Sparkly’s BHOF Survival Guide v2.0

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Rule #1 of BHOF: Be prepared for anything. Including pool monsters. 

It’s almost here! Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend countdown has begun, as glitterati from across the globe test the limits of their suitcases and prepare to descend on Las Vegas for four (or more) days of jam-packed glamour, showcases, classes and parties.

Last year I wrote my first-ever BHOF Survival Guide; there have been some exciting new additions to the Weekender, so I’ve put together an amended and improved version for 2013. So, without further ado:

The BHOF Survival Guide v2.0

In just a few days, hundreds of performers and fans from across the globe will descend upon Las Vegas for the largest and oldest burlesque competition — which is also the primary fundraiser for the world’s ONLY non-profit museum dedicated to preserving the history of  burlesque as an art form.

In addition to a reunion and four nights of jaw-dropping performances, there are daytime activities, group outings, pre-parties, after-parties, and hob-nobbing galore. This is one big crazy weekend overflowing with glitz, glam, glitter and sensory overload.

And although BHOF is a delight for the soul, it can also wreak havoc on your body. I’ve been going since 2003; and I still haven’t learned how to pack properly or bring the right shoes. (Edit: this will be the year I conquer the fucking shoe issue, I swear) However, here are a few bits of wisdom that I’ve accumulated over the years, which will hopefully guide you through the next few days, whether you’re a BHOF virgin or a veteran of Helendale.

 

DRINK WATER

No, seriously. Drink WAY more water than you think you need, all day, all night. Do not skimp on the water. Pretend you’re at Burning Man. Pee clear at all times.

Dehydration is the #1 cause of BHOF crankiness and exhaustion. It’s hot as hell in Vegas in June, you’re in the desert, and going from the pavement-melting indoors to the brisk chill of the A/C in the casino is going to affect you. Bling a water bottle, and carry it with you all day. If you’re drinking alcohol, have a glass of water in between each drink. Even if you’re not drinking alcohol, hit that H2O hard.

BRING COMFY SHOES

I CANNOT STRESS THIS ONE ENOUGH! Last year I was publicly busted for flagrantly ignoring my own advice, and wound up paying the price dearly: I had to fill the tub in my room with ice and shove my feet in while howling in pain, for a few days in a row. I vow to not repeat this in 2013!

Here’s the thing: you’re either a foot sweller, or you’re not. If you’re a sweller, you probably already have an inclination: if you have trouble removing your rings after a tough workout or when you’re dehydrated, you’re a sweller. Add to that the combination of air travel + desert & dehydration + impractical heels, and you will wind up with the curse of Las Vegas Blimp Foot (or, as my husband lovingly calls them, Eggplant Feet.)

If you’re a sweller: bring kitten heels, open-toed shoes, strappy sandals made of stretchy material – anything that will accommodate for swelling. If you can stand it, give your feet daily ice baths (or just soak them in the Orleans pool first thing in the morning, which will be pretty much the same temperature.)

If you’re not a sweller: you’re still not scott-free! Don’t wind up with crippling foot pain or searing blisters; make sure you have moleskin and Dr. Scholl’s inserts on hand. And for cripes sake, don’t break in a new pair of shoes in Vegas!

 

MEET THE LEGENDS

Again, I can’t emphasize this enough! Seek out the legends and strike up a conversation. Offer to buy them a drink, a cup of coffee, or a meal. Some of them may be a little shy, just like you – so just introduce yourself with a big smile, tell them where you’re from, and ask them a question or two. This is your chance to hear the stories of how it used to be firsthand from the ladies who lived it. And you can learn a trick or two from them at the BHOF Finishing School classes.

SEE THE MUSEUM

New this year: The Shimmy Shuttle will bring you to the The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum and back for a mere $10. The shuttle runs on Friday and Saturday only, and you must buy advance tickets, which you can do at the link above. If there is a one must not miss off-site event of the weekend, it’s this. Remember the entire Weekender is the primary fundraiser for the museum, so this is why we’re all here, folks!

The museum is located inside the Emergency Arts building, in historic downtown Las Vegas on Fremont Street. This area is commonly known as “Old Vegas” and is a lot of fun to wander around. Each shuttle will give you a 90-minute window between arrival and departure, so you’ll have plenty of time to hit the museum and do a little exploring of the area, too.  Here’s a description of the current exhibition, from Executive Director Dustin Wax:

“Not-So-Hidden Histories: Performers of Color in Burlesque”

“The history of burlesque is full of women (and some men) of color. Black, Asian, Latina, South Pacific Islander, and Native American dancers were very much a part of burlesque history, and not just as chorus girls for white headliners. They were integral players in the history of burlesque. Among the first to shamelessly bump and grind, performers of color left an indelible mark on burlesque history. Many achieved enough fame to work on the Minsky circuit, earn $1000 or more a week, insure their bodies, tour the US and Europe, and work with (and date) prominent entertainers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sammy Davis Jr., and Little Richard. These performers not only existed but, in many cases, they thrived.”

 

TWEET IT UP

Use the official hashtag of #BHOF when Tweeting & Instagramming your adventures – this helps drive awareness for the museum, and your enthusiasm will be infectious! We’re trying to achieve critical mass and get #BHOF trending on Twitter during the Weekender, so the more you Tweet, the better!

 

BE KIND TO YOUR BODY

Take multi-vitamins daily, drink that water, and try to get a minimum of 5 hours of sleep a night.

If you’re a vegetarian, on a budget, a fussy eater or just not a fan of the buffet, you can rent a fridge from the Orleans for $15 a day and hit up the local grocery store for supplies. Alternately, you can grab a big styrofoam cooler from the liquor store around the corner and keep it filled with ice, for both your carrot sticks and your booze.

If you’re looking to exercise something other than the fortitude of your liver: there’s the Orleans gym, a 24-Hour Fitness down the road, and there will be a room set aside for group fitness every morning from 9-10:30am, in Big Al’s Comedy Club. More details TBA!

BHOF is notorious for the all-day-into-late-night parties; it’s tempting to go balls-out for the first day or two, but you don’t want to crash-and-burn by Saturday afternoon. It’s a mini-marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself, you’re in it for the long haul!

But if you don’t drink or recently stopped, don’t fret – you’re not alone! Plenty of people who don’t drink go to BHOF and have an amazing time. If you’d like to meet up with some of them, there will be some on-site meetings for those in recovery who are attending BHOF. Follow @bhofbill on Twitter for more information.

BOOK DATE TIME

If you’re traveling with your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/spouse, make sure your S.O. is attended to and has what s/he needs to stay entertained and happy. Try to book something alone time for just the two of you, whether it’s watching the fountains at the Bellagio or enjoying a nice meal together away from the hustle & bustle of festival.

 

HIT THE STRIP

The Orleans offers a free shuttle to the main drag of Las Vegas, known as “the Strip.” Here’s where you’ll find clusters of big casinos, tourist traps, mile-high plastic cups in silly shapes, and all of the other delightfully tacky glitz that Vegas is known for. Check out these free attractions for more great stuff to do and see that won’t cost you a dime.

