Friday, June 2, 2017

Wanting to be a part of everything

Since a couple years ago I've had a pretty steady amount of offers to be in many different kinds of burlesque and variety shows. This is normally an awesome thing, as it means I have to hustle less to get myself booked. I appreciate and am grateful that enough show producers can find a place for me in their plan for an entertaining evening.

I had a moment recently where I found myself hesitating while writing a response email. A response in which I was declining a gig.


I had a really hard time writing this one email, and was worried about how what I was saying might come off. Typical anxiety notwithstanding (this producer will hate me/never book me again, I'll miss out on a chance to do something fun, if I don't do this it'll look bad, etc), this is an activity I find more stressful than all of the preparation that comes with an acceptance. Though I've written these types of responses before, I think the reason why I'm having so much trouble this year is for two main reasons;

1 - Due to recent life circumstances, I have the capacity to take on fewer commitments than ever before.

2 - Having done festivals and shows in a wide mess of new places, I now know EXACTLY what I'm saying "no" to.

Saying no to things that are too much for you to handle is a healthy practice. With that said, I've -NEVER- been good at it. Despite Lucifer Christmas's recent blog post assuring me that "there will always be another gig," I know that in my own little mind, there will be some degree of omnipresent regret for saying no. It's awful, and I don't know how to make that go away and shut up with the noises.

As I watch my friends head off to other cities (and countries) to go to festivals, I do feel a little bit of FOMO. I always make a short list in my head every year of all the festivals I want to do, and make a casual attempt to remember when and where they are each year.

Further compounding this is the mathematical fact that I only have a finite amount of years left to try to follow up on some of these dreams before I retire from burlesque or die.

A few more shots to the head like this, and that day may be right around the corner.
Photo by Rob Starobin, NYC Nerdlesque Festival.

On the other hand, I am writing the majority of this after having just finished a 2 hour nap in the middle of a relaxing getaway in New Hampshire. Between a demanding 9-5 weekday job, regular circus and strength training, and an average of 10-15 various gigs per month, I forgot how completely satisfying an afternoon nap can feel.

Granted, this last week was a grind--six shows, three of which involved acrobatic and physically painful stage combat (thank you for that, Holy Shitsnacks, An Archer Burlesque). The show turned out amazingly, and the cast was completely on their A-game. And speaking of which, look at this amazing cast intro video;

Video by Adriano Moraes, all cast credits contained within.

Some people have the ability to grind it out and make this whole burlesque thing their living, but I know that I don't have the energy to do that. Frankly, I'm looking forward to being able to rest up a bit and take the biggest swing I can at the next thing I'm able to go 110% on. To me, that seems like the best way to get back in, and I know that I'll be less stressed (and tired) if I'm able to choose what that next thing is.

There's a lot of questions spinning around in the blender here for me. What kind of fulfillment do I get from packing my schedule full of things that scare me? Why do I have such ennui about declining things that my Meyers-Briggs test results tell me I should hate? Why do I find satisfaction doing something that makes my father uncomfortable?

Maybe it's because of that time I threatened to cut off another man's muttonchops.
Photo by Roger Gordy, Old School Game Show

What is it exactly that I'm afraid to give up? I guess the best answer I can come up with is....that I enjoy being other people. Is that escapism?

As burlesque performers, we all want to entertain--that much is universally true. I look at entertaining others as a side benefit, since I feel like there's a bigger thrill to be had by exploring the lives of people and characters with other perspectives. Each time I get to perform on stage is an opportunity to move, speak, look, act, and briefly live like someone else. I even treat my professional life that way; I get a truly embarrassing kick out of being the regular human coworker at the water cooler that also likes sports.


Maybe a part of that is the rush that I experience from fooling people around me into thinking I'm "good enough" to keep a job, have social skills, or fulfilling emotional relationships. Maybe it's the counterweight that the edginess of burlesque offers to an otherwise perfectly normal life. Maybe I'm just scared of having to experience and sort through the feelings and experiences that come with each day on my own.

Whoa man. That went right into the abyss.


Anyway, I think there's an intangible value in feeling like you're in demand. If people want you to do things, it would be selfish to deny them what they want, right? But I'm feeling lately like taking some time to be a regular life person should be a way for me to get re-centered, re-prioritize everything in my life, and remind myself why I love performing. Regaining some perspective might help me get back there.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mindless Praise vs. Effective Critique

As many performers I know can attest to, it's very easy to get praise for your work from fans, peers, and other performers. It's almost impossible, however, to find good, constructive critique that pushes you to be better.

