Thursday, December 17, 2015

Imposter Syndrome

I came by this great article in the NY Times by way of Slate about something that has a ton of relevance for me as a burlesque performer.

Those of you who are already familiar with "Imposter Syndrome" will know exactly where I'm going with this.

To summarize, Imposter Syndrome is a term coined by American psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes which is characterized by feelings of "phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”

"Guys, you should know that I'm not really a pilot, and have no business flying this plane."

Professionally (as in, when I'm not doing striptease), Imposter Syndrome is heavily rooted in my day-to-day. I sit expectantly at my desk, waiting for a supervisor to come by and tell me that they found out that I'm not actually any good at my job, and that I'm fired. Also, it isn't enough that I can't work there anymore, I have to also sign a form blackballing me from any other gainful employment, and oh yeah, everyone in the company is lining up outside my cubicle to punch me in the face for deceiving them.

So I need to periodically glance backward in time and remind myself that as an introvert, I've managed to scrape together a decent living introducing myself to and having conversations with people who typically want nothing to do with me. I've met with high-level business folks in New York City, shaken hands and done presentations and demos, and somehow came back with closed deals and signed paperwork. I haven't just gotten by, I've sorta thrived and gotten actually pretty good at something, got myself a nice apartment and a cool car, and one bad day every now and again won't cause those around me to see that I'm just a child in grown-up clothes pressing keys and saying words in meetings to maintain the illusion of productivity before I'm taken into custody and thrown in liar jail for being the giant con artist that I feel like I am deep down in my soul.

Burlesque is a more intense version of this.

"ALL YE GAZE UPON ME, FOR I AM A FRAUD!"

There are a lot of elements that contribute to this state of mind for me, all ingredients in the "doubt stew" that's been simmering on the back burner for as long as I've been performing. For starters, I'm one of a handful of male performers in a city where there isn't a lot of male burlesque. I've gotten a lot of work in the last 6 years based on the fact that I'm one of very few who is willing and able to fill roles as needed--I'm fairly certain that I've gotten gigs simply because I have blonde hair. The fact that burlesque is not predominantly a male artform has given me a lot of privilege towards landing gigs that might be better suited for a more capable performer, if only one was slightly more available.

Add to that the fact that burlesque is not a kind of performance that has a high level of professional recognition. There aren't all that many burlesque performers that have a self-sustaining career supported by their work in theatrical striptease. I've covered this idea in previous blog posts--while burlesque might be more mainstream than it's been in many decades, it's far from a way to make a comfortable living in the way that a great singer or actor might have the means to do. The point here is that we don't judge our own or each others' performances by any professionally accepted standard, save for feedback from the people we hold in the highest trust. Due to the way the burlesque environment is constructed, "being the best," in a nutshell, might just be low-hanging fruit.

Somewhat related to that is that the burlesque community tends to want to support its strongest members through blind encouragement rather than through objective criticism. I wrote about the worst act I've ever done a little while back, and while I could point out every reason why it wasn't a good performance, I still had plenty of people lining up to tell me how much they loved it.


"Sooo, what did you think of m--mrrrghhuuuugff..."


Mix all these together and introduce the result to a performer with my specific personality type, and it becomes pretty clear why I have a tendency to doubt my creative abilities. A big reason why I write this blog is to carry out the practice of being grateful, as gratitude is an extremely important counterweight against feeling generally undeserving.

My fellow Sir Danny Drake reminded me of how important this was earlier in the year. He was telling me that it's easy to feel like you're not doing well and to not recognize when you're making significant progress. And that's why it's important not to dismiss the compliments from others, but to simply acknowledge and say "thank you." Knowing that my instinct in these situations is to be dismissive towards compliments, I can confirm that he's absolutely right.

As with anything, practicing relentlessly creates the illusion of effortlessness. There have been times where I've performed an act so many times that, "dammit, I'm just going to go up on stage without having practiced and just do the damned thing," and it's turned out well. This happens on occasion despite my best efforts to rehearse thoroughly, and I always envision a scenario like this being the final straw for an audience already on its last nerve, exclaiming "Yep, it looks sloppy and unrehearsed. I knew that Dale Stones was a lackluster performer and now he's gone and ruined my evening. I'm going to hurl a tomato at him to express my dissatisfaction."

But you know who else feels this way? Don Cheadle.


Pictured; Imposter Syndrome in a straw hat.

For performers, I feel like some of it comes from a place of healthy humility. I realize that what I do is not a serious art form. Burlesque is fun, and it's entertaining, and it's enjoyable for so many people--but it's not life or death. If I mess up a reveal or if my dongle pops out, I probably won't do 15 years in prison.

But we MUST keep creating new art. While it's true that our art is unimportant in the grand scheme of things (this fact helps us not have an ego so big that we become impossible to be around without everyone hating you and wanting to punch you in the taint), it's equally critical to remember that what you're doing is just as important to somebody else. That burlesque act where you're dressed up as a bar of soap and are doing a partner striptease with someone dressed as a loofa? Someone out there is waiting patiently for you to do that act for them, because they've waited their entire life to see it.

So give it your best, because you absolutely deserve to be on that stage. If you weren't, you wouldn't be there. So go where you're going, and be where you are.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Performing for Largely Hetero Audiences

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I wanted to write a bit about my experience with performing for crowds comprised mostly of straight men, as I've had a lot of unique and strong feels about it. Mostly excitement, but sometimes terror. I'd like to take you through that emotional process and where it all originates.

Women's burlesque performance is generally more well received for new audiences, due in large part to the socially-reinforced way women's sexuality is available for public consumption. Women are expected to be looked at and appreciated, regardless of the gender makeup of the audience. Both men and women will watch in adoration at female striptease, as it is acceptable to do so. I'm here to write about what happens when a male burlesque performer presents to a crowd of new, straight-ish people, because the reactions are often much, much different than the reactions that naturalized, familiar burlesque audiences display.

Such as leaning-accented casual indifference.

I was a bit on edge for a recent gig with Brandy Wine and Polly Surely of Rogue Burlesque, as it was the type of setting where burlesque didn't quite seem to fit the programming. As I alluded to in a previous post, this was a high-energy party where DJ's from around the country were gathering to drink and dance. We went down into the basement, which was its own party-hearty room, complete with dim lighting, beer spilled on the floor, poor sight lines, and every formality spared. I'd say it was an audience with an 80/20 man-to-woman ratio.

Needless to say, very few folks in the crowd were acquainted with burlesque. After our host for the night started explaining burlesque etiquette, you could absolutely hear the sarcastic chuckling. While I knew they were probably picturing a club-esque strip show, I doubted they were ready to factor me into their expectations. As I mentioned way back in the second paragraph, the onlookers were pretty amenable to seeing Brandy and Polly perform. When I stepped onto the floor though, there was an audible groan from many of the males in the room. I would estimate that about 1/3 of them immediately turned around and walked out.