 

GO SHOPPING

Don’t forget to hit the BHOF Bazaar! Beyond that, if you’ve got the bling bug and you’re looking to get your shop on, here are a couple of great spots: 

-Fantastik Indoor Swap Meet – Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 6pm. This isn’t a swap meet, but a huge indoor flea market that’s like heaven for drag queens and burlesque chicks. You’ll find $1 lashes, cheap hair flowers, wigs, sparkly heels, costume jewelry, dresses, knives, churros, and god knows what else. This is also where you can find the customized rhinestone name necklaces that now serve as the defacto BHOF nametag – you can get them in the DuBarry’s booth. Get a group to share a cab over; be warned that it’s easy to catch a cab there, but pickup will take a lot longer, so keep that in mind if you need to be back at a specific time.

-DuBarry’s – DuBarry’s has a huge booth at Fantastik, but if you still want even more rhinestoned bling, check out their brick & mortar store. It’s packed to the bursting point with costume jewelry, accessories and fabulousness.  There’s also free music and champagne on Sundays.

-William’s Costume Company. Outstanding collection of unique trims, chainette fringe, and a large selection of rhinestones, plus lots of assorted costumes, props and ridiculousness.  Ask for Glenda the Rhinestone Lady, and tell her you want to see her collection of rhinestone handiwork.

 

REMEMBER TO PACK

-Your ID! You need it to pick up your tickets!

-Lotion, moisturizer, chapstick, and baby powder if you’re prone to chafing. You will feel like a lizard come Sunday.

-Sunscreen, parasols and floppy hats; shade is limited at the Orleans pool.

-Waterproof mascara & Kleenex for the Friday night Legends showcase. You will cry.

-Your business cards & flyers.

-Light cardigans and shawls to cover up in the cold casino.

JUST BREATHE

If you’re performing during the weekend, you might be a little stressed. Or freaked out. Or you might be in full-blown meltdown mode….so just take a minute to breathe. It’s natural to be a little stressed out, so set aside some just-you time to unwind and relax before your performance: take a quiet bubble bath in your room, find a secluded part of the pool to get in some reading, or book some time at the spa. Remember, you’re here to have FUN, right? Just go with the flow, don’t sweat the little shit, slap on another layer of sparkle, and be fucking fabulous!

I’ll see all of you in VEGAS, BABY! And if you catch me in uncomfortable shoes, you have my permission to document it and publicly shame me via social media. Game on.

Coping with Burlesque Rejection

So you didn't get into the burlesque festival of your dreams - now what?

So you didn’t get into the burlesque festival of your dreams – now what?

Burlesque festival season is upon us, and the sheer number of events happening across the globe these days is staggering — check out this fantastic resource of international festivals compiled by Ri Ri SynCyr.

Thousands of performers are huddling over laptops filling out applications, and will wait with bated breath to see if they’re accepted to perform in the festival of their choice. It’s amazing to see how festivals have grown over the past few years, and delightful to see them thriving in regional areas – but the downside is that demand now outweighs availability, and many a performer will wind up crestfallen when she opens her email to find the form letter she’s been dreading.

Dude, rejection sucks. There’s no way around it – and it’s particularly painful when it comes to burlesque, because what we do is so incredibly personal. We are literally stripped naked, making ourselves deeply vulnerable by inviting (often anonymous) strangers to evaluate our stage worthiness. Our acts our so intrinsically personal: it’s a mini one woman/man show, which you wrote, directed, costumed and choreographed.  You poured hours of, blood, sweat, passion and layers of E-6000 into your baby – and when someone tells you that you didn’t make the cut? It fucking HURTS.

That said, rejection is inevitable aspect of any creative art, whether it’s pitching movie scripts, getting a grant, or auditioning for a play.

It also happens to everyone – I guarantee that the performer you idolize the most has gotten rejected at some point. Any artist who is worth their salt knows that you must take risks in order to attain greatness, and part of that risk involves getting turned down for a show, role, opportunity, job, or partnership that you really, really, REALLY wanted.

Rejection sucks – but it can also be the catalyst for us to work harder, think bigger, and better our craft… both individually and as a whole.

So what do you do when it happens to you? Here’s a triage guide to help ease the ouch and find the silver lining in the email you never wanted to open.

Breathe

It’s not the end of the world, even though it feels like it in this moment. Take a deep breath, and take as much time as you need collect yourself. It’s natural to be overcome with a storm of emotions — hurt, anger, self-doubt — but don’t let those raw feelings take control over you, or dictate your next actions.

Take It Offline

When we’re hurt, we seek solace — but this gets sticky in the age of social media, when sometimes our first reaction is to vent in a public forum. If you get rejected, you need to think very carefully about how to react to your news publicly – and whether you should do so at all.

Friends don’t let friends Facebook when they’re drunk or hella pissed. If you lash out in anger on social media — at best, you’ll be exposing your very personal disappointment in a very public manner which you might regret later; at worst, you could do serious damage to your professional reputation, lose future bookings, and burn bridges.

I absolutely encourage you to seek comfort in your friends — but do it one-to-one: a phone call, a text, a private email, or face-to-face.

And speaking of friends — most of your performer pals know that trashing a festival on Facebook is bad business for all involved… but your non-burlesque friends may not think of this aspect. This is another drawback to posting publicly; say you post a polite and friendly note, like “Well, I didn’t get into  ____ Fest but I’m really happy for everyone who did!” Your non-burlesque friends may pipe in with a well-meaning but misguided attempt to soothe you, something along the lines of: “Fuck ____Fest! I guess they just didn’t want any GOOD acts! Those losers are stupid if they turned you down!! ANGRY CAPS LOCK RAGE!!”

Your friends’ words – no matter how well-intended – will reflect poorly on you.

While we’re at it, it would be a great idea to stay off of social media in general — performers who’ve just been accepted will likely be gleefully posting the news, and you don’t need extra salt rubbed in your wound right now. Close the laptop and practice some good self-care:  watch your favorite goofy movie, cuddle your pets and/or significant other, get outside for a walk, etc.

Re-evaluate

Someone once told me not to take rejection personally. Impossible when your act is such a personal creation, right? But it’s not about you as a person (unless you have a reputation for peeing in your enemies’ gig bags backstage – in that case, it is you, and you might do well with a career on reality TV.)

As a writer, I have a difficult time separating professional rejection of my articles or pitches from my worthiness as an author, because my writing is such an incredibly personal reflection of who I am. But it’s not about me, the person — it’s about my work. And sometimes, I have to go back and re-evaluate the work I submitted with fresh eyes.

Cheesy but true: there’s a learning experience in everything if you look hard enough. After you’ve given yourself a couple of days time, look back through your application and try to evaluate it as a stranger would — was your video kinda crappy? I despise watching burlesque on video — I feel it sucks the life and soul out of the performance – but we are visual artists, and it’s important for us to nail down a video that really captures the essence of our act, as much as a soulless computer-machine can.

Consider this an opportunity to contract a professional videographer to film your act – if you want to shop it around the big festivals, this is a good investment. A two-camera edit is even better.

Think About the Big Picture

“Gee, I am going to channel hours of my personal time, epic amounts of stress, and possibly major personal financial loss into creating a burlesque festival just so I can get drunk on my self-imposed power as I reject performers and crush their hopes and dreams!”….. said no one ever.

You don’t like getting the rejection email… but the festival producers aren’t happy about sending them either. It’s the shittiest part of the job, and NO ONE enjoys it. Producers have many different factors to weigh, and their ultimate goal is to curate a consistently outstanding lineup with enough variety to create a smooth flow. A show with 45-minutes straight of slow songs? Not good flow. Seven fan dances back-to-back? Not good flow. The all-red revue? No bueno.