After watching myself in the role of Barry Dylan from the burlesque adaptation of the television show "Archer," I felt thoroughly pleased with myself and the performance I gave. I mention this specifically because I rarely feel this way about my performances. Even though I felt satisfied with how it went, I still wouldn't have minded if someone had made some suggestions on what could have used more polish.

"I said GOOD feedback, you dullard!"

The best performers I know place a high value on effective critique, and I've come to find that there isn't all that much of it in burlesque. In general, I've found that it's very easy to surround yourself with people who have nothing but adoration for you, and I absolutely believe that there's nothing worse than that if you're trying to grow as an artist. It's hard to fight that instinct.

As far as the duo act I did in that same show, I felt a lot differently. In that act, Danny Drake (as Archer) and I did a duo-acrobatics striptease that resembled a high-energy fight scene, a confrontation where we illustrated the futility of these two characters' persistent quarrel throughout the show. I discussed with Danny a lot of personal critiques I came up with about how the performance went, and would have loved to have heard more from other performers about what worked and what didn't while we were still in the rehearsal phases. In my opinion, the act looked a bit contrived and juvenile on video, despite me being smashed in the head at one point with a glass bottle.

Yes. It did really happen.

It got me thinking quite a lot about the reasons our performances sometimes don't look polished in the ways we want them to. Why do we create our performance pieces in isolation while avoiding checking in with people we trust along the way?

I was reading Mary Cyn's blog about how to take and give effective critique, and it inspired me to want to finish this post that I've kept shelved for a long time. One of the big reasons that I wanted to hold off on finishing this topic is that I knew I hated some parts of burlesque performance because of how the community at large handles effective critique, but wasn't sure how to get it into writing. Mary helped me to figure that out with her own take.

The title of this entry, phrased as "Mindless Praise vs. Effective Critique," doesn't quite encapsulate the entirety of the issue. If I'm honest, I would tell you that me giving crappy critique and shaded criticisms also factors into my motivation for writing this, though that seems like too many words for a blog title, expressly for the point of washing my hands of things my younger self once did. One of the reasons I like to teach other guys how to do burlesque is because it gives me the opportunity to help develop and course-correct in a forum where constant feedback is the expectation, and to further reinforce those lessons in writing after their first performance. Plus, I get to deliver feedback in a way that I would have wanted to receive it.

"I dunno man. Your words seem a little harsh."

As artists, we have a tendency to believe that the first thing we think of (and indeed EVERY thing we think of) is the best idea anyone's ever had. I've certainly come up with some crap ideas (see; The Worst Burlesque Act I've Ever Done), and some were more obviously crap than others--but the finer point is that it took some hard coaching to get me to the point where I accepted that the aforementioned act was a garbage fire, and I don't know that I would have accepted that conclusion on my own.

The ways we experience rejection in burlesque isn't the same way rejection is doled out in other walks of life. It's fairly straightforward when a hiring manager tells you "you didn't get the job," or when a love interest tells you that she's "not all that into you," but I've found that most of the discord between response and critique in burlesque focuses largely on whether or not you're attractive on stage, and not necessarily on whether or not you executed great choreography or told a truly compelling story. Our audiences and fellow performers frequently tend to focus on whether or not we're "hot" up there, which, if you're a stickler for the technical stuff, can seem extra superficial. So rejection can look like straight up silence, unless you do something aggressively inappropriate.

But we all occasionally tell each other that our performances are "sexy" and "mega-hot," and most of the time that's totally okay to do.

"Please tell me I'm beautiful."

As performers, I think we owe it to ourselves to help each other out with specifics. What I like to do is to pick two or three things that I can say to someone when they leave stage that I loved about their performance;

  • "Hey, I love that your fan dance was just two giant mustaches, it was super clever!" 
  • "That cartwheel into a split right when the theremin solo started was so well-timed!"
  • "Tearing your sleeves off to reveal two tinier, angrier sleeves was choice!"

Alternatively, there are some bits of feedback that are more critical. These are useful to give out (with permission, of course), if the person is looking for a bit more honesty about what didn't work well for you. Bear in mind that while I personally love hearing more corrective comments after a number, most people tend to feel that this works directly against their performance high, which can be a tad soul-shattering. So always make sure it's welcome to say things like these, paraphrased from actual critiques I've given;

  • "Your expression in the beginning was distressed and shameful, like you were a hostage--but I don't know if that was the consistent with the tone of the piece. Was that intentional?"
  • "Your costuming struck me as being racially insensitive. I might avoid using headdresses and kimonos when you do this piece in the future."
  • "I don't think using actual liquids and real knives in your piece was a good idea for safety reasons."
  • "There were one or two dance moves that seemed inconsistent with the mood and music, could you tell me about that part of the choreography?"

