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.

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.

My article on BHOF in Penthouse

My article covering last year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame is running in the May issue of Penthouse, which is on stands now.

(Note: this is my original version, not the shorter edit that appeared in the print edition)

It’s the middle of an oppressively hot afternoon in Old Vegas, and the wilted, shabbily dressed tourists seem to be melting right down into Fremont Street Experience. This tarnished and worn section of Sin City is either charmingly retro, or strictly for the buffet & respirator crowd, depending on your view.

As heat-weary vacationers slowly trudge along in seemingly slow motion, suddenly a burst of color flashes through the concrete and neon and rivets everyone’s attention. It’s a trio of women in retro swimsuits and wedge heels, clutching brightly colored parasols that match the twinkling flowers nestled into their pin-curls. They giggle and chatter as they merrily bounce along, looking just like a set of bomber girls who stepped right off a B52 wing – except for the multitude of tattoos, piercings and flaming magenta and orange hair dye.

And this is just the beginning. For the next four days, a virtual army of neo pinups and burlesque performers will flock to the holy Mecca of retro striptease culture, the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend in Las Vegas.

Every year, hundreds of performers and fans of the current burlesque revival make a pilgrimage to the holiest of events amongst tassel twirlers, which has grown exponentially since its inception on a dusty goat ranch two decades ago.

A burlesque museum was always the dream Jennie Lee, a stripper from the 1950s who began her modest collection her home, a rundown ranch in Helendale, California, smack dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert. She died in 1990 from breast cancer, and her friend and fellow stripper Dixie Evans (known in her day as the Marilyn Monroe of burlesque) took over the ranch and collection, and christened it The Exotic World Burlesque Museum.

Dixie, ever the savvy business lady, knew she needed press to draw attention to the museum, so in 1990 she founded the first ever Miss Exotic World burlesque competition. The majority of the participants were retired burlesque strippers from the 60s and 70s, with occasional appearances by modern “feature” performers from the current stripclub scene.

For a decade, the Miss Exotic World pageant quietly chugged along as a quaint, desert-side attraction, attended mostly by local bikers and reporters from the local rags.

And then the young women of the burlesque revival began trickling in. Suddenly, it wasn’t just vintage vixens and Hell’s Angels out there in the dust; an entirely new generation of young women began trekking to Exotic World seeking a shot at the crown, and a chance to spend face time with the founding forewomen of burlesque.

Now christened the Burlesque Hall of Fame, the pageant moved to Las Vegas in 2005 in search of a bigger, brighter, splashier homebase for the little show that could, which has now blossomed into the biggest and most prestigious burlesque event in the word. In addition to the Saturday night competition for the title of Miss Exotic World, there are classes, seminars, photo outings, and pool parties.

And on this Thursday afternoon, the fun is just starting, as the biggest and brightest burlesque stars from around the globe land in Sin City and prepare to embark on the world’s most glamorous 4-day binge of pasties, Swarovskis and hard liquor.

At the Golden Nugget, I sit poolside with a bucket of beer and a bunch of showgirls in bikinis with names like Nasty, Gigi, Roxi, Dirty, and Clams. Even in Las Vegas, the burlesque performers still draw a crowd of stares.

Splashing around the pool while balancing beers in our cleavage, we entertain our poolside compatriots by smashing our breasts and asses against the see-through glass walls of the pool, like an aquarium tank full of booze-guzzling Showgirl Fish.

Several hours later, I wake up in my hotel room, face first in a pile of glitter, with a sunburn, and headache, and my bikini draped over the lampshade.

And it’s only Thursday…

But Burlesque Hall of Fame isn’t just one huge glitter-binge set in America’s Playground with the biggest names in burlesque; what sets this weekend apart from the many other burlesque conventions that have sprung up over the years is the intense focus on the living legends of burlesque, the precious few dancers from yesteryear who still are around to entertain us with a story or two.

Friday night is the Legends Showcase, one of the most emotional and thrilling events of the weekend, in which a handful of the legends well into their 60s and 70s dust of their pasties and perform for a packed audience of screaming fans.

Toni Elling, who came out of 40 years of retirement to perform, says that before she discovered the Burlesque Hall of Fame, she was “not in a good place. I was down on myself and feeling quite useless.”

But after attending her first weekend, she was overwhelmed by the love and support she received from women young enough to be her grandchildren. Now, she says she has “renewed energy and look upon myself differently. I feel I have things to do and have found people who really care about me and I am more content than I have been in years. I have renewed confidence and love myself again.”

The young performers also hold a similar reverance for the weekend. Nadine Dubois of Lili’s Burlesque Revue in Minnesota has attended the event with her troupe every year for the past 7 years.

“We feel it is akin to going to the ‘promised land’ for our art form,” Dubois says. “Not only do we grow as performers every time by being inspired by both the legends and modern performers of burlesque, we look forward to spending time with those same performers, as they are like family to us. It is truly a magical gathering.”

