Monday, March 30, 2015

A few thoughts after Dale's All-Male Yardsale

Hi friends!

This weekend was absolutely chaotic, but in a good way. On Saturday, I finally hosted my own show (a first for me), and produced what I would call a successful amateur showcase. If you want the rundown, Mikey Shake did a great job writing about the entire process, and in so doing, made me seem on paper like a mad genius. Which I appreciate.

While producing my own amateur showcase was an entirely experimental concept for me, I had a pretty malleable threshold surrounding what my expectations were. I had a feeling that the class would produce a few standout performers, that I might possibly get over my fear of speaking to a room, a room which possibly might contain a dozen or so people, if I was especially lucky. I thought that I might be able to make enough in ticket sales to pay all my help as well as I promised, and that the burlesque community in the general sense would be supportive of my idea.

For example, this could have been a firing squad preparing to shoot me in the face.

To say that I was a little bit surprised would be on par with saying that juggling chainsaws over a shark tank is a little bit risky.

Of the entrants in the showcase, all of them performed incredibly well. I overcame my fear of the crowd in the first ten minutes, and took a few risks that ostensibly paid off in my efforts to truly master the ceremonies. The room sold out. Everyone I hired got a check the night of, and I didn't have to rush to the nearest ATM to ensure that I wouldn't wake up the next morning with a hangover comprised entirely of overdraft fees (hangoverdrafting?).

And my family in the Boston burlesque community? The amount of support of all types was more intense and overwhelming than I could have imagined. As a person who gets shy and flustered when given any amount of positive attention, I can say that I was the most uncomfortable for the longest period of time--and I'm very grateful that I got the chance to experience that. Thank you.

Sometimes, uncomfortable is your best friend.

I want to warn you that this first part is going to sound like a grammy acceptance speech, but please bear with me--I promise there will be something of substance immediately following this paragraph. Having the confidence to go up there and put this dream out there was fueled by the faces I saw on Saturday. Jessie Baade as Prunehead Keugel had talked me down from panic attack after panic attack leading up to the moment before I spoke word noises into the microphone hole. Anne Frankenstein, Sake Toomey, Willie Dumey, Malice in Wonderland, and Fonda Feeling all had VIP seats, using their calming gaze to keep me energized confident. Dinah Deville, Vice V'ersatile, and Dewie Decimator all helped keep the conversation alive as the experienced judges and personalities I knew they were. Chip Rocks and Danny Drake worked all the magic behind the scenes to make sure that the show went on. And on it went.

The most memorable part of the event was not the event itself. It was the inspiration that it lent to conversation around burlesque, body image, and the portrayal of sexy people in our society that I was involved in with the performers here in Boston whom I idolize. Immediately after the show, I got a chance to talk to Devilicia about a few topics that were important to both of us. She told me that early on in her burlesque career, she was able to help create and participate in molding a women's burlesque community in Boston, and that a similar revolution (for the men) seemed to be happening in that way before her eyes.

She had mentioned that a big part of her joy was watching other people take on things that she was passionate about, most notably the horror-style of burlesque performance such as that seen in Fem Bones' "Revenge of the Robot Battle Nuns," of which I am a proud contributor to. While this show is something that Fem had created and marketed to a very specific kind of consumer appeal, that need had never been filled on as large a scale as the show has always been privy to. Devilicia was and still is happy to see other people embracing that niche of burlesque performance, as she can sit back and enjoy the content from the patron's side of the theater.

While that kind of show isn't for everyone, it's something that Fem took several risks on. When I first worked with her on a collaborative show calleld "Film Strip" with my dear sisters in Rogue Burlesque, I was inspired at the scale of work the Slaughterhouse Sweethearts had put into the one act they were asked to perform. Popcorn had a full cast, a person-sized microwave bag, and a real-life Orville Reddenbacher, not to mention a human stick of butter (me).

Yes. Popcorn. Yummmm.

Whatever the reason, I took off that butter costume after the show and decided to approach Fem about working together in the future. I nearly lost my nerve, but I asked anyway.

When I think about that conversation, I realize now what a paradigm flip it was and I enjoy it for that reason. Fem is the queen of horror burlesque, and in that moment I had requested as humbly as I could to do her bidding in her world. She was bold enough to take a risk on me, and let me take over as the male lead in "Battle Nuns," and I knew that it was an occasion I had to either rise to, or die by the hands of. I knew that I owed her my hardest work, and creatively, it's one of the most satisfying projects that I have yet been a part of.

But I knew that I wasn't owed that chance. As a newcomer to burlesque, a male-bodied performer, and a relative nobody at that time, I felt like it could have been just as easily been given to any number of other sexy, experienced, female-bodied performers that had paid their dues and built that very scene from the ground up. So it gave me a lot to think about in terms of the role I play in this grander picture.

I feel fortunate that some of my fellow performers want to have these conversations with me. Many of my favorite performers have reached out to me to offer to have these conversations in the future, which both excites and energizes me. Through these discussions, it's always reiterated subtly that men who wish to do burlesque are stepping into a female-dominated performance medium. Although I personally find it empowering, I can't imagine that it's even a fraction of what women feel every day waking up every day to confront a male-dominated society. Somehow, I feel like that's a much higher mountain to climb, and it's precisely why I have so much respect for the women I share the stage with. As successful as I can be as a man performing burlesque, I've never had the added responsibility of shrugging off an entire system that's been built to make me feel confined and browbeaten on a daily basis.