As the bar continues to be raised, festival producers find themselves in the unenviable position of having to turn down really damn good acts. Much like a thriving job market, sometimes you find yourself burdened by a wealth of riches, and employers wind up turning away incredibly qualified candidates, because there are only so many desks available.

Did you apply to an all-classic fest with a blood-and-gore heavy metal number? Or if you applied to an all-classic showcase — perhaps your music choice was a little well-worn, and dozens of other applicants applied with the same piece? One of the most interesting facets of burlesque is the “collision of like-minded coincidences” that I so often see — performers on opposite sides of the country, developing similar acts without ever knowing about the other’s existence. Maybe a dozen other performers applied with a similar concept — you just never know. But you shouldn’t make yourself crazy guessing, either.

While it’s always good to pop the hood on an act and look for areas where you can refine and improve, you shouldn’t take a festival rejection as a sign that your act is crap and needs to be completely tossed. The act that didn’t get accepted to _____Festival could go down like a house on fire at The _th Annual ____ Fest. Which brings me to my next point…

Don’t Get Discouraged

This is just a tiny little speedbump on your Highway of Awesome — so don’t get sidetracked. After you’ve allowed yourself to feel all of the emotions you’re entitled to feel, wrap it all up, put it away, and move on. There’s always another festival, another year, and another opportunity around the corner. Don’t stop applying because you got rejected once – if I’d done that, my burlesque career would have ended in 2003!

When you get knocked down, you gotta get back up – and usually after you’ve dusted yourself off, you find yourself even stronger for it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experience crippling disappointment in my professional, personal and performance lives — only to have it shortly followed up with a huge success and epic win.

Give yourself some much deserved props for even applying in the first place – it’s a nerve-wracking process, and putting yourself out there for evaluation is a tough but necessary part of being a public performance artist and pushing yourself to the next level.

Repeat to yourself: this experience does not define my worth.

And then get back up on that sparkle pony and back to what you love to do most: create and perform.

You got this, girl.

Now, go get ‘em tiger.

CDs Be Gone: A New Appproach to Burlesque Stage Management

It’s one of every burlesque performer’s biggest nightmares: the emcee bellows forth your name, the crowd quiets its roar, and just as your Swarovski-studded heel is just about to strike forth on the stage…a paralyzing silence takes over the venue. Nothing. Nada. Crickets. The audience looks confused, the stage manager looks flustered, the emcee starts to babble to kill time, and the DJ throws up his hands.

You’ve just experienced an Epic. Music. Fail.

Over the years, producers and performers have created various strategies to avoid this mishap: 2 identical copies, emailing music ahead of time, etc… but they all have drawbacks or lack flexibility. Burning a single CD of everyone’s music means you’d better hope no one shows up late, gets sick, or needs to swap acts at the last minute. And who among us hasn’t forgotten our music at home at least once? Even the most seasoned of performers can experience the occasional brain fart, especially when rushing out the door or juggling multiple gigs in one night.

But those days may be behind us all — remember back when I wrote about Five Technological Innovations That Shaped Neo-Burlesque? This might just be #6!

John Adams, chief sound engineer for Hubba Hubba Revue, has poured a lot of blood, sweat and coding tears into creating a system that will rule out all of the above. It’s fast, updates immediately, is super user-friendly and easy to use – and quite frankly, it kicks ass.

John was kind enough to share a little more about this awesome new high-tech creation of his that really changes the game in terms of agile stage management:

Sparkly Devil: Tell us a little about yourself.

John Adams: I’m also known as DJ Netik, or when working at Hubba, Kingfish likes to call me Johnny Electro. I was one of the first thirteen employees at Twitter. I was originally hired to fix Twitter’s scaling problems and to defeat the Fail Whale — we had many problems early on building a system that could scale with the incredible amounts of growth that we faced, and my work, along with those of a very dedicated team of engineers, made the site into what it is today. These days, I lead a fifteen person security team protecting users and our systems from attack.

When not doing that, I’m a DJ, bad musician, and sound engineer. It’s said that that best engineers are failed musicians, so I guess I’m proud to be part of that group. I ran a sound company, Retina Sound, for about 6 years, mixing FOH (Front-of-House) for everyone from big bands like Parliament to one-hit-wonders like Crystal Waters.

SD: How did you come to be chief sound engineer at Hubba Hubba Revue?

JA: When I first moved to San Francisco, I was immediately taken by all of the amazing performers and art surrounding me.  One of the first shows I went to was Spectacular Spectacular, a predecessor of Hubba Hubba containing less burlesque and more variety. Back then, I had no idea that burlesque and vaudeville scenes were still alive and so strong. Kingfish (Jim Sweeney) and I met at a tiny yet classy club called Dark Sparkle, and it was there that I asked him about the show. He needed someone to make music and sound effects and I’d just moved my entire music studio from the east coast.

Much like Fred Norris of the Howard Stern Show, I own a massive sound effects collection. It’s just something I’d always buy at record stores. No matter what Kingfish can think up, I have a sound for it. I’ve combined various sources to make everything from mad scientist lab atmospheres, to the rolling thunder and rain of a terrible storm. Also, wolves. There seems to be a never ending stream of requests for wolves.

Combining this love of sound effects with my DJ and mixing abilities was a perfect match for becoming the show’s chief engineer. I love working with so many talented people on this show.

SD: What inspired you to create this tool?

JA: It’s in my nature as an engineer to find problems and make them disappear. At Twitter, we have this process where we discover how something has failed, extensively research why we failed, and take steps to make sure the problem never happens again. It’s an iterative approach that works extremely well and something that I live by.

Hubba has had its share of problems over the years; the majority of our performers bring their music to us on CDs, and while this would seem at first to be a reliable delivery mechanism for audio, it’s not. Our failures range from losing someone’s CD, to video not playing, to a CD burn just failing part way through. Some of this is human, and some of this is technical.

The process of creating a CD burn is also highly variable. Different CD burners aren’t compatible with all CD players and all it takes is one failure to kill what would otherwise have been a fantastic act. Also, if the song doesn’t finish, no one will see any pasties, and well, we don’t want that, do we?

If all of our performers use the software to upload their music, I should be able to download one big file containing that night’s show, and all of these CD problems will go away. Of course, as I know all too well, new technology may just introduce a new set of problems for us to deal with!

SD: OK, for the tech geeks: how many hours of coding did it take? What was your approach?

JA: I’ve actually started and stopped this project multiple times over the last year and a half. I finally had time to work on it, and when the time came up, I started over again from scratch. The difference was that when I started the project this time all of the ideas had been fully fleshed out in my head.  I’d originally decided to write a simple upload system but what the end result was after many iterations, was a full show management system that both the stage managers and tech crew could use.

The system is written in Ruby on Rails, Mongo DB, and relies heavily on jQuery and Twitter Bootstrap for its user interface. What the average performer sees while using the system is just the tip of the iceberg. They sign in, upload a file, create an act, and log out. In the stage manager part of the system, which you can’t see unless your account is granted access, is a full schedule, attendance, and file manager for the backstage staff to use in building the show.

It took me around 300 hours of coding time to write this, most of which was spent writing the show editor code.

 

SD: One a scale of 1 to whiskey, how much of a pain in the ass was it to create?