Reflexively, this is the kind of stuff I find most helpful. While we ultimately want to be the best performers we can be, the only way to improve is to hear specifically what didn't work, and to parlay those suggestions into conversations about what we can do better.

"This air BJ really worked for me!"

Which brings me to the last part. Often, I find that a shared instinct we have as artists is to explain away criticism. If I know that someone says they are receptive, I'll log my observation with them without ending in a question. Frequently with newer performers, I find that it prompts a (usually lengthy) explanation of why what I mentioned has to stay the same.

I'm not saying that there can't be a reason why something I disagree with should remain in a performance piece--but if it's something that you had to clarify at length to an experienced performer, it probably isn't something that's all that clear to your audience.

So in essence; watch and listen, ask permission to discuss, give thoughtful and meaningful critiques, encourage vigorously, and be receptive when others offer you feedback in return.


Friday, September 23, 2016

"Masculine" Burlesque and Self-Deprecating Humor

I was scrolling through my performer Facebook like I usually do, when I came across a thread posted by fellow performer Dangrrr Doll that caught my attention. Since I love reading about contentious topics and the oft debated "why we do this" ideologies of burlesque performance, I was inspired to write on it myself.

It's no coincidence that Dangrrr, a terrifically accomplished burlesque performer who I occasionally get to share the stage with, habitually critiques the way we present our concepts on stage. I've even featured her on this blog before, so with that in mind, here's the original post;

In the class I teach here in Boston (now in its fourth installment), this is the core concept I build from--masculine movement, masculine character building, masculine stripper moves, masculine kazoo concertos, masculine giraffe husbandry, etc. It's really the only thing I can speak to as an expert, since it's at the heart of every piece I write and perform. And based on the varying levels of comfort of the men I know in burlesque, it's not always a focal point of everyone's act construction, though for my own students, I like it when they take my lead and make it their own.

When I first sat down to talk with Stratton McCrady and Robin of the "Acting Out" project, Robin was surprised to learn that I was a straight male performer doing burlesque. Even though operating on the pretenses that most burlesque performers are queer to some degree (or that any men who perform burlesque MUST be gay) isn't an unsafe bet, it does beg the following question:

"What does a straight man performing burlesque look like?"

I dunno, this?
Photo by Roger Gordy

While straight men aren't a rare commodity in most walks of life, we are somewhat unrepresented in burlesque. I've found that most straight men don't have any idea how to move like a man might, to say nothing of how to break into the burlesque scene in the first place. As I've alluded to before, I learned most of my first striptease movements from Rogue Burlesque founders Dixie Douya and Bustee Keaton, and those movements weren't exactly....masculine.

After a year or two of figuring out what I wanted to change, I decided to spend some time and effort learning how to walk, crawl, posture, and pose myself as a masculine character. And for several years now, I've spent a lot of time watching myself in the mirror and making changes as needed.

But taking it back a little, I've found that men who jump onto a stage to perform instinctively gravitate toward one tendency; self-deprecating parody. It's almost like there's an expectation for a man to get on stage and put himself down to make himself feel accepted by the audience. It's weird, but I understand it. I used to do it a lot.

Like, an uncomfortable amount.
Photo by Stratton McCrady, Acting Out!

If I've learned one thing about teaching men striptease, it's that men don't have a default "sexy" set of movements. If I ask a new guy in my class to walk around and move like a suave, ladies-man type for the purposes of an exercise, he will almost always include a section where he's pantomiming an aggressive rejection (possibly involving getting a drink thrown on him). Selling confidence, success, and attractiveness in movement is terrifying for many men, and I suspect, a huge reason why they might want to take my class in the first place.

I'll give you an example. Sway Bradbury mentioned that "embarrassment/shame is all about maintaining your masculinity in moments of vulnerability; i.e. your pants fall down and you feel shame, portraying your nudity as something you feel negatively towards and understand should be hidden. Whereas in high femme burlesque, what I consider classic burlesque, nudity is something you revel in. That vulnerability isn't embarrassing, it's empowering."

That's real. If a guy is on stage and acting out a scene where his shirt and pants are suddenly missing, he's embarrassed, he's shy, and his first move is to cover it up. That same scene acted out by a woman? She's suddenly the one in control. She's sexy, intense, and using that as her weapon.