In that moment, I saw a clear picture of what scares straight men about male burlesque. When I teach my class for new male burlesquers, I like to gradually introduce clothing reveals and let people opt out of ones they aren't (yet) comfortable with. To their credit, the guys in the class are usually willing to jump right in and do all of them, which is fantastic. I'm guessing that the mental re-configuring that happens when a group of men who have never met before begin to accept that they're about to be nearly naked in front of one other, they move past the head-space that my audience at this gig was stuck in. In essence, they were frightened.

Usually, the screaming is internal.

Since performers tend to draw energy from the audience they go on for, I can tell you that when this happens, it's often demoralizing. To that end, it manifests itself in a few different ways: In struggling to cope with the fact that they might have to watch another man strip, these men will usually show signs of physical discomfort--heads down, arms folded, groaning and audible commentary. James and the Giant Pasty of Boylesque T.O. (based in Canada) told me that at one show, a group of men in a bar lashed out and called him a faggot, which is the ultimate show of insecurity through aggression.

There was a point early on in my performance career where a reaction like this would have ruined me. Thankfully, I've had enough practice with the "show must go on" frame of mind that I'm usually able to compensate for situations like this. As a general rule, I focus my broader moves on the people who are having a great time, and I focus my specific audience work on the individuals who look the most uncomfortable.


Or in a pinch, anyone who is currently shrieking in terror. 

During my act, one man in the front of the audience buried his face in one hand in disbelief, as if one errant gaze upon my glittery pecs would turn him to stone (see what I did there?). I walked up to that one guy in the crowd, put my face about half a foot from his, waited for him to notice, and then gave a wave and a curtsy. He laughed just a little bit, and it got such a rise out of the crowd around him. I find that if you go for the hardest nut to crack, your success in getting the audience to join in the fun will have a ripple effect, and can often noticeably change the mood of the room.

Following from that, I'd like to talk to you about what happens after a performance like this. Due in large part to fragile masculinity (#masculinitysofragile if you're so inclined), straight men tend to conflate male burlesque performance with homosexuality or flirting. While it's not always a negative thing that some men will give feedback after watching a male burlesque performance, it can absolutely be derived from a place of awkwardness or insecurity. Picture any of these after a performance;

"I'm not gay, but....that was a good show/you were funny/I've thought about kissing a man/etc."
"Do you get a lot of gays/women/men hitting on you after you perform?"
"I saw more of you than I wanted to see, but you were pretty cool to watch."
"You were good, but you should work out more." (Lucky, thanks for sharing that last one)

"Look bro, I'm not gay or nuthin', but, uh....good
 job, there....dawg. Did I mention that I
 reeeeealy like the ladies?"

Some of you reading this will recognize these experiences as your own. But while icky on the surface, they can be a good starting point for having a strong, valuable discussion with a new fan about burlesque, body norms, and expectations around performers from the same/opposite sex.

I've learned that for every 20 dudes in an audience I perform for, one or two will come chat with me afterwards and will be completely awesome to talk with. After this gig, there were 3 guys that came to talk to Polly, Brandy, and myself, and wanted to reiterate that they had the best time at the show. While they were each initially confused about how to react, all of them individually had the wherewithal to figure out what they appreciated about the performance, what questions they wanted to ask, and the enthusiasm about discovering us and our scene afterwards. It was awesome.

For me, having just a couple people telling me what a great time they had makes it 1000% worth it. Bringing new people to future shows helps bring burlesque more and more into the mainstream, which benefits us all. I also love when other men feel inspired enough from burlesque to want to try performing themselves, as it's a major disruption to the power structures that influence masculine negativity (and bolsters our solidarity with our female counterparts).

And that's pretty rad.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Get Those Dollars Out

Since I came into burlesque in the Boston, I'd noticed that there was a very distinct performance culture here. Boston burlesque performers tend to be more theatrical, tend to bring the strange into the mainstream, and are generally group-oriented in how they advertise. It wasn't until I started performing outside of Boston that I began to realize that we had a very interesting stance on tipping, which is hardly reflected elsewhere.

I had been performing about 3 1/2 years before I was a part of a show where the patrons were asked to tip the performers.

I was definitely a little confused when I'd first heard the host setting that expectation with the audience. I wasn't against it per se; I did have a rudimentary understanding that making any kind of money as a performer was and always would be a hustle. I had worked restaurant gigs since I was 16, so I full well understood how tipping worked. I just had never been party to a producer linking that to performance.

As an integrated part of burlesque performing, the concept makes perfect sense. If the performer really blows your socks off, you throw them a bit of extra money to show your appreciation. Ergo, your performance can have an influence on how well you do that night. That's capitalism, baby!

"I mean, I thought that's how we were supposed to fix the economy."

It reminded me of the one time I accompanied a friend of mine who was about to be married to a strip club. The biggest thing that stuck out to me about the way the strip club's economy worked was that every part of our visit was commodified. There was a cover charge when you entered, you were expected to have smaller bills to tip the dancers, buying drinks had its own set of permissions and rates, and individual women were soliciting separate engagements from the patrons.

In this setting, it seemed to me that the actions of the performers were directly tied to whether or not a patron was luring them over with money. Initially, this seems like a different thing from burlesque performance entirely--you're expected to have a set of specific choreography with movements that comprise a routine. In order to have the right punch, your act has to be rehearsed and well timed. If you're collecting dollar bills every couple of seconds, it's hard to imagine that you can execute a planned set of dance moves. It would have to be more improvisational.

I performed at a gig recently with Brandy Wine and Polly Surely of Rogue Burlesque, and it was a paid event where tipping was encouraged. Although the crowd was a room full of drunk DJ's who were mostly dudes (I'll talk about performing for hetero males who are only experiencing their first burlesque show in a later post), there was a strong element of loud-crowd dollar-chucking appreciation, which has a slightly different feel than the whole "pass the basket in church" sort of tipping I had been acclimated with in other burlesque shows. It felt kind of like that scene in Magic Mike where Matthew McConaughey rolls around in dollars wearing a cowboy hat and a thong. It was a gritty kind of party atmosphere--which I kind of loved, not gonna lie.

Don't pretend you haven't seen it.

Because I was doing a routine that I had done about 40 times before, I felt like I had the ability to change things up when needed and accommodate the dollar bills being thrown around near me. I knew that I could skip one of my flourishes with my hat and instead bend over all sexy-like while scooping dollars up and stuffing them into my waistband. You know, the kinds of things that the layman associates with striptease.

Like glitter!

I was chatting with my friend Honey Pie, who I had performed with at a show a year or two ago where tipping was encouraged. The show itself was more of a "buy a $20 ticket, drink a ton to help us hit our bar minimum" sort of theatrical experience which was hosted by a character contributing to the performance, and so it wouldn't have made a ton of sense for people to leave their seats, approach the stage, and fling dollars at the performers.

"I feel like there is a time and a place for it. I have done shows with tipping but it has always been more of a Go-Go set in a night club than a show done in a theater where most of the patrons are sitting down watching a show," Honey told me.