JA: I’m primarily a back-end and security engineer. That means that I don’t spend most of my time designing user interfaces. The pain in the ass was all of the Javascript and jQuery code, which was something I’d never really worked in that much before. Getting the system up and running was easy but the front end code was difficult for me to write.

One of the features in the software is the ability for any stage manager to use an iPad backstage to make changes to the show and for those changes to automatically appear on the iPads or laptops carried by the rest of the crew. That was a pain to write because I had to get the timing right so the users would see the right items and the updates at the right time.

So, yeah, Whiskey.

 

Any time I revisit one of these acts for another Hubba show, all I need to do is select it from my list of saved acts – HOW COOL IS THAT?

 

SD: This is open source. Meaning, anyone can use this platform. Why’s that?

JA: Open source is something like what you’ve described with a couple of key differences. When a project is open sourced, it’s source code and underlying implementation details are available to anyone who wants it. Not only can anyone use it, but anyone can see how it works and fix problems that they find. Contributing to a software project and working together means that all users of the software package benefit when code is upgraded, repaired, or has features added to it.

I’ve always been a strong proponent of open source software. The underlying code for the Show Manager is already open source and publicly available, so adding to it seemed to be a logical thing to do.

If you’d like to get a copy of the software, it’s stored at http://github.com/netik along with many other software packages that I have open-sourced. Please contribute!

 

SD: And one final question: when does Skynet become self aware?

JA: I’m a huge Terminator fan, you know. First we were all supposed to die in 1997, and then 2011, but now, who knows.  Maybe this software will become so self-aware that I can kick back, drink bourbon, and watch the show.

 

Thank you, Johnny Electro!

 

Inside the 44DD Brain of Nasty Canasta

Photo by Melody Mudd.

From the moment I first saw her on stage stage at Starshine Burlesque in the very early 2000s, I’ve been captivated by Nasty Canasta.

I’m not alone in my obsession – this flame-haired knockout is one of the most consistently innovative and spectacular performers in burlesque today. A twisted genius in all the right ways of wrong, she loves to take tropes of burlesque and femininity, twist them around, fuck them up, and mold them into wry and often gut-wrenchingly hilarious commentary.

Whether it’s her classic white fan dance to car alarms, or her beautifully clever striptease tribute to The Portrait of Dorian Gray – which earned her second runner up for Miss Exotic World 2010 – Nasty is truly the thinking woman’s burlesque performer.

Recently, Nasty was kind enough to sit down and answer my probing questions about her art, inspirations, the whole mustache thing, and that one time when she was naked and someone thought she was a dude. Without further ado:

Tell us a little about how Nasty Canasta came to be.

I moved to NYC after college to be an actor – a serious stage actor, mind you, none of your commercial film nonsense, no musicals, just straight inaccessible experimental un-air-conditioned ART. After nearly ten years of temp work, improv rehearsals, and parts in not one but two of the worst productions of Richard III in all of history, I was beginning to re-think a lot of these decisions … at which point, a friend dragged me to a show to see some acrobat he knew. Also in the lineup were Julie Atlas Muz, Harvest Moon, and Lady Ace. I’m not sure how I had made it through an Ivy League theatre program and almost ten years in the arts in New York City without ever hearing the word ‘burlesque,’ but that was pretty much the beginning of the end for theatre.

Actually, it was almost another year before I really jumped into burlesque myself. Back then there were only a couple of regular shows, no classes, and only a handful of people who actually called what they did “burlesque.” So it took a while of auditioning, filling in last-minute at shows when the real performers couldn’t make it, late-night go-go gigs, and, you know, working to get good enough to get booked. (I shudder to think of some of the first acts I inflicted on the world. Thank god there weren’t many digital cameras around then.)

You used to be a full-time stage actress in New York. How did that affect your transition to burlesque, and what are the differences between those two realms?

Photo by Ted D’Ottavio.

Clearly, burlesque arrived in my life at the right time. Much of what I was getting fed up with about theatre was being nothing more than an ingredient in someone else’s recipe – and, at least in my experience, that recipe was usually a completely embarrassing inedible mess that the chef cooked just so he could cast his girlfriend as the entreé. I do enjoy the collaborative aspects of theatre, but even more I appreciate being in control of my own creation within the larger context of a show, a local scene, or the art form as a whole.

Coming from an environment where the actor is fitted into a pre-existing part, the idea of being cast in a show for my art – rather than for my brown hair and 45 seconds of Viola’s monologue – was rather wonderful. The scary-ass side of that was that no one was telling me where to stand or what to say. And I couldn’t blame my ugly shoes on an inept costume designer.

I’ve come to love being my own writer, director, costumer, prop builder, dramaturge, and even road crew; but even with that – and I don’t think it’s just the theatre background rearing its ugly head – I also very much appreciate those producers who celebrate their performers’ unique creations while also crafting shows that are themselves a complete whole.

Where do you find the inspiration for your acts?

The Burlesque OCD has reached such a point that I’m not sure there’s a short answer to that (not that I’m capable of a short answer to anything), but I’d say that most often it comes from Being A Wiseass. Which is to say, more often than not I hear a song or a sound, see a costume or an object, encounter a concept or an idea or a phrase and the first thought is How can I fuck with that? I rarely intend to be deliberately off-putting to an audience, but I love the idea of challenging expectations and of twisting aspects of the art form – which seems to happen even when my initial intent is to do a perfectly straightforward striptease, for once.

Can you describe the process of how your acts are born, from initial concept to realization?

Photo by Don Spiro.

I suspect my process is much the same as most people’s (though not being any sort of dancer the ‘choreography’ part is more just ‘blocking’ in the theatrical sense).

Usually there’s an initial idea – I wonder if I could make a costume out of a dressmaker’s dummy? – that sits around in the back of my head forever; then an element gets accidentally added – It might be fun to do an act as a costumer designer to “Material Girl” – and idly expanded upon – Huh, there’s a great string quartet version of that song – and then combined – I want to strip out of a dressmaker’s dummy to that recording – and obsessed over. If it sticks around in my brain long enough there’s a period of simultaneous costume sketches, playing and re-playing the song, and first-draft choreography ideas.

I’ve learned to pin the sketches on the bulletin board and leave the song in the ‘potential acts’ playlist for a while after that – if I keep thinking about it for long enough, then I’ll start building and rehearsing it; but I’d say at least three-quarters of the time a new idea takes over and the first one doesn’t seem as exciting to work on. The ones that stay exciting are the ones I pretty have to make happen, if only to shut myself up. 

What are the three most critical elements to your creative process?

Irritation, surprise, and magnets.

You’ve been performing for a decade. How have you transformed over the years?

I think I’ve both expanded and refined my performance style over the years. When I first started I had a very specific and limited idea of the ‘type’ of burlesque I was going to perform (Pop music only! Edgy and serious! Full-back underwear at all times!); over time I went in the complete opposite direction and did a little bit of everything, which was a great exercise for me, even if most of those numbers have long since been retired. I’ve now come to a loose and utterly non-binding description of my general aesthetic, which tends to be ‘a burlesque on burlesque.’ Sometimes it’s utterly deliberate – car-alarm fan-dances – and sometimes it sort of sneaks into the more straightforward numbers too.

