. He didn't want to break up. I was too naive to disagree.

Ben got kicked out of college after his first semester. At that point, it became obvious that we were not meant for each other, though it took longer for us to acknowledge it. His parents bought a townhouse for him to live in and he sat around there doing nothing except getting high. He became friends with people who made me feel unsafe. He started making me feel bad about my weight (a hefty 118 lbs) and my intelligence (a defensive measure since I'd earned him his only college A by writing one of his papers.) A year later, he started refusing sex and we mutually agreed to break up. 

True story- he met another girl two weeks after our split in one of his community college courses, and started dating her immediately. That was ten years ago! They got married, and very recently just had a baby. I'm happy for him; I'll always remember him fondly for being so patient and caring with me when I needed it. 


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: http://burlesquevanguard.com/

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 burlesquebeat.com 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.