I want to say that this has to do with the power dynamic of burlesque and how it contrasts with the power dynamic of a gendered society. Should straight men naturally feel like they need to approach burlesque cautiously, and justify their presence in the space with a few jokes made at their own expense? Maybe that's just the price of entry. But I think there's something else hiding there.

I think it has more to do with the fact that men are raised without the burden of having their sexuality constantly available for consumption, a benefit that women don't have the option of. At every turn, women are expected to be sexy and have a way to market themselves constantly with every choice they make in their waking lives. A lot of women I talk to about burlesque performance use the stage as a way to claim ownership of their sexuality--especially since there's so much unjustified entitlement to it in the outside world, perpetrated by media, industry, and random men on the sidewalk. Since men never have to experience this, they don't know what to do in a situation where the expectation turns to them.

Photo by Ben A Johnson

The result of this is that straight men on stage have to get naturalized to the concept of being objectified. Even after all these years of performing striptease, whenever I get an aggressive compliment from a stranger about my sexiness on stage, my gut tells me to feel flattered. What I don't feel is guarded, defensive, or threatened. I don't think I'll ever understand what it means to be truly objectified, and that vulnerability is something I could never learn or teach.

Straight men aspiring to perform with sexual and vulnerable burlesque on stage require a bigger understanding of this, myself included. It's that knee-jerk answer that I get from every guy that I talk to about potentially jumping on stage to perform burlesque: It's the "I'm not in good enough shape" response which signals that most of us fellas aren't even remotely conscious of what the concept of sexual desirability is for a male-facing audience--which would explain why gay male performers have a better understanding of the concept. We straight guys instinctively assume that we just have to be hot and show up, and only then can we perceive the ironic vulnerability of what it means to be objectified.

Or, barring that, we could make intentional fools of ourselves to garner favor from the audience. Comparatively, that certainly does seem like a less scary option.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Ember Flynne: "The Business of Stage Names"

I have another guest writer on Throwing Stones this week, who is a supremely talented fire spinner, aerial acrobat, and business person whom I've worked with quite a lot. Although I've touched on the importance of stage names a while back, I didn't really flesh out the issues of safety and accessibility that are part and parcel with this practice.

So I invited Ember Flynne to share those with me.

Ember Flynne - Fire Goddess

My name is Ember—well, not really, but we’ll get to that in a second—and I’m a traveling circus performer based in Boston.

Some years ago, I found out that my entire family was cyberstalking me.

“Google, you know, the search engine,” my mother explained, “I just type in your name and…”

“Mom I know what it is.  But WHY are you Googling me?”

“Just to see what you’re up to,” she said, matter-of-factly.

My parents and I have never been that close, but this was a new low.  Google is for checking that your blind date isn’t an axe murderer, not sating your curiosity about what your twenty-something daughter is doing in her spare time.  It felt weirdly invasive.  Why not just pick up the phone and—gasp—call me?

“Oh don’t get all bent out of shape,” my mom said when I told her as much, “Everybody does it.  Richard Googles his kids all the time.  Your grandmother Googles you; it’s completely normal.”

I’ve always been aware that information about my life could be broadcast to the entire planet without my permission (excepting, perhaps, China), but I still find it unnatural that anyone I know would feel compelled to search for it.  That my sprawling Midwestern family also thinks it’s appropriate to dissect their discoveries with random friends and co-workers is boggling.  It’s one thing to be searchable.  It’s another to know that my actual grandma looks me up out of sheer boredom, forms opinions that she never intends to contextualize in person, and spreads them to everyone she knows. That my objections are continually framed as MY problem is just the icing on an exceedingly un-fun cake.

When I settled on a stage name, it was to escape a certain nebulous scrutiny that kept me from feeling free to experiment, fail, perform acts of a subversive or sexual nature, and build my reputation on my own terms.  There are lots of other reasons a performer might choose to use a stage name, but what’s important is that there are ALWAYS reasons, and it’s crucial to respect them.

A stage name is a second name used in performance settings, whether in person or in print, that may or may not be associated with a separate stage persona.  While some performers are pretty loose with their expectations, it never hurts to assume a strict separation between a performer’s stage life and the life attached to their legal name.  Treat them like they belong to two different people.

Confusing?  Sometimes, but rest assured, we don’t do this just to frustrate you.

For many performers, stage names are actually an important personal safety measure.  Anyone who appears in front of an audience commands a great deal of attention from a great many people. Combine that with the fact that it’s a performer’s job to look great and create a connection with their fans, and you have a situation that frequently results in unwanted advances from creepy people with nothing better to do. Usually they’re audience members or photographers, but sometimes they’re even clients or unfamiliar booking agents.