Practically, I’m a better performer. I think it’s important to acknowledge that to myself, both because it’s then easier to focus on the specific things I want to tackle next (I’m only just getting comfortable with close-up floor shows, and holy crap am I a mess with live music), but also because anyone who works within any specific discipline for nine years and doesn’t improve or grow or change in any way has no business being a performer.

Sammich striptease at Wasabassco Burlesque at The Way Station. Photo by Mo Pitz.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? And where do you see burlesque in 10 years?

Ten years ago I would have answered that first question with total certainty, and I would have been completely and utterly wrong in every way. Hell, over the last two years enough has changed in my life both personally and professionally that I wouldn’t hazard much of a prediction right now. I imagine I’ll still be performing in some context; I am certain I’ll still be making things, whatever they are; and I hope that I’ll have seen significantly more of the world by then.

As far as burlesque itself … I have a nightmare where it just turns into the American theatre structure: repackaged corporate family-friendly Broadway shows on one end, unendurable skill-less community productions on the other, and a little bit of original and interesting work going unnoticed somewhere in between. Plus lots and lots of nerdlesque. And then there’s the Golden Dream version: more high-profile, professional shows with respect for the skill, creativity and value of the individual performers and for the audience, well-run smaller shows where emerging performers can refine their craft in an equally respectful environment, and truly original and interesting work being presented at both. Plus nerdlesque that consistently expands upon and transcends pop culture.

In reality, well … burlesque will never be totally mainstream, of course, but it will keep pervading the general sphere (Muahahahaha! Moustache-twirling!) for a while, until The Next Cool Thing takes over; at which point, being female-driven and queer-friendly and the domain of individual artists and by definition fearless, it will continue to evolve – with the added benefit of the experience of a lot of artists who have been performing, producing and creating burlesque professionally for a long time.

What is the most outrageous prop you’ve ever created?

Since I always want to be the thing (floor lamp, sandwich, Peep) rather than just play with it, the silliness tends to come out in costuming rather than props. That being said, I do own a three-foot-tall Greek diner take-out coffee cup (with correspondingly-sized sugar packet, creamer and straw). As a stripping caffeine-addict I just couldn’t let the whole martini-bath thing go untouched.

Let’s talk about the costume & pastie company you’ve created. Were you always a seamstress, or was this something you picked up with burlesque?

Blue Streak Fancywear mustache pasties.

For no particular reason, it’s called Blue Streak Fancywear. I grew up without a lot of money, with a grandmother who knitted constantly, and with an imagination that exceeded the available toys; so the general rule was, Figure out how to make it. (I also recently realized that most of the props and creatures from the sci-fi shows that I grew up with – Star Trek and especially 1970’s Dr. Who – were random objects glued together and spray-painted. I think this probably had a huge influence on my emerging DIY aesthetic.) Most of the early things I made were shoebox-dollhouses and paper-towel-tube lightsabers and retired-curtain gowns; then my grandmother taught me how to knit, and all of a sudden my dolls all had a lot of hand-knit aerobics outfits …

Pretty much the only thing I learned in mandatory middle school Home-Ec was how to thread a sewing machine; a few years later I had a brief stint with the SCA (ahem) and basically had to teach myself how to sew in order to make my truly bitchin’ and very awesome 12th-century Welsh peasant outfits. Seriously, though, despite my personal Ren Faire period, and even though I’ve always been a performer, I was never really into Dressing Up As Things In Public; so I ended up making a ton of increasingly-elaborate costumes that I never really intended to wear, just to see if I could. That’s basically how I learned to sew … and a few things stuck around in the closet long enough to make it into burlesque numbers, too.

Obviously, being a seamstress means I can make my own burlesque costumes; the idea of the company really just grew from selling pasties as merch at shows, from a few other performers occasionally needing help with costumes, and from civilians asking about commissions. I enjoy the hell out of sewing for other people, partly because it’s such a wonderfully intimate thing, but mostly because it satisfies the constant crafting obsession but then I don’t have to store the stuff. It’s a great scam.

Year of the Mustache – tell us more!

Moustaches make me laugh. They are the hamsters of facial hair: compact, adorable, and funny. Everyone of every gender looks good in a fake moustache, even (especially) if they already have a real one underneath. Girls in fake moustaches are especially hot (I defy anyone to look at Stormy Leather or Victoria Privates in a ‘stache and tell me otherwise). Even the word ‘moustache’ makes me smile.

Really, the Year of the Moustache is just a low-impact attempt to add a little joy to my days, and to other people’s days, and to the Internet (if most of my FaceTube interactions concern moustaches rather than flame wars, I can keep the tech-induced rage to a minimum). Also I love the sheer number of moustache-related photos and messages that people send me.

And finally, tell me about your most memorable experience on stage – good, bad or ugly.

I’m going to go with most perplexing.  I was performing my Flash Gordon number for a show that allowed full nudity (woo-hoo!) in a very “intimate” venue – which meant that I was about 2 feet from the front row of the audience, who were themselves seated exactly at crotch-level. To explain the act: basically I flash the audience every time Freddie Mercury sings “Flash!” (Get it?) At the end there is a full-girl-bits-exposed, stand-there-for-10-seconds reveal … at which point, Crotch-Height Audience Member #1 (Female Crotch-Height Audience Member, no less) leans over to her friend, FCHAM #2, and loudly proclaims, “Oh, yeah, that’s a guy.”

I have since chalked it up to a gross failure of the American education system, particularly in the area of the Life Sciences.

The BHOF Survival Guide

OMFGBHOF!

As I frantically type this, an army of burlesque starlets across the country are frantically packing, rhinestoning and trying to cram one last vintage gown into a bursting suitcase…. which means it’s almost time for Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend!

In just a few days, hundreds of performers and fans from across the globe will descend upon Las Vegas for the largest and oldest burlesque competition — which is also the primary fundraiser for the world’s ONLY non-profit museum dedicated to preserving the history of  burlesque as an art form.

In addition to a reunion and four nights of jaw-dropping performances, there are daytime activities, group outings, pre-parties, after-parties, and hob-nobbing galore. This is one big crazy weekend overflowing with glitz, glam, glitter and sensory overload.

And although BHOF is a delight for the soul, it can also wreak havoc on your body. I’ve been going since 2003; and I still haven’t learned how to pack properly or bring the right shoes. However, here are a few bits of wisdom that I’ve accumulated over the years, which will hopefully guide you through the next few days, whether you’re a BHOF virgin or a veteran of Helendale.

DRINK WATER

No, seriously. Drink WAY more water than you think you need, all day, all night. Do not skimp on the water. Pretend you’re at Burning Man.

Dehydration is the #1 cause of BHOF crankiness and exhaustion. It’s hot as hell in Vegas in June, you’re in the desert, and going from the pavement-melting indoors to the brisk chill of the A/C in the casino is going to affect you. Bling a water bottle, and carry it with you all day. If you’re drinking alcohol, have a glass of water in between each drink. Even if you’re not drinking alcohol, hit that H2O hard.

BRING COMFY SHOES

I CANNOT STRESS THIS ONE ENOUGH! I still have yet to learn this lesson properly myself, and every year I wind up limping around in flip-flops by the third day. Something about flying + the desert/dehydration combo will most likely make your feet swell up like balloons – add on to that a couple of hours a day in fabulously impractical skyscraper heels, and your dogs will be barking like they never have before. Bring at least one pair of heels that are comfortable and will accommodate for swollen tootsies.