Magical indeed, given the epic amount of female nudity you get to enjoy both onstage and off during those four days. Although the event is steeped in female bonding, there’s eye candy a plenty for the numerous menfolk to enjoy.

Jim “Roz” Rosnack, producer of Lunatic Fringe Burlesque Co. from Austin, says “these girls bring something to the table that has been missing for a long time: the art of the tease, glamour, seduction and sometimes even silliness, which to me is very sexy.”

Rosnack says the “something for everyone” appeal of burlesque accounts for why it’s equally popular amongst both men and women (and especially couples).

“Its something to take your lady to for a great romantic and fun date. She can put stockings on, a pretty hat and retro dress, and not hang out in some rock and roll bar all night with loud bands and obnoxious drunks. She can drink martinis and watch shows reminiscent of the Ziegfeld Follies with all the props and dressing. The men are happy, the women are happy, it’s the best Friday night date available and its it every city in North America.”

Mig Ponce, part of the event’s production team, echoes the appreciation of the major production value that comes with burlesque performances at this level.

“I really love that they put effort into putting on an amazing, dazzling performance,” Ponce says. “This really packs a WOW factor that you can’t find anywhere else.”

Indeed, the production values were through the roof, with the biggest and most elaborate props and sets in the history of the Saturday night competition.

Perhaps most stunning of all is the giant cigar prop, belonging to Roxi Dlite of Windsor, Ontario. The tiny raven haired beauty cast aside her sparkling purple corset dress, and wearing nothing more than a few strategically placed rhinestones, she climbed atop the massive, smoldering Freudian homage and whipped the audience into a heart-palpitating frenzy.

The running joke this year: what CAN’T you rhinestone? The many performances brought forth Swarovski-studded shopping cart, folding chair, and yes, even toilet seats. Trust: if you leave anything sitting still for longer than 5 minutes, some burlesque perfomer will grab her E-6000 and rhinestone the fuck out of it.

As the competition winds to a close, the audience is breathless from the innovation of the acts, from Ms. Tickle‘s breakaway fans that turn into massive, angel-like wings, to Nasty Canasta‘s tribute to the Portrait of Dorian Grey – as she strips out her clothes, they appear on a digital “painting” of her nude body that hangs above the stage.

The final moment arrives: the newest Reigning Queen of Burlesque is Roxi Dlite; overjoyed and slightly tipsy, she bounds onto the stage carrying an entire bottle of vodka with her, and forces the retiring queen, Kalani Kokonuts, to do a shot with her on stage.

In addition to being the first Canadian to win the title, Dlite’s crowning is significant because she works as club stripper for her “day job.”

The stripping vs. burlesque debate has been flogged to death over the years within the community, the resulting discussions a mix of burlesquers who are supportive, and those who mistakenly think they are somehow morally superior to club workers. Roxi Dlite hopes to use her crowning as a way to bridge the gap between the two communities.

“My personal goal is to try and educate the dancers that I work with in the strip clubs,” says Dlite. “I want to show them that there is a history and an art form to what they are doing. I also feel quite strongly that it’s important for the burlesque community to be more supportive of modern striptease because it’s just a modern day version of burlesque, it is still an art form. The modern stripteasers are just as talented and just as passionate about their art form as the burlesque community is.”

Spoken like a true queen, indeed.

–Sparkly Devil
Penthouse Magazine, May 2011

In Memory of Eddie Dane

Last Thursday, Eddie Dane — producer, comedian, MC, pioneer, son, and friend — died at the age of 42.

For the past couple of days, I’ve struggled to articulate my thoughts on his passing; something a little more eloquent than “man, this fucking sucks.”

But, seriously?

This totally fucking sucks.

I can’t quite remember exactly when I met Eddie; but I think it was at Tease-o-rama in 2002, when he was ripping on a makeup-free Marilyn Manson, who was standing in front of Bimbo’s in a very staid brown suit while Dita performed inside. At the time, I thought he was kind of a jerk — Eddie, I mean; not Manson.

Anyway, In 2005 we sat next to each other on a panel called “How to Be a Burlesque Star for Fun & Profit” — when we both made the same joke at the same time, I laughed and put my hand on his knee….and he told me to knock it off or he’d get wood in front of everyone. The entire room laughed and I turned bright red in shock and embarrassment.

We’ve been pals ever since.

Eddie was a true pioneer of the burlesque revival; he founded Dane’s Dames, one of the very first neo-burlesque troupes in the country, which he brought to the very first burlesque convention ever, Tease-o-rama in New Orleans in 2001. He went on to co-produce Hubba Hubba Revue with cohort MC Kingfish — and the show was recently named one of the top 10 burlesque shows in the world by the Travel Channel.