"And I think that's where I don't feel like tipping should happen in Burlesque shows. Most of these shows patrons are paying more money to sit down and take in the beauty of the theater and performers. I myself don't want someone throwing money in crumpled up balls at me or walking up to the stage handing me money while I am up there working my ass of on the hours of choreography I have practiced and the time I put into making that costume look good for you. Sit back, drink and take in the show! I also don't like to see it while I'm taking in the sights of a performance on stage. It's distracting and takes away from the performance art," she said.

Honey Pie

Honey made a great point about gogo dancing, which, as I've learned from doing shows outside of Boston (most prominently D20 Burlesque in NYC with Anja Keister and friends, plug plug!), is pretty much the standard in-between and intro activity for burlesque shows. A dancer can make a good amount of tips doing largely improvisational choreography as a component of a burlesque show's program. But I would hesitate to call go-go dancing a burlesque performance. 

Burlesque, like any other artform, needs support from the patrons to continue. Burlesque fans and show-goers should have extra opportunities to support the performers they enjoy (aside from ticket revenue), and I think that having a gogo set or two and having a basket at every show is a great way for performers to continue to fund their costume, travel, and meal costs.

It's the "stuffing dollars into my underwear" aesthetic that makes me feel a little heeby-jeebly about performing certain engagements. It's a different implication entirely, which stems from what the average person might picture in club-based striptease--I've seen audience members get tossed from burlesque shows because their actions were clearly influenced by strip-club culture. Taking it a bit further, tipping mechanics have a great impact on proper boundaries, which are an inseparable component of burlesque striptease. Generally, most burlesque performers don't want you stuffing money into their clothing pieces, and won't hesitate to let you know it.

Tipping performers is a great thing, although I don't particularly like having to work it into my performance piece. Deciding what kinds of tipping mechanics work best for you in your own performances is a good thing, and I'd encourage you to share your own best practices with me.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pop & Pasties: The Placement of Pop Culture in Burlesque

I'd like to do something a little differently tonight. Usually, I write my own material, but I thought I'd be lazy and outsource my originality for this post. In all seriousness though, I'm always curious to know what other performers are thinking, and I had been bugging my good friend Lucky Charming to write something for me on the topic of pop culture in burlesque performance.


Lucky Charming

To preface the discussion, I'd like to talk about the kind of relationship me and Lucky have. I had met him shortly after he attended Alternatease in Boston a few years back. Sirlesque had invited him back to do a show with us, and although I didn't get the chance to see him at Alternatease, his reputation did precede him in my mind. When he did end up coming back to Boston, he absolutely blew me away with what he brought to the stage ("Party in the TSA," if you're curious). Since then, we've had him back to visit and he and I have become fast friends.

As a 4-time GLAM Awards nominee and the creator of "Cootie Catcher," a one-man show which he's brought to Fringe festivals both in the United States and Canada, he's got plenty of credibility and mileage as a performer. Plus, I really appreciate his viewpoints on many topics, and wanted to highlight this one in particular. So without further ado, Lucky;

Over to you, hotshot!

Merriam-Webster defines burlesque as “a literary or dramatic work that seeks to ridicule by means of grotesque exaggeration or comic imitation. : mockery usually by caricature.” In the 19th century, these parodies typically targeted the theatre, opera, and other popular pastimes for the upper class. However, in the era of burlesque that we find ourselves in now, the caricatures that we see are more likely to depict figures that are more broadly consumed by the masses.

I’ve only been a member of the burlesque community for three-and-a-half years, and in that time I’ve seen hundreds of routines that portray superheroes, super villains, video games, and cartoons, and delivered in a way that is more of a tribute than a travesty. I see this as merely an indication of how our society has evolved; patrons are more interested in paying for performances that bring them to their happy place than those that are going to challenge them and remind them how chaotic the state of the world is. And I can’t say I blame them. 

That said, I’m a firm believer that burlesque is meant to challenge, as well as titillate. In it’s time of origin, being naked was enough to spark the senses. Now, a simple strip is nothing special. Naked people are everywhere…movies, magazines, you name it. I firmly believe that burlesque in general needs more than just nudity. If you simply dress up as a popular character and strip to make people squeal, you’re doing a disservice to your audience, your character, and your talent.

Yeah…I went there. (UNPOPULAR OPINIONS, ACTIVATE!)

...and stylishly, I might add. Photo credit; Christopher Gagliardi


By making any pop culture reference in your performance, you’re taking a risk in alienating your audience. Unless, of course, the entire show is a reference to a certain piece of pop culture. If someone purposefully attends a “Bob’s Burgers” tribute show, it’s reasonable to assume they’ve watched at least half of the existing episodes. But if you stick a “Bob’s Burgers” act into any old burlesque show, you can bet that a large percentage of the people aren’t going to get it. And they might be pissed. And the have every right to be. 

The audience wants to be in on your jokes. They want to laugh and cheer for you and with you. Don’t block them out by being too specific. To make such a move is naive at best, and arrogant at worst.

There are plenty of ways to pay tribute to the pieces of pop culture that bring you joy that don’t leave too many audience members behind. The first person to come to mind is Franki Markstone, whom I shared the stage with this summer in Orlando. She performed a delightful number inspired by “Harry Potter”. Aside from her use of the movie’s theme song (with segued, appropriately, into Heart’s “Magic Man”), a dress in the colors that fan’s would recognize as Gryffindor’s, and a strategically placed Golden Snitch, there was nothing super specifically Potter-ish about it. Most humans will recognize “Harry Potter” in this day and age, but on the off-chance they didn’t, it was still a beautiful, well-performed striptease that the whole family can enjoy.

Pictured; wholesome, family-friendly entertainment. Photo credit; Jenna Cumbo, Village Voice

This pleased me on so many levels. There was enough of a wink to the Potter fans to keep them happy, but enough dazzle that if you didn’t get it, it didn’t matter.

Oh, there be players that I have seen, and heard others praise and that highly**, who brought an act as a particular sci-fi character to a general burlesque show…a character I was very familiar with, I might add…and through referencing the most minute details of this character’s storyline, completely lost 90% of their audience within the first ten seconds. They cheered anyway, but I was infuriated on their behalf.

[**Shakespeare reference. Hamlet. Didn’t get it? Now you know how it feels to be alienated. Not so fun, huh?]

On the other hand, say you are performing in a show that pays tribute to a popular entity. It is safe to assume that the members of the audience are serious fanatics, and are anticipating a plentitude of inside jokes that only their fandom would get. In this case, by all means, go niche or go home.

But wait! Before you get down to business…do me a little favor. I’ve seen a lot of characters from film and television portrayed on the burlesque stage, and I notice that many of them have fallen into a formula: 
1. Dress up as the character
2. Pick a song that makes some joke about the character
3. Strip
4. End in a reveal that consists of some other joke about the character as depicted in a crotch piece.

