Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Male Costuming; The Big Differences

I used to kind of suck at sewing.

I suck a little less now, mostly because I learned a few things along the way out of necessity. People like Malice in Wonderland, Ricky Lime, and even Chip Rocks's mom helped to teach me a few things about how to make and assemble passable costuming. If we played "Oregon Trail," I wouldn't volunteer to be the tailor for the party, but I still feel infinitely more capable than I did when I first started burlesquing--and I am fairly confident that I would not die of dysentery. For that I am grateful.

While dudes typically don't have intricate costuming needs, the most successful burlesquers I know have a working knowledge of how to put outfits and costumes together. Not only that, but the truly great performers like Luminous Pariah know how to make them jump right out at you. Sequins, glitter, rhinestones, and the like aren't often a big part of what makes a dude look masculine on stage, but being under the lights requires you to make yourself more noticeable, and you do that in any way you know how.

This isn't to say you don't play to your strengths when and where they are. One of my earliest memories of costuming as a performer was driving down to Northampton, MA to be a part of Hors D'oeuvres's Bon Appetit Burlesque. During the drive down, Jack Silver, Chip Rocks and I were learning how to sew tear-away red, white, and blue boxers for our "Presidential Undress" number. Also, I was sick that day and had to request that we pull over so I could throw up the entire drive down. But we made passable costuming, and we still use those same boxers half a decade later.

With some help from our good friend Duct Tape.

When Anja Keister came down to Boston to sit on my amateur showcase as a guest judge, she gave a lot of the guys feedback that I didn't think to give out before;

"The audience shouldn't be able to tell what brand of underwear you're wearing on stage."

Come to think of it, she was absolutely right--it's distracting as all get out. While not specific to male striptease, it is something men are generally less aware of. And that's only one bit of advice I wholeheartedly agree with.

So glitter, makeup, and sparkly accents notwithstanding, what are the huge differences in costuming?

Pasties. or nipple coverings, are a massive point of debate in the grand scheme of male costuming. Not for women, mind you--women are, for one odd reason or another, required to have them in order to perform burlesque (though I have seen a few legal exceptions here and there).

But a lot of men do consider wearing them, mostly out of principle. And it's important to know why this is an important consideration.

"Sometimes it just accentuates the character or story I'm portraying (like, of course a leprechaun would have gold nipples). But there are also a few producers in New York who require men to cover their nipples, since the law requires women to, to create an equal playing space" Lucky Charming told me.

Lucky Charming

And since male burlesque is a cornered market here in Boston, I realize that I've enjoyed the privilege of inadvertently setting that standard, having learned about men covering their nipples only just last year. Ergo, it never occurred to me that I could be overlooked for a booking in someone else's show because I don't wear nipple coverings.

It's absolutely a critical consideration though. When coming from a place of fairness and solidarity, why should we be asking that women cover their nipples when men don't legally have to?


Makeup is another point of distinction that I find interesting. When I [Daytime Dale] worked at a television news station many moons ago, I first got to watch a male news anchor do makeup. The process was fascinating. Anyone experienced in theater knows that this is a requirement when the lights are on you, but stage makeup versus looking natural are two extremely different things. With that said, most men never learn the difference, and I only really became remotely aware that there was one by having the dual experience of working in TV and then moving into stage performance.

But men's makeup isn't super elaborate in burlesque, unless there's a particular character that calls for it.

Nailed it!

The makeup I tend to do is minimal, which might be more of a natural-looking attempt (as opposed to the loud, flamboyant makeup that lots of burlesquers prefer). Since Luminous walks this line pretty well with his own makeup choices, I asked him to tell me about where his inspirations come from.

"Ever since I was nine I've enjoyed playing with eyeliner. My eye was a slow evolution to what my look is now. It's been the same for about 5 years. I dig it for stage shows and change it up a little for photo shoots. It's part of my gender bending agenda," he told me.

One of the first things I noticed when I met Luminous for the first time was his uncommon use of fake eyelashes, and it's something I've begun to really associate with Lumi's brand--he tends to wear them above and below his eyes, which is a distinct look.

Luminous Pariah

For most men who want to appear masculine on stage, the general consensus is that some foundation, eyeliner, and a bit of blush is usually sufficient. I once had someone help me do a really elaborate sweeping blue cat's eye tapestry for my Aquaman character, and it was pretty magnificent (as opposed to Jason Momoa's goth undersea prince look). But for me, that's not the norm. More often than not, I find my makeup choices typically find me doing variations on masculine characters. The most extreme makeup I've done is either male old guy or male dead guy.

Truthfully, I don't feel super knowledgeable or capable as far as makeup or costuming, but I do recognize that it's an ongoing process. As with anything, you learn more the more you do it. When I had to have liquid latex done all over my chest in Cirque of the Dead two years ago to simulate an open chest wound, I found out the hard way that I reeeeeeally should have shaved my small tufts of chest hair first. The kind of pain that comes from removing bonded latex solidified with dried fake blood is something you never forget.

I was feeling good before that, anyway. Photo by Scott Chasteen.

I will give me and my guys some serious credit for one thing, though. We seem to have come to represent all tear-away clothing in Boston. While I've definitely gravitated away from the all-of-a-sudden-naked reveal of tear-away pants in exchange for a more sensual, ground-grinding pants reveal, it's clear that many of the performers I work with know that Sirlesque has 15-20 pairs of the things, and that we are constantly making more of them for ourselves. I've also hand sewn tear-away shirts that break away in a variety of styles and fashions, and it certainly feels like a skill that I've worked to develop. Add to that, it really does feel like a true point of distinction in costuming, and comes with its own theatrical style that isn't super prevalent.

And I'm sorta proud of that.