It was Eddie who first introduced me to the Hubba crew, booking me for their second show under the Hubba moniker — just weeks after I had moved to San Francisco. I remember checking my email via a hotel lobby computer somewhere half way through my cross-country journey; thrilled to find an invite to perform from Eddie. I vividly remember rushing back to the room to tell my driving buddy – who just so happened to be Gorilla X, another core member of Eddie’s crew. His response was: “Good. Those are the people you need to be with.”

And he was so right. Hubba Hubba truly became my family, in every sense of the word. I remember feeling at home the moment I set foot on the DNA stage and the “Hooray!” sign went up. We all have the tendency to reflect on the past with rose-colored glasses; but truly, my first show with Hubba Hubba was a pivotal point for me — one of those simple moments that seems so profound, but at the time you just can’t figure out just why. I had the same moment of clarity when I met my husband the first time; and as with him, when I met Hubba — I just knew it was meant to be.

Over the past few days, as we’ve all shared moments and memories, a lot of folks have said they’ve always liked Eddie, but felt they didn’t really know him well. It’s an understandable sentiment; for all of his boisterous behavior on stage, Eddie was actually a soft-spoken guy when the spotlights weren’t on. And it was that reserved part of Eddie’s personality that fueled such great comedic timing; Heaven forfend the fool who mistook him for shy. Eddie was sort of an insult ninja; waiting in the wings, deceptively quiet, until he swooped in to deliver a viciously hilarious one-liner that would leave the recipient boggled, laughing until the ribcage rattled. That was one of Eddie’s true gifts; the man could ruthlessly mock you to your face, and not only would you not feel offended or hurt, you’d be gasping for breath as the tears of laughter streamed down your face.

One of my favorite past times was heading right to the front of the Uptown stage on Monday nights, and letting loose with the heckling. Eddie would burn me so fucking hard, I swear, I almost peed myself a couple of times. I’d hurl off a crack about his saggy balls; and he’d marvel that I managed to pull the whiskey-tinged sailor’s dick out of my mouth long enough to string together a sentence. I’m sure, to some outsiders, it looked like a vulgar, crass volley of insults — but in reality, it was a delightfully deft tango of wit; one that he danced time and time again with any friend who was brave enough to taunt him. And it was a dance that both parties enjoyed to the fullest.

Eddie also understood the extremely delicate line of insult comedy; he knew the difference between a good-natured razor-sharp jab, and just being an asshole. I’ll never forget the time a fellow “comedian” – who was actually just an asshole — threw a punch at me that was way below the belt. It wasn’t funny, it was petty and mean — and Eddie immediately phoned him up and called him out. I didn’t need someone to come to my rescue — Eddie later told me he knew I was perfectly equipped to deliver my own comeback. But Eddie said something anyway, because it wasn’t right, because it wasn’t cool, and because that’s just the kind of guy he was.

Like so many of you, my life was immeasurably brightened by Eddie Dane. I’ll never forget the shit he would get into, with his impish little grin — whether it was stuffing a blowup doll into an unattended meter maid vehicle in North Beach, lumbering around the stage in his big pink bunny costume, or sacrificing his last shred of dignity solely for the sake of a laugh. Despite the fact that he wouldn’t want any of us to be sad, the sense of loss is profound — and the glitter seems just a bit more dull and drab now that he’s gone.

Farewell, my friend. I look forward to the day when our paths cross again, and we dance the insult tango one more time.


Illustration by Fritz Striker

Tura Satana gets snubbed by the Oscars

I have been wanting to write about Tura Satana’s passing, and have not been able to find the right words. And then I got royally pissed last night when she was left out of the “In Memorium” package during the Oscars. It was an insulting oversight, and it didn’t go unnoticed by the blogosphere.

True, Tura and Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill! were never even remotely considered Oscar material. But both the actress and the film (which are nearly inseparable, since Tura is Faster Pussycat) have done far more to shape pop culture than the handful of play-by-the-rules ass-kissing Hollywood insiders who were deemed worthy of mention.

Fuck them all – you’re a goddess, Tura, and you always will be.

Like most of you, I was shocked when I heard of her passing, particularly because she has always seemed so lively and full of energy.

I was not close to Tura; I made a point to chat with her every year at Exotic World, but I’m not sure she could tell me apart from the sundry other platinum-haired crimson-lipped tattooed girls who would swarm her at such events.

But even if she didn’t remember your name, Tura never showed it. She would greet you with the same warm, engaging smile that you would expect to be reserved for an old, dear friend.

Tura always struck me as someone who truly valued and appreciated her fans; she always made time for them, and was always

Upon hearing the news of her death, I immediately burst into tears. This one hit hard, mostly because Tura was young (72) and seemed so vibrant.

It served as a sharp and painful reminder that the precious few living legends of burlesque that are still living will not be around forever.

I have many more thoughts on the new generation of burlesque forming lasting bonds and relationships with living legends – complex thoughts that I have yet to organize.

But in the meantime, I wanted to say to Tura:

Thank you for all you’ve shared in your time with us. Even if the Oscars forgot you, us burlesque broads sure as hell never will.