Perhaps I only find this tedious because I, too, am a participant in this art form, but even if you have the most stunning costume imaginable for an act like this, it still has great capacity to feel…dare I say it? Lazy. Most pop culture acts I’ve seen are severely lacking in context. I love that this character is stripping, but I want to know why this character is stripping. I’m game to see Darth Vader naked, but like…why is he taking his clothes off in the first place? And even more importantly…why is he still breathing and functioning after he takes that breast plate off? Doesn’t that help keep him alive or something?

Please excuse me: I’m going to use myself as an example here, because I am fully aware of my own arrogance and not too proud to admit it.

After my first couple of years in burlesque, I decided to cut back on the nerdy shows. I appreciate them so much, and love being in the audience for them, but with the way my own career has progressed, they often cost me a pretty penny and I get minimal mileage out of them.

That said, when someone is producing a “Doctor Who” show and they ask you personally to play Captain Jack Harkness…you can’t really say no, and you definitely can’t fuck it up.

Jack Harkness, for those who aren’t familiar, has plenty of reasons to take his clothes off. He’s hot. He’s charming. He’ll unzip his pants for pretty much anyone, regardless of gender or species. He’s the slutty pansexual dreamboat that I’ve always wanted to see on the screen. But I didn’t want to build my act around that alone. Again: context. 

There is an episode called “Bad Wolf” where Jack gets teleported into a futuristic reboot of “Extreme Makeover”, and two droid stylists zap his clothes off with a defabricator ray. Jackpot. I had a character. I had a motivation. I had an arc. The pieces practically pulled themselves together, and I quickly had (what I believe to be) one of my strongest acts to date. I wish I had more opportunities to take it out, but I don’t want to shove obscure sci-fi references in anyone’s face without their clear consent. Do you understand what I’m saying?

The arc is something that I think gets dangerously neglected with popular characters in burlesque, often because we feel it is implied. But just as an audience needs to see a character change between the beginning and the end of a movie or play, they should see how your character develops in a burlesque routine, whether it’s a recognizable character or not. Otherwise, it’s just pretty. And while most of us do burlesque partially to publicly claim our own beauty, many of us also want our audiences to have boners for our brains. Let’s keep those brain-boners coming, kids!


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Workout Paradox

One of the topics that I find goes rather unfortunately arm-in-arm with the topic of striptease performance is the issue of "working out" or "being in shape." It's the ever-present, borderline shameful, basement-level accompaniment that lurks around the corner and just out of sight when discussing an artform that glorifies near-nakedness. As my second installment of Dale's All-Male Yardsale Amateur Showcase approaches and I scour the landscape for new willing participants to perform, I am continually hearing the same reasons for apprehension that used follow me around, and I think it's high time to discuss those fears. Although I've alluded to the compulsion to work out in previous blogs, I think there's enough here to stimulate a thorough discussion in its own place.

I'd like to acknowledge that as a male-bodied performer, I have the privilege of not necessarily being judged by my appearance first and foremost. I also want to make sure I draw a clear delineation between being "physically fit" and "healthy," as I want to focus on the former for the purposes of this article. Also, those are not the same things.

The first thing I want to say to you if you're new to burlesque and thinking about performing at some point; YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE IN PHENOMENAL SHAPE TO PERFORM BURLESQUE.

Period.

...no matter WHAT the VHS boxed set says.


Every time I meet a burlesque newcomer who has only just seen a performance for the first time recently, I always encourage them to try out burlesque performance if they want to. Regardless of gender, I always get some version of the following comment in response to my suggestion;

"Oh, I have to go hit the gym for at least a few months before I would even think about trying it."

It makes me a sad to hear, mainly because despite the way we present our varied body types and abilities to the general public, their individual response is to counter with self-shame. Despite the fact that there's no fitness standard to burlesque performance (because it's not the Marines), people are still very intimidated by the mere concept of people judging their physical form. And they do--we ALL do that involuntarily, to some degree. What you're effectively doing is showing your body to a room full of strangers. Once you make peace with that, you can really do anything you want, and moving past that initial insecurity is what makes burlesque performance a truly liberating experience--NOT the state of the physical vessel you present.

I've been fortunate enough to have my own thoughts and feelings on that change over the 6 years I've been doing burlesque. While I've always been somewhat athletic, I was never in peak physical form. For some perspective, here's how I started out;


When it was just myself and two other guys several years ago, I kind of resented the idea of having to maintain a physical appearance in order to perform striptease. While the other guys looked at it as a logical progression and began to encourage me to participate in group weight lifting sessions, I grew frustrated and withdrawn.

What it really came down to was that I resented being told that I had to fit an arbitrary standard in a medium where we were, in theory, encouraged to accept each other as is, in whatever physical form we presented. I found it upsetting that before I worked on any other skills that might have helped me transcend as a performer such as dance training or flexibility, I was being told I had to make sure I was desirable enough to look at. It pissed me off.

The weird thing is, guys put a ton of pressure on each other to be physically strong and capable. Society tells men that they don't necessarily have to be pretty, but they do have to be able to fight another dude if the situation arises. Your worth as a provider and someone to be desired might have roots in how much physical labor you can perform, which is a decidedly different standard than what my female-bodied friends are expected to fit. In fact, most male burlesque that celebrates the masculine form relies on those tropes to power the acts.

....unless it's a Top Gun act, in which case all bets are off. Photo by Jon Beckley.


As it pertains to burlesque, Nina La Voix told me that being physically fit makes her a better performer on stage. "I feel like my body moves better and my self confidence levels are boosted when I'm on my regular fitness routine."

"Physical fitness can prevent injuries on stage. Taking care of your body... conditioning... knowing it's limits.. building strength... and overall body awareness in general, makes for a better performance. Your body is your tool, and you only get one." Nina said.

I would agree that training one's self physically is a great way to feel more capable about what you present to your audience, though isn't something that should ever be attached as a necessity to burlesque performance. Treating your physical self in the best way you know how is necessary for living a long life, but isn't even reomtely a stage requirement.

"Do what makes you feel like your best version of you. That's what body positivity is all about. But when the importance of being physically fit and fitting a specific body type is placed on you from others (specifically producers) that's when it is dangerous," said Philadelphia-based Taylor Sweet.

Taylor Sweet

And that's a great point, though it does help me identify some privilege I have as a male burlesque performer: I've never had to confront a producer or venue that placed an unfair standard on my body, though I do know many female performers who have. The demands that the management at Lucky Pierre's placed on Ruby Rage come immediately to mind, and it's an ugly reality to have to consider when deciding what your personal brand should be.

I'm in a male-bodied burlesque group which has a decidedly masculine aesthetic. While none of us went into the discipline thinking we were Chippendale's dancers (I even parody the rigorous Chippendale's standards in an act I perform with Butch Sassidy), we somehow incidentally each took on an ostensibly fit phenotype, and whether it's reflective of the demand that society has for our niche or a side effect of the confidence we've gained as we've leveled up our performance chops is unclear.

All this is to say that Sirlesque has a specific "brand" that we're pushing, and we each take on skills and train in certain disciplines that advance us professionally. If you're a dude who is not looking to build up a beefcake aesthetic, it really doesn't serve your purposes to head to the gym with your fellow bros 5 times a week. But if you want to learn how to do a aerial silks striptease, you might consider following in Jack Silver's footsteps and spend some time in a circus gym.