MEET THE LEGENDS

Again, I can’t emphasize this enough! Seek out the legends and strike up a conversation. Offer to buy them a drink, a cup of coffee, or a meal. Some of them may be a little shy, just like you – so just introduce yourself with a big smile, tell them where you’re from, and ask them a question or two. This is your chance to hear the stories of how it used to be firsthand from the ladies who lived it. And you can learn a trick or two from them at the BHOF Finishing School classes.

BE A HIPPY

Take multi-vitamins daily; try to eat well and sleep lots in the days before you hit Vegas; because once you land you likely won’t be doing much of either.

TWEET IT UP

Use the #BHOF tag when Tweeting about your adventures – this helps drive awareness for the museum, and your enthusiasm will be infectious!

SEE THE MUSEUM

The Burlesque Hall of Fame is located at 520 Fremont Street inside the Emergency Arts building, in historic downtown Las Vegas. It’s about a $20 cab ride from the Orleans, or you can take public transit.  This area is commonly known as “Old Vegas” and is a lot of fun to wander around. Gather up a group, hit the museum, get a fried Twinkie and check out the Fremont Experience.

Edited to add: Here’s a teaser from BHOF Executive Director Dustin Wax about the museum’s current exhibits:

 The current permanent exhibition is a timeline of American burlesque from 1865-present and features one of Blaze Starr’s dresses, a chorine’s dress from the Minsky era, Tempest Storm’s beaded g-string, magazine covers, records, sheet music, shoes, and of course plenty of photos and posters. The new exhibit, “Las Vegas Stripped”, explores burlesque in Las Vegas and includes one of Liz Renay’s dresses and a cat costume from Tiffany Carter.

SHOPPING

Don’t forget to hit the BHOF Bazaar! Beyond that, if you’ve got the bling bug and you’re looking to get your shop on, here are a couple of great spots:

-Fantastik Indoor Swap Meet – Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 6pm. This isn’t a swap meet, but a huge indoor flea market geared towards drag queens and burlesque chicks. You’ll find $1 lashes, cheap hair flowers, wigs, sparkly heels, costume jewelry, dresses, knives, churros, and god knows what else. This is also where you can find the customized rhinestone name necklaces that were all the rage last year, which are in the DuBarry’s booth. Get a group to share the cab over; be warned that it’s easy to catch a cab over there, but pickup will take a lot longer, so keep that in mind if you need to be back at a specific time.

-DuBarry’s – DuBarry’s has a huge booth at Fantastik, but if you still want even more rhinestoned bling, check out their brick & mortar store. It’s packed to the bursting point with costume jewelry, accessories and fabulousness.  There’s also free music and champagne on Sundays.

-William’s Costume Company. Outstanding collection of unique trims, chainette fringe, and a large selection of rhinestones, plus lots of assorted costumes, props and ridiculousness.  Ask for Glenda the Rhinestone Lady, and tell her you want to see her collection of rhinestone handiwork.

EATS

The Orleans has a 24/7 café, a food court, and a buffet. But if you’re a vegetarian, on a budget, a fussy eater or just not a fan of the buffet, consider hitting up a nearby grocery store to stock up on some essentials for your room. The Orleans rooms do not have mini-fridges, so stick to non perishable items like fruit, granola bars, snack packs, etc.

REMEMBER TO PACK

-Your ID! You need it to pick up your tickets!

-Sunscreen, parasols and floppy hats; shade is limited at the Orleans pool.

-Bandaids for blisters (in case, like me, you ignore the sensible shoe advice.)

-Waterproof mascara & Kleenex for the Friday night Legends showcase. You will cry.

-Lotion, moisturizer, chapstick, and baby power if you’re prone to chafing. You will feel like a lizard come Sunday.

-Your business cards & flyers.

-Cardigan or shawl to cover up in the cold casino.

JUST BREATHE

If you’re performing during the weekend, you might be a little stressed. Or freaked out. Or you might be in full-blown meltdown mode….so just take a minute to breathe. It’s natural to be a little stressed out, so set aside some you-time to unwind and relax: take a quiet bubble bath in your room, find a secluded part of the pool to get in some reading, or book some time at the spa. Remember, you’re here to have FUN, right? So just go with the flow, don’t sweat the little shit, slap on another layer of sparkle and be fabulous, baby!

If you’re traveling with your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/spouse, make sure your S.O. is attended to and has what s/he needs to stay entertained and happy. Try to book something alone time for just the two of you, whether it’s watching the fountains at the Bellagio or enjoying a nice meal together away from the hustle & bustle of festival.

OK, you crazy kids — I still need to create a packing spreadsheet for my handbags and dresses, finish sewing my Barecats Bowling costume, and buy at least one damn pair of sensible shoes since lord knows I don’t own any.

I’ll see all of you in VEGAS, BABY!

The Only One-y: Scotty The Blue Bunny

I first met Scotty the Blue Bunny at New York Burlesque Festival in 2003; the exact incriminating details escape me, but I know we were both loud, drunk and obnoxious. In other words, love at first sight.

It’s hard not to be drawn to a guy in a blue spandex bunny suit who’s pushing 7 feet from the tips of his ears down to his size 13 Lucite stripper heels — especially one with such an acerbic and fearless wit. Over the years I’d see him at various festivals and events, and we’d engage in our backstage ritual of hurling good-natured insults at each other while tossing down Jager bombs and spewing glitter and profanity. But it wasn’t until Scotty moved to San Francisco that I really got to know the man behind the bunny suit, and was struck by what a smart, eloquent, introspective and sensitive (yes, really) person he is offstage as well. A gifted yoga and Pilates instructor, Scotty is actually quite down to earth and always refreshingly free of pretense. Whether onstage or off, he lasers in on bullshit and mercilessly mocks it with his trademark brand of utterly outrageous humor and razor-sharp delivery.

In one of his opening bits, Scotty stomps onstage to the Godzilla theme, and it’s a truly apt comparison: he’s the motherfucker who will storm into your burlesque show, stomp all over your preconceived notions of emcee protocol and etiquette, rip your face off in front of everyone, and you’ll only love him even MORE for it.

I asked Scotty to take a few moments to sit down and answer some probing questions about the man, the myth and the bunny. I hope you enjoy this peek behind the ears as much as I did.

Tell me a little about how Scotty the Blue Bunny came into being. When did you first don the suit? How did you come to emceeing?

I date my genesis to my first tour with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus in 1996. As a lead up to that, I had been doing small shows with them locally in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for about a year prior, as well as late night drag shows and not so late night spoken word slams. The Cirkus gave me room to be interdisciplinary without thinking too much about it. So I experimented with clowning and fantasy and the “female impersonation” naturally faded out. One turn with bunny ears stuck as a trademark forever. And since there is a strong tradition of wearing animal outfits in the circus and sideshow it felt natural. After a few years of touring, variety and burlesque shows were now happening on dedicated earlier evenings instead of late night clubs – and there was a need for hosts. It seemed, and still does, like a perfect niche. I could bring all my little circus tricks and banter to glue a show together.

You’re infamous for saying some utterly outrageous, shocking shit on stage. Do you think you get away with it if you weren’t dressed in a blue bunny suit?

Probably not – but it’s not like I’m hitting the stage in a pair of khakis anytime soon. And I haven’t gotten away with everything just so you know. I made someone so mad once they bit me…

How do you approach hosting a burlesque show, or any show for that matter?