Which brings me back to the praise I've gotten and the interest that my fellow performers have shown me. For a while, I felt ready any day to wake up and find that men doing burlesque was a novelty that was just beginning to go stale. But the fact that I'm able to bring new young men into a community and a way of life which is unquestionably supportive in spite of the way our society rewards competition and aggression was received like a fresh gust of air into a stuffy room.

And then it hit me that I am not only teaching dudes how to striptease--I'm showing them a world where support and inclusion isn't just the standard, it's required to enter. And having more men shed their reservations about what is and isn't sexy and welcoming them as allies in the conversation is and always has been the biggest and most important thing to be excited about.

And I'm proud of them for taking that step.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Producing a Show

Producing something worthy of  selling tickets to has always been a somewhat complicated affair (from what I've observed), and I decided in the last year that it was surely a cacophony of lessons that I should be taught. As a member of Sirlesque, I was a part of a production detail which began two Halloweens ago with creating "Geek Peek," a nerdy-themed burlesque show that was a part of a bigger weekend-long event that resembled a neighborhood "con" in Cambridge's Central Square. Since then, I've had only limited roles in producing shows like the nearly-annual "Masculinitease," and taken on half of the production duties of this past fall's "Best of Sirlesque," which went well, judging by the ticket sales alone.

There were a few major hurdles that I'll get into later, but ultimately the show happened and all parties to it were satisfied.

In taking on building and producing my own amateur showcase, I'm trying to learn how to micromanage details and take responsibility for the largest aspects of what makes a show successful. And frankly, it sucks.

Occasionally, you melt down during said show. Not ideal.

Far be it from me to complain about something I love doing, but I figured that if I want to continue in the performance business, there has to be some sort of competency on my part about the individual aspects of making a show happen. I like to think I've learned a few of those in the past year or two.

I tend to be absent-minded about most of the details that come with producing--call me a "bigger picture" type of person if you've got a flair for the ironic. Take for instance my role in the casting decisions that went into producing the first installment of Masculinitease last June. Because none of the six of us could decide how to effectively create a cast of people suited to the show's aesthetic, we ended up going with the worst casting method yet conceived by man--asking for specific act pitches and then picking from the submissions.

This served to do two things:

#1 - It got specific people involved in the process. This is important because burlesque is a business of names. People know one another by their stage names, and if you know someone's stage name when you're discussing casting, it means that performer made a strong impact at one point. It's flattering to get a nod from a producer because you did such an amazing job at a previous performance. That fact alone makes #2 extra shitty.

#2 - It got several performers' hopes up, some who we didn't end up including in the casting. By far, I regret this in particular more than any other gaffe I've made in the burlesque world. When you have a pool of people who are pitching acts and you tell some of them they're in and others they're out, the ones who are not cast are thinking, "Why in fuck's name did you waste my time?"

Yes, they will literally kill you for that.

Of course, it was a group decision, not that of one person--that led to some of our fellow performers getting very annoyed at us. If you're reading this right now and this describes you, I apologize. Growing pains, lesson learned.

Right now, I've decided to cast a specific group of performers in my new show, and these guys are all newcomers to burlesque. That's an easy choice, and one that fits the needs of the show. In my opinion, you should either cast openly using auditions, or you should ask specific people to bring acts. If there's a theme you want, you can ask for specific repertoire pieces, or ask them to create something and show it to you, with the understanding that it will fit what you're looking for.

Though if you can't see it, you may just have to go on blind faith.
I've learned that producing a show means that you automatically take on additional responsibilities that you don't have when you're simply on a setlist. This means organizing tech rehearsal(s), making sure all props and costumes are accounted for, having tech sheets done, having music and sound prepared, getting in early and being the liaison for the venue, handling payment, organizing photography and/or video of the performance, and a whole host of other things I forgot. This adds a layer of stress that it's easy to forget when other people see. I've definitely been guilty of having a hair-trigger in certain situations where I've been starkly unprepared for all the things that needed to be done. And people definitely don't want to work with/for a grumpy-pants, no matter how much they're getting in tips.


On another note, I'm a big fan of paying established performers and back of house techs fairly for their work. One of the big problems with art in general is that there ain't a lot of money to be had for it. It reminds me of why I hated the idea of a future in journalism. At some point, "building your portfolio" just becomes a thinly-disguised way for a producer to mock you.

Producing a show means you're taking on that risk. You're building something which has a responsibility to make a return on investment, so that all parties involved can be fairly compensated. Nobody lives and breathes this principle as hard as my friend and fellow performer Allix Mortis, who is chiefly responsible for imparting that in every production, no matter how small. From content management to communication to compensation to calling it a wrap, Allix is a consummate professional and a mentor for me in this way.

And that all reminds me about the follow up and how important that is. People continue to have gigs in this business because of the hands that get shaken afterwards. Whenever I'm hopped up on adrenaline from a really good show, I always save some of the energy to enthusiastically thank the people that own the venue, the performers who came out, and the people in the seats, because we wouldn't have any chance to do any of this if even one of those groups didn't deliver.

On that note, thank you all for reading this. This blog also would not exist without you reading it. Actually, it still might, but I would be more sad if you didn't.

Pictured; Sad, in public.