Therein lies the eponymous paradox. While I can't deny that my stage presence and confidence overall has improved due in some part to the attention I've been giving my physical form in the last couple years, I would never consider "working out" a necessary component of burlesque performance.

Similarly, Anja Keister and I had a lengthy discussion about that; "In burlesque we often say that our "bodies are our instruments" or "our tools for expression."
So it only makes sense to "customize" our product to fit the brand we provide. There are many ways to do this.

"Maybe you dress it up in fancy costumes. Maybe you paint it (makeup) and dye it to look a certain way. Maybe you get physical enhancements like breast implants or other cosmetic surgery. Maybe you take acting classes to be better at expression on stage. Maybe you take dance classes for choreography. Maybe you work out to tone, lose weight, or strengthen the body. These are all ways to customize your "burlesque product" to better sell it to an audience," said Anja.

Anja Keister, photo by Adrian Buckmaster

Anja mentioned that what resonates with her audience and fanbase is more important than hitting a specific physical characterization.

"Like if I want to sell a 'mainstream classic burlesque product,' sure, physical fitness is important. If I was doing aerial or lyra, it would be important. But, not for who I am currently selling to. I am a weird, nerdy burlesque clown. It's not a customization I "need." Sure, I want it, but want to have a product my audiences respond to," Anja said.

In looking at how I was brought into burlesque performance, I learned the importance of punchline comedy and immersive storytelling, which largely shaped what I consider important. Learning to do erotic striptease was something that I hadn't considered important at the time, but began to work into my repertoire as I honed that skill, and the physical aspect of performance was a late add in the game, as I decided I wanted the physical ability to perform acrobatic and strength-based feats as one part of my performance catalog. What I want to show on stage is a direct reflection of what I work on when I'm off stage, and only recently has physical ability been a relevant part of that.

It certainly isn't a blanket necessity for the discipline of burlesque, and I would never tell a newcomer that it's even remotely important. Now, we just need to make sure our audiences understand that, which isn't exactly a short order. This is all a part of the incipient discussion when distinguishing "burlesque" from "stripping," and a conversation we're all constantly having with the people we're seeking to educate.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Trolling Cold-Email Marketing Solicitors

I've discovered a new passion of mine, and it is glorious.

Recently, I've been getting a slew of cold emails from marketing people who think I'm some important business executive, usually soliciting me for advertising and/or website optimization. If the cold email is patently baseless (e.g. wrong website, wrong employer, thinks my name is something it's not), I've been rebutting them in a supportive but critical way.

Let me explain.

Dale Stones' alter-ego in real life works in sales, and understands what goes into the cold-sales process. On a daily basis, he sends out emails himself in order to secure future business. When I receive emails from people in the same position, I always give them the attention they deserve, especially since I may find some usefulness regarding the content within. But sometimes, a rep sends me an email and gets it so dreadfully wrong that I can't help but respond in a comically critical way. Here's a recent one I got;

Email #1

I sent along a photo, too;

I'd be psyched to get this in my inbox.

In the email, the guy got my company wrong, didn't know my name, and had a complete misunderstanding of what I do. Frankly, I'm not sure how he made the connection to me from the bistro he wanted to sell to. Truly mind-boggling.

Here's another one;

Email #2

I've also attached the photos I sent back;


This is the photo that features a tool prominently.

What I found fascinating about this email was that the guy sent me an email asking about a site that wasn't even close to the website I actually curate. That's truly bizarre, if for no other reason than because misspelling a website on the internet is dangerous. Almost everything re-directs to porn. Since I am not porn, I thought it might be a good idea to give this guy in particular a very loose correlation to what he thought he was searching for.

Also, he obviously did not do a google search for my website, as Sirlesque's search results are damned specific. He would've seen a bunch of mostly-naked dudes and said "yeah, these guys definitely know a lot about search engine functionality. And also butts. They know a lot about butts."

Instead, he did a search for a website that sells transmissions. These things only mildly overlap.

I believe there will be more emails, if the past is any indication. Stay tuned for additional coverage--this is my new favorite sport.

Also of importance; I have not received any responses to my follow ups.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Burlesque as a Business

Alternatease, Boston's Annual Neo-Burlesque Festival just wrapped for the weekend, and what a weekend it was. I love getting the chance to celebrate neo-burlesque with like-minded performers, and ALL of them brought the weird. There were too many good ones to name, but the ones that stuck out the most for me were Cherie Nuit's fanny-pack-ridden travelogue strip, Bustee Keaton's Ayn Rand masterpiece, and the Lipstick Criminals, who won Top Banana with their finger-light mega-art extravagance.

Alternatease Ta Ta's Competition - Photo by Hans Wedland
It all got me thinking about what goes into the production aspect of burlesque. For a weekend festival to have gone so smoothly, so many things had to go just so. There was precision in the way that it was handled, and I wanted to discuss the inner workings of production in the burlesque world with one of my own burlesque idols, Jane Doe. Not only is Jane Doe one of the three producers on the team responsible for making Alternatease happen for three years running, but she's one of the fiercest, most committed performers I've ever met across any discipline.

Jane Doe - Photo by Roger Gordy

Dale Stones - "So what makes a good producer? What are your unconditional beliefs or guarantees?"

Jane Doe - "Communication (clear and frequent, but not excessive) – I think it’s important to let the people you book know what’s going on, when they’re expected to be where, that they know about anything that’s different than usual, etc. But you also don’t want them to have to read a different book-length email every day. Bullet points are your friend. Be available and responsible. Make sure your cast and crew have your phone number AND your email so they can get you if they need you.

Flexibility – Shit can and will go wrong. Ticket sales may suck. People will get sick, props will change, acts that you didn’t think would be messy end up trashing the stage. Just try and roll with it. Once it’s done, all you can do is figure out how to move forward.

Honesty – Everything works better if everyone is honest. Across the board.

Kindness & manners – Full disclosure: rudeness is my pet peeve. Manners are free, and kindness goes a loooong way. Your cast, crew, and audience are everything. They should feel welcome, and wanted, and special. If you have all the hallmarks of a good producer but you’re an asshole, no one is going to want to work with you.

DS - "And what do you feel are your responsibilities versus those of the contracted performers, and the venue?"

JD - "You should be the point of contact with the venue. It’s one thing to ask the performers for help with logistical/tech-related questions on their acts (obviously they know their own work the best), but if you’re getting pushback on something, you should be the one dealing with that, and communicating anything necessary to the performer yourself."

DS - "Could you go into detail about a situation where your terms weren't honored, what happened, and what you learned from that?"

JD - "I was booked for a private party at a local night club, and had in fact given up another paying gig on the same night. After confirming multiple times both in person and via email, I found out during a casual conversation with another performer that they were cancelling the burlesque portion of the evening. I texted the booker directly to ask him what was going on, since he hadn’t even contacted me, and I absolutely would’ve just showed up at my agreed-upon and confirmed call time. He responded with what essentially amounted to “Oops. Things have changed.”