Girl, the spandex helps me get caught up in the excitement of the show. Shows are exciting! Dixie Evans said something to the effect that there was a time before Facebook and DVDs – when people went out. They HAD to go out and it was fun and active to be in the audience. The audience might come to the show to see the performers, but the performers come to see the crowd. I think of the proscenium as a meeting place. I still romanticize performing and doing shows and I remind myself to get caught up in the magic. Also Jo Boobs told me to never ever get tired of being a bunny: “Don’t you dare!” Period. So I keep a mental Rottweiler growling at potential boredom or habituation. I mean, god forbid I was a lucky SOB cast in Cats – I’d have to be a pussy Tuesday through Friday with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Every time I step on stage it’s fresh; there’s always someone who hasn’t seen me before. PLUS it helps to have new costumes and shoes and stuff – even if the material is old, (girl!) it’s a sweet little trick to play on yourself to have something new to show off.

You’re part of the “old guard” that’s been around since the burlesque revival really exploded. How do you see the old guard meshing with the new guard?

Actually – I think I’m part of some intermediary guard. I’m old enough that for me, burlesque never really disappeared culturally, but young enough that I never really saw contemporary burlesque until I saw my peers do it. I don’t mean to downplay my experience. As we go along it really does seem I witnessed and was part of a pivotal time in the genre, in New York anyway, but it would also seem that it was a pivotal time for Burlesque globally as well.

I think young and old are meshing just fine. Living in San Francisco especially, I catch glimpses of it being an inter-generational scene. Some of the seniors will put high-heels on their walkers and come to see our shows, or be in them! It’s not all about immortalizing them at BHOF. It’s great to have idols, but it’s nice when those idols come down from Olympus to suck on a whiskey sour and yell out at you.

Recently you stated that performers should “strive to suck.” I interpreted that as “strive to take risks” but would you care to expand a bit more on that?

A bit of irreverence would do us all some good, for both the performer and the audience. Yes, we all exist within the confines of a genre and audiences come with expectations built on that, so you gotta knock that shit down. Striving to be good is great, but I also want to be passionate, playful, furious, horny, careless and wild as well – and in burlesque we get to work it out on stage.

Performing can be a transcendent experience (ritual) for the performer, which makes for great theater. It doesn’t have to be written off as therapy, and people should really be open to “sucking” in the name of experiencing their performances differently than their audience. Go ahead, get on your knees, scream and pour blood all over yourself in the name of Satan. This is Burlesque for Christ’s sake – irreverence is built into the definition of the damn thing.

I also appreciate to see a little struggling with the form. Creators struggle with their respective forms in order to transcend raw materials and really make art. All the rhinestones and all the feathers have to add up to something that blows people’s minds and suspends reality – aka entertainment. We come to and perform in shows so we can re-enter our everyday lives with new awareness. We destroy to create.

What are your thoughts on the spectrum of performer quality that we see today, from boring to genius? Can you talk a little about that “grace period of suck” that you mentioned?

Well, maybe 15 years ago, we had more places to experiment, and audiences were not quite sure what they were looking at, so we got a way with some unfinished shit. I mean I was doing drag – and as much as I look like a real rabbit to you now, that’s how successful my female impersonation was. Blech! We were doing shows that grew out of nightlife. I mean, I’ve seen gorgeous go-go girls dancing while licking soft-serve ice-cream cones in front of video monitors playing scenes of people vomiting. When I first met World Famous *BOB* she was eating cheeseburgers on a go-go box at an after-hours club where I showed up in a metallic kilt to eat fire and our boss was a giant lime green drag queen. Now look at us. Honestly – we were werking it out!!! We didn’t have schools with handouts and charts. We were weird and walked the streets when New York was the place for that. Kids today don’t have that – they have to step onto the stage with much more intention and seriousness than we ever did. Bow your head to your own creative process and do your own best work. Foster uniqueness. Everything else will take care itself.


Copping a feel at NYBF ‘03

As someone who makes a living from performing, what do you think of the whole professional vs. hobbyist debate? Is this going to divide us as a community?

The truth is that most people don’t care – they just want good show. We have these beautiful Living Legends and heaps of black and white photos of dancers past – but we don’t know anything about the qualities of their shows or productions. Really, there is far too much glamorizing going on – far too much nostalgia and projecting.

The truth is you can’t be in every show. Performers need to just relax and accept that they don’t fit every bill – and it’s not always about being good, or professional. It’s pretty obvious what you have to do to perform on all the different levels.

Making a living in burlesque is making a living as an artist, and I think that if people thought of themselves in the broader spectrum of performance instead of rhinestoning the shit out of the status quo, they would be better burlesquers. Sparkle is great – but if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that audiences want the whole diamond. You have to express yourself through your skills. You have to live on stage.

Originally, this debate was very emotional for me because I found my way into a bunny suit through experimentation and exposure to all kinds of freaks. I don’t have any formal education in the arts besides my abandoned violin career, which ended in highs chool. Joey Ramone never took voice lessons and Rober Mapplethorpe was a drop-out. I don’t think anyone would dispute they are professional world-class artists. I model myself on that.

One of the first times I first met you, the first thing you said to me after I got offstage is that I should close my mouth while I perform. At first I was taken aback, and then I realized you were giving me real constructive criticism instead of a meaningless “oh that was great.” Do you think a lot of burlesque performers aren’t used to receiving real feedback? Or that they just don’t want it and would prefer the “that was great”?

Shit, everyone I know jumps off stage asking “Wasitgoodwasitgoodwasitgooddidyoulikeit?huh?huh?” Everyone I know is interested in refining their art and making it better.  I think everyone is talking to everyone about their shows all the time. Critique has a language and timing all its own, and it’s better just to ignore a bad performance and pour enthusiasm all over something you love-love-without-a-doubt love. The majority of performances I see are just fine – the rest, should just be gracefully left alone to figure it out. There is a kind of innocence there you don’t want to fuck with. The joy of being in showbiz for so long is watching people figure it out.

What do you think are the biggest challenges the burlesque community is facing right now?

The biggest challenge is how do you perform for an educated audience, at every ticket price. People know what burlesque is. We need to accept it’s completely cultural now – it’s not neo, or a revival anymore. It’s just Burlesque.

What do you love most about burlesque? And what do you hate?

The thing I love most is watching the nightly transformation from nose-picking fart-smelling scratch-n-sniff reptilian invader into pristine glamour girl (you know who you are). The thing I hate the most is pizza backstage.

Tell me about one of your most memorable moments on stage; something that really resonates and sticks out when you look back at everything you’ve done.

Getting bit.

He’s the only one-y: get more of Scotty the Blue Bunny at http://scottybunny.com

Five Technological Innovations That Shaped Neo-Burlesque

The heyday of burlesque was cultivated in simpler times, when the 4-martini lunch ruled, computers were giant hulking beasts that only the government owned, and phones took forever to dial 9 and were connected to a wall.

As the burlesque revival has grown since the late ‘90s, it’s been fundamentally shaped by the technological innovations that our generation has access to. Today, we can pick a concept, do a keyword search on iTunes, order the costume on eBay, promote the new act on Twitter, videotape the performance from our phone and then post in on Facebook – in less than a week’s time.

That said, having the tools to create an act readily available at one’s fingertips does not mean a great act will magically appear – as always, the execution is what makes it pop; it was true then, and it’s true now.