"Hey, gimme your name so I can harass you."

My legal name happens to be unique, so Google isn’t going to make it difficult if some stalker with half a brain wants to find out where I live.  Deflecting unwanted attention onto a pseudonym is a decent way to keep my personal information private from all but the most determined of creeps.
If a performer is working under a stage name, always assume that they are trying to keep themselves safe.  Using their legal name in connection with their stage name (especially online) could put them in danger by dismantling a layer of protection that they have worked hard to establish.

A similar concern is job security.  Not everyone can work the stage full-time, so many entertainers maintain other sources of income.  For some, it’s a way to stay afloat when they’re first starting out. For others, it’s a way to support themselves and their families during the off season, acquire health insurance, or maintain a safety net.  Still others have day jobs just because they like them.

Performers who are otherwise proud of what they do may not want to tell their co-workers that they’re a drag queen, or that they routinely light stuff on fire and swing it around.  Some bosses would be cool with that.  Others, not so much.

Even in a city as open-minded as Boston, certain industries remain warped bastions of conservatism. Sexualized performance of any kind is essentially grounds for dismissal from most childcare, teaching, and law enforcement positions, and anyone discovered dancing around in pasties on the Internet can hardly hope to be taken seriously as a doctor, lawyer, or scientist (though let it be said that I’ve seen all of the above on the Oberon stage).

"Yes, we are a full-time Batman and Commissioner, but also
part-time strippers. Keep that last part quiet."

Sometimes it’s not even an employer, but an employee or landlord that’s the problem.  It doesn’t matter.  In all cases, stage names offer a significant shield from casual Google searches and help to maintain a performer’s reputation in relation to others with influence over their lives.

There’s also sheer politeness to consider.  Some folks simply don’t prefer to see a parade of half-naked people prancing all over their Facebook feed, so prudent performers may set up separate names and social media accounts with which to participate in different social groups.  It’s a solution that makes it easy to keep in touch with a five-year-old niece AND maintain contacts in the burlesque or fetish scenes without fear of cross-over.

Finally, there’s a whole host of personal reasons that can affect a performer’s decision to go by another name.  Perhaps they feel that their legal name is inconsistent with their chosen gender or lifestyle, or they wish to use performance as an outlet for forms of expression that would not be acceptable in other parts of their life.

Stage names also help performers to build a brand based on whatever qualities they think are important to their art.

When I first started out, I performed a bit and attended industry events under my legal name.  I met a lot of people that way, but once I became Ember I completely shifted to that identity for work.

A few years later, after Ember Flynne had become somewhat more established (and more interesting on the Internet) I started to notice something disturbing.  People I’d met once or twice were walking up to me in performance settings and pointedly addressing me by my legal name, particularly if I was engaged in conversation.  They always spoke as loudly as possible and hugged for an inappropriately long time.

I struggled to understand what was going on.  It’s not that they didn’t know my stage name or couldn’t remember it—in fact, the majority of these people were far more familiar with Ember (albeit via Facebook) than they ever were with my legal name.  They followed Ember online, liked my photos, and commented as if we were the best of friends, when in reality we had barely crossed paths.*  My real friends all know to call me by Ember when I’m working, and while they’ll occasionally slip up, those occasions are incredibly few and far between.

And then one day, it hit me.  The randos were showing off.

To address me by my real name in front of a group of people was to assert that they knew something about me that those other people did not—that they knew the “real” me, which implies, by extension, a closer relationship and perhaps even a degree of influence.

I immediately called up my 3-in-1 manager / emergency contact / ex-lover and ranted about it.  Who the hell did these people think they were, walking around and showing off at my expense?  And what’s more, who did they think I was?  Should I be flattered or enraged?

Editor's note; I know which one I would gravitate towards.

“Dude,” I remember saying, “I’m legit not famous enough to have these problems.”

These days, I respond to exactly that scenario my adopting a look of bewilderment and saying, “um…who’s that?  I think you’re confusing me with someone else?”  Sure, it’s passive-aggressive, but I’ve found that the best way to keep people from using me to try to boost their own social status is to show them it will backfire.

I actually say the same thing to friends who slip up, but I do it with a smile.  After all, people aren’t perfect.

For the record, if you’re not sure what a performer is going by in a particular setting, you can just ask them.  “How should I introduce you?” is always a polite question, and encompasses not only a name but the performer’s preferred gender and any other details they see fit to give.

Stage names are a small thing, but they have big implications for performers’ well-being.  If you use one, we’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

*Let it be said that many fans and followers do form real, meaningful relationships with performers online.  That’s completely legit, and I’m not referring to those people.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Person About Town with Kenice Mobley!