Even though we had confirmed multiple times via email, I realized after the fact that we had never put the rate in writing. As a result, I didn’t have many options in the way of recourse, and ended up just losing money on the evening. So now, if I don’t know a producer, I’m super adamant about making sure that I have absolutely everything in writing."

DS - "All good stuff! Thank you."

JD - "Thanks Dale!"

Jane Doe, front right, organizing outings like a boss.
I didn't have time to cover every topic with Jane Doe, as she was in elbows-deep making sure Alternatease went off without a hitch.

I did want to discuss the issue of money specifically (in the production circuit specifically, not including festivals), as it is one that often times gets glossed over when discussing the details of an upcoming show or production involving artists. On the producer's side, the reasons could range from initial costs which exceed expectation to personal financial instability, to even lack of confidence in being able to market a show to a large enough crowd, just to list a couple of examples. I think it's important to take a stand on a few key topics about money in performance, and here are mine;

I believe that every contract performer I pay should be given a guarantee. Often, a performer has to gauge his or her willingness to perform in your show based on their own budget. If someone has to incur more expenses than the producer is willing to compensate for, the performer suffers if they decide to book the gig. If the performer you want to book has a close budget, this often means losing you that performer for your show. Add to that, if you're counting on a well-known performer being a highlight in your lineup, not offering a confident guarantee means that those performer's fans might not decide to attend, losing you money.

On top of that, giving a confident guarantee means that you're now motivated to make sure your show does well. The thing that makes credit so menacing is that you're expected to pay it back. Investing in producing a good show is no exception, and people give you a good show when they know their efforts are being valued--and confidence in who you're booking makes all the difference.

I won't keep secrets about what I pay people. If people know what you're paying and you keep your rates and promises consistent, people will treat you as a professional. If nobody knows when or even IF you're paying them, they'll be hesitant to work with you in the future, or even trust you. Plus, I used to work in the restaurant business. People talk to each other about what they make all the time. So you don't want to seem dodgy for paying two people doing the same job wildly different rates. Or, if you do--you'd better be able to justify why.

You should also be able to document what you pay people and when, because getting a full-arm ham-fisting from Uncle Sam may be a great burlesque act concept, but it's a sobering problem off-stage; you don't want to be unable to prove that you paid people or that you didn't earn income from performing and producing ever in your life. The IRS doesn't like that.

*Actual footage of an IRS audit.

Going back 5 years, I wish I'd been more organized and up-to-date on my tax stuff, because the amount I've had to pay in penalties and previous-years' taxes has cost me thousands upon thousands of dollars. And I'm not sure I'm even done paying yet. That shit sucks.

I will pay more than the guarantee if the show does well, never less. I was speaking to a musician friend of mine recently, and he told me the story of how he showed up to a gig, played a 3-hour set, and was given a check for less than half of what was agreed upon. When that happens after you've been given a guarantee, you know you're dealing with a criminal with no remorse.

The fact is, the performer's options in this unfortunate scenario are limited. With written agreements, you can sue for the amount, but the time and resources involved in legal recourse may not be worth the effort. I've known people who will openly trash the booking agent's reputation on social media or warn other performers about working with that person, but the only real outcome is that someone gets screwed.

But if ticket sales happen to do really well? Share some extra wealth with your performers so that they feel rewarded for the amount of hard work and promoting they did. Cirque of the Dead was a great example of this in action, and I was very gracious that the Boston Circus Guild decided to do this. Consequently, I absolutely want to perform for them at the next Cirque.

If my show does poorly, too bad; I will pay what I promised. My show? My risk.

More money will convince you to do photo ops like this one.

While different people have different ideas of how to run their own shows, I believe transparency is the one thing every producer should have. In a performance community where word travels especially quickly, one can't be too careful about what they promise to people they work with. Above all, that reputation will precede you, and people will hear about what went well--doubly so for what went poorly.

Above all, I think Jane Doe had it perfectly when she said "manners are free, and kindness goes a long way." Respect is everything, and I do respect her a great deal. And I understand that kindness and manners are not on everybody's list. I think these are the people we should look out for, and warn each other against.

...and also this creepy character.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Why I hate the term "Boylesque"

"So...what do you guys do?"

"Boylesque."

"What is that exactly?"

"It's like burlesque, but with men."

"What's burlesque?"

"You know what? Fuck it, we're strippers."

It's always a conversation like this that happens with a distant friend, a great aunt, or that one time with the general manager of Uno's that makes me a little bit frustrated. It's not that it's at all problematic to own what you do at a very base level ("I'm a stripper. What of it?"), but it's annoying that the name which the community has unilaterally selected to represent our discipline does nothing to convey what it is I do.

"Do you know what we do? No? Me neither."

So why do I hate the term "Boylesque?"

Initially, it makes me feel uncomfortable to hear the word. When a medieval-looking character on HGO's Contest of Chair Sitting ends a quip with "And don't you threaten me, boy!" It's always meant as condescending. The very fact that the NYC Boylesque Festival uses the name of the discipline in the title sounds almost to me like it's an activity at a carnival, or a male version of whatever it is that Honey Boo Boo does.

Building on that, it makes it sound like the participants are juvenile, or possibly actual children. It has a playfulness to it that goes beyond the burlesque prerequisite of not taking one's self too seriously--it makes the participants sound almost vulnerable in some way. "Boylesque" feels like a hobby that you might share with the one cool uncle who understands, but not your parents, and definitely not with your crush because they might laugh at you when they walk by you in the lunch line.

It also does nothing to circumvent or advance the awareness of non-traditional gender roles. You don't have to be "a boy" to do male burlesque, and you shouldn't ever have to be in a position where your discipline decides an aspect of your identity. I might be called a painter because I paint, but I'd be wary of calling myself or anyone else "a boy" because we perform a discipline commonly referred to as "boylesque." In a world where we would all ideally be respectful of gender pronouns and self-identity, the word "boylesque" pigeonholes the performers within and blurs the lines between "sex" and "gender."

Savannah-based Jack N' Thacox appreciates the distinction. "Male burlesque performers must maintain and embellish a socially constructed gender role. Otherwise you are doing drag or genderfuck. I like to be put in a box. I am a man, I am a stripper, and this is my fringe."

He continued with; "My main concern is if this topic is left unattended, the category of boylesque lends itself open to drag performances, when boylesque is an undermined form of entertainment whereas drag is ubiquitous."

Jack N' Thacox

While male-bodied burlesque comes in many styles of execution, I often perform the sub-genre of masculine, comedic performance, and frequently do masculine straight strips as a way to balance out my repertoire. I would hesitate to describe any of these as "boylesque." I often prefer to identify what I perform as simply "burlesque," and allow any follow up questions to proceed down that avenue.

"Oh, I've heard of burlesque. Is what you do different than female burlesque?"

