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.
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.