And though we relish the instant accessibility of a live webcast show or a fruitful Google search, great burlesque pieces don’t happen instantly: many performers spend weeks and months developing their new routines…but not having to walk three miles uphill in a snowstorm to get your rhinestones certainly makes things easier for us.

Here are five wonderful technological advancements that have shaped the revival as we know it, and helped us create better burlesque.

The Internet

Thanks, Al Gore! Truly, burlesque owes its rebirth to the Internet. It’s no coincidence that the neo-burlesque began to flourish when the World Wide Web became widely accessible. Suddenly, folks who were doing this thing found a way to connect with other folks who were also doing the same thing. Some folks didn’t even know others were doing this thing, and suddenly, we decided to all get together and all do this same thing together! Hello, revival!

Alan Parowski, one of the founders of Teaseorama – arguably the primary catalyst of the current burlesque revival – wrote the following in a memorial piece about emcee Eddie Dane who passed away earlier this year:

“(Eddie) formed a Yahoo group dedicated to Burlesque — it was the first major Burlesque Online Group ever, and began to connect the characters that would go on to form the core of the coming explosion that would be known as The New Burlesque Movement.

It was because of this Yahoo Group that Tease-O-Rama became a reality and became the Burlesque Gathering of the Tribes down in New Orleans. It was that group that allowed us to connect those first 25 acts of the New Burlesque Revival and get them on the stage in one place and at one time and show all of us that even as misfits and outcasts we weren’t alone.”

In those fledgling years, many performers were creating burlesque in a vacuum, not realizing others were doing the same thing all over the country. Because of the Teaseorama and Miss Exotic World Yahoo groups, connections were made and burlesque gatherings formed, and those glittering bricks paved the road to where we are today.

Also: thank you, Internet, for bringing forth burlesque e-commerce! Thanks to sites like etsy and eBay, dancers who aren’t great seamstresses can find and order custom-made pieces online, and crafty pasty-makers can vend their wares to performers far and wide. Plus, you can get a bloody severed arm overnighted to you when your local supplier runs out.

And finally, the Internet is first and foremost a vast source of information – we use it constantly when researching our costumes and props, from figuring out the best airbrush for bodypaint, to teaching oneself how to weld metal pasties, to ensuring historical accuracy when recreating a Victorian gown. Oh, Internet: though you are so often prone to so much fail – let us not overlook all of the win.

MP3s

I was actually having a conversation the other day about how hard it was to find good burlesque music before iTunes – how I had to actually get in my car and drive to a music store and preview the music, or just buy it and hope it didn’t suck. Then I laughed at myself for sounding like an old fart. But man, it’s true – when iTunes came along, it was like: “I can find all this crazy shit, preview it, and then download it instantly? Fuck yeah!”

I absolutely love what iTunes and other mp3 sites have done for expanding the horizons of burlesque musical choices. If you’re a big ol’ music nerd like me, you can use it to find really obscure and interesting music that fits your theme with a simple keyword search. If you want to find something new or just get inspired, plug some Sonny Lester into your burlesque station on Pandora and see what pops up. If you’re a producer, you can burn the music from an entire show onto one disc.

Thanks to mp3 players, performers can listen to their music backstage before they go on, to get into character and refresh their choreography. Not to mention – if you space and forget your music (happens to the best of us) hopefully the sound guy has a cord to plug your iPod into the system and save your butt. More than once I have thanked Steve Jobs for just this – may his brilliant mind rest in peace.

Digital Video & YouTube

True story: I found an old VHS copy of a burlesque performance of mine and started cracking up. Good riddance – those clunky VHS tapes and exorbitantly expensive cameras had totally crappy quality. Thanks to digital video cameras, capturing footage of your act has never been so easy and accessible. A lot of performers hate watching themselves on video, but it’s one of the most vital learning tools we have.

And, once you’ve found that elusive video of your act that’s taken from a flattering angle and doesn’t include a royal fuckup – tada! Now you can post it on Youtube and share it with the world!

Youtube is a tremendous resource for our community, enabling us to see what are burlesque sisters are doing all over the world, and easily share our acts with our friends from afar. Putting your act out there does open it up to intellectual theft – which isn’t a super common occurrence in burlesque, but it does happen. However, the widespread availability of video also makes it a lot easier to bust the rare head-to-toe copycat. Let’s not throw out the dancing baby meme with the bathwater.

Unfortunately, a lot of burlesque videos are getting zapped these days, either due to the titty police or the copyright cops. All you burlesquers should go check out StripCheez.com, a video sharing site owned and operated by burlesque performers. Your video will never get flagged and you can peruse dozens of other performer’s videos for education, inspiration, and something fun to do when you’re bored at work.

The Social Media Explosion

Those pivotal Yahoo Groups were the first forms of burlesque social media, long before the buzz phrase “social media” existed. Yahoo Groups and listervs begat Tribe, which begat Friendster, which begat Myspace, which self-imploded in glitter gifs and shitty UI while Facebook and Twitter sprang from its ashes. Plus, there’s Tumblr, Flickr, our own individual URLs, blogs, and…well, we won’t talk about G+ because we all have stage names so G+ hates us.

All of these forums serve to connect burlesque community, both to each other and to our audiences. And they’ve fundamentally changed the way we promote our shows; many a burlesque producer has begun to question whether physical flyers are even worth the expense of printing anymore (which is an entirely different debate I won’t get into).

Our social media connects us to performers around the globe, so that we may laugh, commiserate and learn from them; it helps us promote our shows, and gives us a platform to share our work and express our opinions to a huge audience – you probably came to this here blog because you clicked a link on Facebook or Twitter.

Social media creates and promotes discussion — but it is also a beast of its own, littered with problems, pitfalls, and counter-productive anonymous fuckery. We so often forget that even though it feels it’s just us talking, the whole world could be (and probably is) watching. And because social media has branched off into so many different forums, it leads to fractured conversations and a sense of being completely overwhelmed by information. Whereas once the Yahoo Groups were the online hub of the burlesque community, there’s so much conversation happening everywhere, it’s easy to miss important information and commentary either because you can’t see it, or because it’s simply being drowned out.

Love it, hate it – or like most of us, a little bit of both – you can’t deny that social media is now integrally woven into the fabric of modern burlesque,. In addition to your costumes, your choreography and your creativity, how you manage your social media is a critical element of being a successful performer.

Smart Phones

Take everything discussed above, and then cram it into a sleek little device that you can rhinestone? This, my friends, is a burlesque performer’s lifeblood! I seriously don’t know what I’d do without my phone – I can text, call and email my fellow performers and producers, deal with “show day” last minute requests and hurdles, I can Facebook and Tweet from backstage, post a cute photo of another performer’s costume, give it to my husband so he can video my act because I forgot the Flip cam, and use the GPS to get me to my gig on time when my directionally impaired ass inevitably gets lost. Sure, Smart Phones contribute to car accidents, decreased socializing capabilities, drunk dialing your ex and maybe brain cancer — but you can pry that motherfucker out of my cold, dead, glitter-dusted hands.

These are just some of the many ways in which technology has impacted our little artform that’s not so little anymore. Everything discussed above is a tool – and all tools can be used well, or poorly. But what I love so much about all of these innovations is that they open doors: they give us the ability to create interesting, compelling and unique burlesque – and to then share it with the world.

And for that I am truly thankful.

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