Now this is a good conversation. The answer I often give to the above question is "no, not really," and here's why; while I was taught the basics of burlesque by a female-bodied troupe, the fundamental principles of what it is are identical. There's a required element of striptease, there's often a story, a character, a comedic element, and various amounts of clothing reveal and nudity. and frequently some amount of dance or showmanship. I could be wearing a dress, though I'm usually not, and I may forgo the occasional postures and movements that you'd call "feminine," or I may include them as a specific part of my performance narrative.

I spoke with Mr. Valdez, a performer from The Brotherhood of Burlesque as well as Peaks and Pasties in Colorado Springs, CO. "I feel it promotes Segregation in a community that is supposed to be all inclusive. Tigger put it best at BHOF [Burlesque Hall of Fame]....he had said something to the effect of....why do we have to categorize burlesque, boylesque, queerlesque, draglesque. Why can't we all just realize that we all roll with the same gang?"

Mr. Valdez from The Brotherhood of Burlesque and Peaks and Pasties in Colorado Springs, CO

In essence, there's no difference at all, and I take umbrage with the fact that so many people feel the need to categorize what we do by painting the nursery baby blue with their gender-restrictive taxonomy.

On top of that, the word "boylesque" just isn't sexy. There isn't anything that makes me feel attractive when I'm identified as a "boylesquer." Striptease can certainly be dorky and naive, but it's such a cockblock (to use the pejorative objectively) to ensure that anything you do on stage can't be powerful, sexy, and commanding. Kevin Harrington, one of the graduates of my burlesque amateur showcase, said that to him, the term "boylesque" represents "dudes licking lollipops, taking off their school uniforms, and acting like jail-bait."

If I had the option, I'd rather be referred to by an emcee as an "attractive man" instead of as an "attractive boy." One of those is empowering, and the other one might cause Chris Hansen to show up on your doorstep.

"Hi there, why don't you have a seat. So, you came to a show to see boys?"

I resent the fact that I have to type in "Boylesque" as a label on Blogger to increase the amount of clicks this entry might get. I resent the fact that "King of Boylesque" is a BHOF title that gets awarded to the best male-identifying performer every year, and is the verbal personification of a dollar-store tiara on the head of a seasoned, accomplished performer. I especially resent that the term "boylesque" seems to indicate a special kind of vulnerability when used in marketing. Truthfully, the word just kinda creeps me out.

NYC-based producer and performer Viktor Devonne told me that he agrees "that intrinsically there's not a lot of difference between dude burlesque and lady burlesque but I don't see a lot of lot of folks who use it negatively." Viktor doesn't mind that people use the term freely, and a bonus is that it "looks good on a poster."

Viktor Devonne, Director of the White Elephant Burlesque Society.

He also told me that he "dislikes 'boylesque' being used to indicate any requirement for society's decision as to what "masculinity" is." Indeed, the word presents a classic "point-counterpoint."
Outside of Boston, I've heard the word "boylesque" used as a catch-all for genderfuck-y performance. While I won't presume to champion nor disparage the term on anyone else's behalf, I also don't quite identify with it. To put it on a spectrum, I feel a lot closer to "male striptease" than "boylesque," and "being a stripper" is usually the plain-speak categorization I defend myself against when speaking with the uninitiated. I also don't speak for others who claim that style of performance for themselves, but the general feeling behind the word feels the same to those whom I've asked.

So despite the fact that the term "Boylesque" is an oft-critiqued, unstable categorization for an otherwise all-inclusive performance medium, it doesn't seem like a word that's going away. It's marketable and it's novel, not to mention unique-sounding, but I do believe that without the restrictions that come arm-in-arm with what the word implies, we can only become a more inclusive and expressive community.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children?!

The news story Brandy Wine shared recently on social media about a Hopewell teacher who had a burlesque performance video surface left me with quite a few thoughts. The gist of it is that a Hopeville, Virginia teacher (and burlesque performer, which is now apparent) had a performance video that got around to several people in the community. Many parents of students in her classes are now calling for this teacher's resignation.

The first thing that came to mind when considering this story is that this is the type of story that would immediately make any burlesque performer defensive. And why not? Whenever someone who practices an oft-misrepresented discipline and sees someone take offense to what they're doing, the easiest and most natural reaction is "Hey, what's wrong with I do?"

"...you want all the complaints, or just the top five?"

While the temptation certainly exists for me to jump to the performer's defense, I instead took a minute to empathize with the parents of the children at that school. Note that I didn't say I agreed with them. Should she be forced to resign? No, not at all. From a legal standpoint, she probably won't have to. So that may not even be an issue worth discussing.

My empathy for the parents is the same thing I feel towards most people who are new to burlesque. I see in those parents people like my aunt, who is aware that I do some kind of striptease, but doesn't quite approve of what she thinks it is I'm doing, and is too afraid to ask about. I feel for them in the same way I feel for my partner's mother, who doesn't know quite how she feels about her daughter dating someone who is "in the sex trade." I'm armed with the same understanding that I have whenever other men tell me "I could never do that" when referring to my burlesque performances.

Sometimes, even I have trouble justifying what I'm doing.

And is burlesque performance appropriate for kids? Absolutely not. The reason why most burlesque shows take place at venues that are either 18+ or 21+ is because striptease is something that is not child-friendly. So in many ways, I understand the hair-trigger outrage.

If the performer in question had nothing to do with the YouTube distribution of that performance video, then my heart goes out to her. When someone publishes something (especially without permission), it has the potential to be damaging. The fact that students and members of the Hopewell community were able to link this person to her burlesque persona would only have been an expedited consequence if she had released the video herself. And YouTube doesn't do a whole lot to keep people who are under 18 from seeing things that they shouldn't see.

So if she didn't authorize the release of that video, then it's truly unfortunate what's happened, and I don't believe she deserves any of the backlash she's getting. If she did? Then I believe that with social media being the way it is, she had to have some idea that it would come back to her--and to have prepared for any fallout in advance from the parents of her students, who we can only expect to be less-then-understanding. Does that make her avenue of expression wrong or immoral? Of course not. But since when is challenging perceptions and pushing envelopes ever met with complete acceptance and understanding?

It's far more likely to be met with hostility.

I have accepted the consequences for being a part of the burlesque world in tandem with the life I live above-ground. My own risk is fairly minimal, as I'm not a public servant or authority figure. But if I was, and this situation was my own, I'd dig my heels in. I'd use it as an opportunity to educate, and I would certainly apologize for the fact that students of mine had seen this video. I would make sure the URL was removed and/or made private, and I would offer to meet up with parents individually to discuss concerns and answer questions. I wouldn't minimize their objections, nor would I admit wrongdoing.

After all, every burlesque performer is an educator by default, and we are each challenged with what the public thinks of us every day. Why is this any different?


Monday, July 27, 2015

The Decision to Crowdfund A Burlesque Show


Everyone has to decide their own standards. You have to decide what your art is worth, who you're willing and unwilling to work with, and what subject matter you won't touch. I'm generally pretty fluid about what I'll allow and do, but there's something in particular that I've seen a lot of in the last year in the burlesque community in particular, and I feel very strongly about my stance on it.