Good morning!

I'm not writing a full-length post today, but I wanted to share with you a podcast that I was featured on recently with one of my favorite local comedians, Kenice Mobley.

In the Boston burlesque world, there's a lot of crossover with comedy, sideshow, and circus, which affords me the opportunity to meet lots of people who are amazing performers in other disciplines. Kenice asked me to be her interview subject for Person About Town, which is a fun, informal sit-down interview show where she conducts interviews with different people at their favorite Boston hangouts.

In the episode, we talked a lot about male burlesque; points of distinction, highlights, pet peeves, accidentally punching other performers in the face, costuming, that one time each of us were in a strip club, and why the tofu at Christopher's is the bomb.

I'd be happy if you took a few minutes to listen in!

Thursday, July 14, 2016


I always told myself I was never going to be one of those people. You know the type. The burlesquer with 15 selfies a day on Instagram, complete with hashtags so obscure that there's no hope in hell they'll ever catch on (#glitterinmycoffee).

"We need to have a selfie intervention with you," my brother said to me, as I wistfully contemplated the social-media-enabled serial selfie posting persona I'd since become.

"Why did you post that? It has nothing to do with anything," he said, referencing the photo below.

It has plenty to do with my big, stupid face.

I mean, he was right. I was just at a cool-looking rest stop somewhere in New Jersey, and I wanted to photograph myself with it so I could put another notch in my #traveldale hashtag. I wasn't performing, and it wasn't a particularly moving piece of artwork. But since when the hell did that matter?

In general, I'm pretty satisfied with how I use my performer Instagram account. Relentlessly photographing myself with other performers and in fun, new locations isn't a super-important part of my personal life, but it's something I get to do and it's a tool I can use as a performer. When you're on stage a lot, I've found that people kind of dig what you're doing and where it takes you. And of course barring any qualified raison-d'etre, you don't really need to justify posting photos of stuff. That's just kind of what our generation does.

Truthfully, if my IG and FB accounts disappeared tomorrow, it wouldn't shake me to my core (to say nothing of my blog). I'd probably just go merrily about my life, albeit with fewer people at my shows. Ever since Anja Keister showed me how to use Instagram and chastised me with "Where are more posts?" in my first lackluster week as a user, I've felt a subtle obligation to check in with the world via mediocre photography.

Pictured; Motivation.

After all, fans like when you do that. Other performers like when you do that. Random strangers with Russian lettering on their profiles that I can't read also like when you do that. As someone who performs burlesque, it's worth noting that 90% of the marketing I do for my shows and performances is through social media.

When I post a photo of myself in my stage getup, or show a hint at a routine I might be working on with a carefully-orchestrated costume shot, I know that someone out there is getting excited about what I've got planned. When I post a photo of Sirlesque goofing off backstage, I know that followers are getting to see us in our element, and in some small way, becoming a part of it. When I take photos with other performers I share the stage with, I get to introduce them to my little piece of the world back in Boston, and write a short, visual memoir of the amazing time I had.

I'm sure this was exciting to someone.

And like all performers, I feel like I am entitled to a little vanity, if only because it's expected. Another reason on top of that is that it makes clear business sense. If Lilith Beest and I hadn't been picked up by a high-traffic IG account (Monsters Holding Bitches, if you're curious), I doubt we would have sold out "They Live; We Strip - A John Carpenter Burlesque Tribute." The impact of being proactive with our marketing and social media could not be denied.

In retreating back to the personal, Corinne Southern, a burlesque producer and performer from Providence, Rhode Island, gave me the purest version of the IG selfie appeal.

"People like to feel like they are part of the backstage action. I think it makes your audience feel like they have a personal connection with you," she said.

Corinne Southern

Although backstage areas all sort of blend together into the unremarkable after a while, it's kind of important to realize that very few people actually get to have that access. When people are doing makeup or putting on costumes, the process is personal, and the area restricted to performers only.

As someone who very rapidly made that transition, I was fortunate to have never really experienced the exclusion, so I just assumed it wasn't a huge deal to share those photos. But lots of other performers tell me it is, for their fans.

Again, I don't see why this is a highlight for anyone.

Then there's the photos that show us we're vulnerable. I know that for a lot of people (not just performers), selfies are a way of ensuring that we like the photo that contains our likeness. When people are taking photos OF you, you don't really have much control over what the photographer chooses to display. It's for precisely that reason that I wasn't aware that I had criminal levels of duckface in all my performances until it was far too late.

