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.
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.
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.
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.