I will never ask people to crowdfund my burlesque.

I know this is going to be a divisive point, so I'm going to be dramatic and start a new paragraph. The cornerstone of my argument is that I don't feel that my audience or society in general owes me anything to see what I'll create next. Self-promotion is one thing, and fans can certainly chose to follow you if they are a fan of yours. I don't object to that, as it's voluntary and doesn't cost anything. You can certainly argue that contributing to an artist's GoFundMe or Kickstarter is voluntary, but the principles differ; Once you take their money, you have a responsibility to give them a good art/performance/product, and I firmly believe that people should only pay once to have to do that.

Of course, many people disagree with me.

I can understand the need reach out to financial supporters. If artists didn't do that, we wouldn't have had The Renaissance. When I say that I wouldn't ask for anything I produce to be crowdfunded, you might interpret that as "his opinion of his own work isn't strong." You would be right, to an extent. As far as burlesque goes, I see it as a low-cost, low-risk art form. Much like my journalism degree, I don't feel that expanding on my burlesque performance via an influx of dubiously-sourced cash is something that will yield any appreciable outcome. Besides, I feel that the gritty, approachable, sometimes rude demeanor that typifies many of my favorite burlesque performances is so far removed from high-budget spectacle that a budget boost would only serve to alienate my audience.

Still, I wanted to know where the other side sits. I spoke with Jade Sylvan, who is one of the producers of "Spider Cult: The Musical," slated to launch in 2016. This show is a spin-off of one of the shows I enjoyed being a part of for three years, "Revenge of the Robot Battle Nuns." They recently did a Kickstarter to get funding for Spider Cult, so Jade's perspective is local to the issue.

Photo credit: Caleb Cole

Dale Stones: "Okay. How do you feel about crowd funding in general?"


Jade Sylvan: "It used to gross me out when I was younger, but honestly I wouldn't have been able to do many of the projects I've done over the last five years without it. I had to get over my ego of thinking I was "too good" for crowdfunding and put the project first."


DS: "What changed your mind? Anything specific?"


JS: "Literally, not having the money to bring what I loved into creation. For instance, with Spider Cult, we knew we wanted to bring it up to the next level production-wise from what people in our community are used to doing. To do that, we needed money that we literally didn't have, because shows performed at a certain level will only generate income to sustain that level, even if they're very successful. You need a boost to grow. Businesses have bank loans. We have crowdfunding."


DS: "So how do you justify what projects should ask for prefunding?"


JS: "It's sort of an intersection of (1.) how much I (and others) believe in the project, and (2.) necessity. If there is any other way other than crowdfunding, I will generally take that route to get something made. On the other side, if it's a project that is strictly a vanity project that I don't expect or see others having any interest in, I will not crowdfund for that. That's where the responsibility comes in. When you involve others, you are responsible to them to some degree."


DS: "Do you feel that the effort is sullied a bit by other artist or people who ask for money who maybe don't have the same discretion or standards you had? Like the potato salad fund guy?"


JS: "With Spider Cult it was part of the discussion from the beginning, when we realized how big we wanted this to be. Basically, we decided we could do it on a shoe string and have a shoe string show, or we could see if enough people cared about it to bring it up a level and get involved."


DS: "What's the goal, once you have the money? I mean, having funding is all well and good, but what's the expectation that people should have for what they purchased?"


JS: "In this case, it's a show that looks and feels like it had a budget. {wink emoticon} More than that, though, a big goal is to give the members of our community a chance to showcase their abilities at the production level I think they deserve."


DS: "Like, more marketing, vocal coaching, paying them more, what are the interim goals? If that's not classified information, of course."


JS: "All of the above. More budget to spend on training, costumes, special effects, original music, payment for actors, marketing etc"


DS: "Maybe even a bigger venue?"


JS: "Possibly in the future, but we wrote the play for Oberon."


DS: "Thank you!"


I believe that Spider Cult: The Musical has only the noblest of intentions. I loved being a part of the original production that this project has spun off of, and I enjoy supporting the arts as an attendee when I'm not the one performing. Community support is incredibly valuable, after all. For many people, acquiring the funding to put on a show is the most humbling part of the process, and is something that is made easier through anonymity, or at the very least, from behind the internet curtain.

But I also believe that a big part of being a burlesque artist is taking risks, especially financial ones. If a faceless crowd is assuming that initial risk for you, your performance-based risk-taking and creativity aren't going to be at their highest. You're safe, after all. If people pay for your venture (which is different than an investment, because that money is owed back) and have to settle for whatever you decide to provide them to tide them over before (or indeed, IF) the show is produced, you are inevitably going to interpret that as "free money" on some level, as the debt has already been settled in your mind. And since the audiences in the burlesque scene are often overwhelmingly supporting, the whole situation might appear lavish and superfluous.

Nothing lavish nor superfluous to see here.


That, in turn, creates another set of problems. In this list of "14 Potential Issues with Corwdfunding," item #11 on the list  cites what I think is the most important issue; Accountability. Crowdfunding simply doesn't allow visibility into how that money is spent. You could theoretically pocket every dollar once you hit your goal and churn something out with the same rate of spend as "The Blair Witch Project" and you've essentially defrauded your backers. I say "defrauded" because if you did create a low-cost show relative to what you asked for, then you didn't need to ask for the money in the first place.

If I'm going to create a show, I want to assume the financial risk involved in that show's failure. Asking people to pay twice to see something is unfair, unless they're actually seeing it twice. If they contribute more than the cost of admission, they may even be paying three, four, or five times to see a show with no guaranteed standard of quality. I believe that decision should only be made one time, and it's when you're telling people what the price of the ticket is.

Although there isn't time to get into the issue of who should be producing a show and why, I feel that a series of shows should be able to snowball cash as a way of building up the coffers within a business. In Sirlesque, we budget based on what we can pay and save up money so that we can afford to put on bigger and better shows in the future, and that's also a way to insure ourselves in case we have a bad turnout and still need to pay people. On top of that, if people are going to see a show that you've put on repeatedly, you can use that to gauge whether or not a similarly-themed, larger-budget show would be palatable for your audience.

Sometimes, the tech required to look at your own butt on a screen is expensive.
A great example of a show that did this is the Slutcracker. Over 7 years ago, Sugar Dish put together a show that is now a mainstream Boston institution. She has a lot of pride when she talks about how the first run of the show used found costuming, and that now the Slutcracker sells out over a dozen shows a year. It's the classic bootstraps story, and it shows us that anything can be produced to greatness with enough patience and perseverance.

I believe that being transparent with every transaction surrounding burlesque performance is not only important, but crucial if burlesque is to succeed. Sure, if people are willing to give you advance money over and over again, you and those people may feel comfortable with what is essentially an enabling relationship. But such is the plight of the artist--getting rich doing art is nigh impossible. The audience needs to be entertained, and the full time artists needs to not starve.

So I suppose the only difference is the variance of each artist's guidelines.