At least with selfies, you can make your image truly your own.

Once I started really getting into the swing of things with DAMYS, the advertising became a bit more focused on me. Despite my protests, the people around me were telling me that my likeness was just as important to selling the concept as the name in the title. Seeing as how so many of us are somewhat unhappy with our self-image to an extent, you can see my own struggle with this fading away as the years went on;

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4 (upcoming!)

So in that way, I can see how self photography feels safe. And while I wouldn't use a selfie for promo, it's been a way to compare what I think I look like to how other people see me. That in itself has been a learning experience.

Although, please reel me in if I start to go overboard.

I will never apologize for how awesome this photo is, however.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Performance Travelling Overstimulates Me

I'm sitting in the BWI airport on the return leg of my trip to Washington DC, where I spent the weekend joining the Evil League of Ecdysiasts (a burlesque producer duo comprised of Gigi Holliday and Cherie Sweetbottom) for "Whedonism," their annual Joss Whedon tribute show. For the record, this weekend was a ton of fun and I wanted to share that with you. If you're a Whedon nerd and find yourself in Washington DC about this time next year, I would highly recommend you clear your schedule.

I also had a lot of downtime to think about things this weekend, on account of this being my first air-travel trip to another city to perform. I was simultaneously excited and flattered to have the chance to do it, and Whedonism was quite the experience. Cherie had asked me to bring up my "Spike" and "Captain America" acts, which are two of my personal favorites, and then brought me out to see Hot Todd Lincoln host his monthly show the next evening at the Bier Baron (a hotel/bar venue I had never been to despite many DC trips previously). All in all, I got to have an exciting weekend and meet a new community of great performers I wouldn't have had the chance to meet otherwise, and to get to know a performance scene I'd only heard great things about.

They let me do Spike! With Miranda Lookinglass as Cordelia.

For those of you who know my dad, you'll know that he's not the biggest fan of what I do 'on the weekends.' But since he's a huge fan of Buffy and an even bigger fan of Billy Idol, (and it happened to be Father's Day) I called him up to tell him about how much fun the whole show was, and that I loved him and might show up to family dinner in costume. That's how excited I was about this whole trip.

So what were the things I thought the most about in transit? I'm glad you asked.

In many places, male burlesque performers are a rarity.

I wasn't sure what to expect form the male performers in the nation's capital, but I kept having this idea that there were a lot of them. Having been to DC several times prior to visit my brother when he was living there, I knew that there was a vibrant gay scene, and burlesque performance tends to go hand in hand. With that said, the only male-presenting burlesque performers I met were relatively new; Baron Atomy and Danny Cavalier were two that I had met in person, the former whom I watched do a brand new concept-fresh-to-stage ice cream man strip followed immediately by a fire performance. I'd never seen a fire performance done indoors, and wasn't expecting that--but local laws and the venue both seemed cool with it (see what I did there?).

I got a similar feeling when I first performed with Lady Luck Burlesque in Portsmouth, NH. Sometimes, you are the only guy in the room, and the crowd and other performers will be looking to you to show them what a guy doing burlesque looks like. I decided that I do kinda like being an ambassador in that regard. I'd better not get caught slippin'.

...or else you'll have to sit on the ground near a bus station. With a newspaper. Or something.

Travelling is tiring/requires planning.

Two things that I'm diametrically averse to are planning things (more on this later), and being exhausted. I don't know why this always happens, but travelling makes me just want to nap. Thanks to Cherie Sweetbottom who suggested an afternoon nap time on Saturday, as this is exactly what I wanted. Work beckons and all that, but sleep is great too.

I knew I had to try and maximize my activity while I was out of town to both take advantage of my journey and to combat the costs of travel, and that required some advance planning. I'm notoriously shitty at managing my schedule, but was able to offer some available wisdom for aspiring male performers in the area. 

The point of travelling to do burlesque gigs elsewhere is truly self-defined.

I was asked by Chip Rox why I felt compelled to go to another city to do the same acts I do on Boston's stages. Was I not satisfied with being relatively in-demand in my home town?

I had to really think about this. Is it fulfilling to travel to new places and give them their first experience of what you're all about? Absolutely. Is it fun to see other performers and what ideas they have for the stage? Most definitely. Is it fun to broaden your performance network, make new friends, and connect dots between prevailing reputations and performers in the flesh? Hell yes.

But what I think is most satisfying for me is getting to be a key piece of someone else's vision. It's the most flattering thing for me to know that someone else needs what I'm about to bring, and to be humbly in service to a production that calls to you from across the expanse.

That might have been the most delightfully tacky way to say it, but I don't think I can do better. You're welcome?

I was fortunate to not have had to travel in this manner specifically. Pictured; The Expanse.

You're really limited in how you promote yourself when you travel.

I felt like being in DC was a unique experience, in that I couldn't really market myself or the show I was in too effectively, since I didn't know anybody in town. The two people I was previously familiar with prior to this were both in the show alongside me. So in that regard, I had to let go.

Producer me was silently panicking about it, since I know filling seats is in everyone's best interest. But in the end it turned out okay, everyone got paid, nobody died, and I think even some people had fun. And that's pretty neat.

When I was in Provincetown, I saw two performers I had met previously who were getting their hustle on outside the venue. While it makes more sense in a tourist destination like Provincetown to hand out flyers to fill your own seats, it's not always a viable tactic in every town you go to. 


Getting to travel to do shows rings the ego bell, and I gotta keep that in check.

As a rule of thumb, you should always be grateful for opportunities that come your way, and I'm perpetually surprised and flattered that people like the work I do and want to see it again and again. Since I started visiting other cities, I've found myself repeatedly self-assessing the person I was and still am becoming. Prior to this trip, I had several moments when I was faced with the choice of whether or not to go and do a gig out of town, and without thinking, checked my schedule to see if I could, and then said I would as soon as I knew I could. I've been finding myself saying more and more frequently things like "they need me, so I have to go," which on the surface feels like a selfless choice to help a producer out with his or her vision. It took some raw moments of honesty with myself to realize that this is something my ego sees as a way to win some new source of reputation and recognition, and that I need to make sure I'm giving the 'why' enough thought before I jump right in and commit.

One of the consequences of not doing that is that it teases out some negative aspects of my personality, and I have to be super aware of those little demons as I recognize them; self-importance, overconfidence, feeling needy for attention, boastfulness, deafness to the needs of others, and those who are important to me.

Ultimately, I have to keep reminding myself that burlesque is really just a fun hobby, and that we all love the attention we get from being on stage. We're not feeding and clothing the poor, and most of us are not making enough to call it a good living. It's a good exercise in awareness for me, and I gotta be better about doing it.

Yummy Hearts and I were not on our way to a clothing drive, nor a soup kitchen.

Some afterthoughts;

Although I wrote the majority of this after having left DC, I've since revisited and edited this after a weekend with Liberty Rose and crew in Philadelphia. All of it still rings pretty true, with the added note that I'd never performed at a con before (look up #toomanygames2016 or #broadstreetburlesque if you're curious), and that I hadn't found a better home for my Link character from Legend of Zelda. Seriously, there was so much love in that room for all of the Smash Brothers characters, and I felt it so intensely. A group of dudes all came up to me and asked if we could all take a group shirtless photo, and it was a level of brazen boldness I'd not yet seen from fans. I've just never experienced that kind of character fanaticism before, and it was amazing and humbling at the same time.

I also realized that a big part of travel is getting to experience a place, but not in quite the same way you would as a standard tourist. Burlesque performers generally have a similar taste in bars, restaurants, and activities, and I really enjoyed rolling deep as fuck with fierce performers like Liberty Rose, Dangrrr Doll, Margot Starlux, Hattie Harlowe, Morrighan Oh Tulle, and others to the nearest taqueria bar to eat soy tacos and play Ghostbusters pinball. And thanks for taking me to Wawa. I still don't quite understand, but at least I have the experience to dwell on.

Getting a first time Wawa experience courtesy of Liberty Rose. It was gentle and sweet.

Some musings on bus travel;

Bus travel pros; you can sleep, you personally don't have to deal with traffic.
Bus travel cons; Unpredictable schedule, wifi does not work as promised, guy in front of me who jacked his seat back all the way.
Bus travel chaotic neutral; Every rest stop had a Popeye's or a Burger King, which both excited and nearly destroyed me.

Finally, something I realized about being on the road was that I was going to miss all the good shows in my hometown while I was gone. While I was Spike on stage in DC for "Whedonism," my friends back in Boston were putting on another wildly successful "Once More with Pasties" Buffy burlesque show and I didn't get to see it. I also missed the "Burlesque Against Humanity" show put on by my friends at Rogue Burlesque, and I never like missing their events.

But while I was sad about missing those incredible shows, I also know that they're not the last shows I'll ever see, and that it's just as important to put time into being a fan as it is in furthering your own stage rep. Thank you all for sitting through my proverbial projector show about my glamorous vacation, and I wish safe travels to the rest of you.