Thursday, June 30, 2016

Performance Travelling Overstimulates Me

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

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

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

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

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

In many places, male burlesque performers are a rarity.

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

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

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

Travelling is tiring/requires planning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Some afterthoughts;

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

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

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

Some musings on bus travel;

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

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

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

Thursday, June 9, 2016

How to Interact with Performers - A Guide for Audiences

Prologue - Honestly, I thought I published this three weeks ago. Brandy Wine of Rogue Burlesque sent me a message suggesting I write about this topic, and I almost smugly responded that I had, before realized that, oh shit, I forgot to insert pictures and click 'publish.'

In summation, I am a complete space cadet.

And this is how I dress when I embrace that part of me.

Sirlesque's newly-acquired Sir Lucky Charming texted me asking if I was planning to put together a guide for patrons of burlesque about how to interact with performers, and until he asked, I hadn't given it much thought. It would make sense to build that out a little more, since I've written about how people react to performance, and the awkward and difficult situations it sometimes puts us in. So I thought I'd go for it, as it would be a nice change from the performance-focused writing I tend to publish.

Since then, I'd finished producing and hosting a show in tandem with my friend Lilith Beest called "They Live: We Strip" which was a John Carpenter themed burlesque show. The show went phenomenally well and we sold out the theater, though we did have a few hiccups that were tied directly to fans interacting inappropriately with performers. So I think this topic is timely enough.

Here's what happened.

Lilith and I had planned on doing an audience participation based costume contest at the midpoint of the show. We had introduced it, and asked if people were in costume (typically, people shout or make a cheer when you ask them questions). An audience member who was in costume, albeit not one that was even remotely on-theme, came up on to the stage and began a character monologue, and resisted most attempts at diffusing.

It finally ended when Lilith said "that's great, and we were going to say that you should tell us about it DURING INTERMISSION!"

What, these two characters couldn't retain control of their own show?

Disregarding the sad fact that this person was our only entrant, he did break a few key rules of how audience members should interact with performers, and it gave me a lot of insight on the topic.

For easier consumption, I'll post my main takeaways in the style of an easy-to-swallow listicle below.

1 - Do not disrupt the show.

Burlesque shows are loud and outrageous by nature, but this isn't by any means a grant of permission to walk onto the stage, talk to the emcees, touch or approach any of the performers, or heckle. There are situations where the audience members are invited to be involved, but that's usually curated and doesn't require your embellishments, no matter how much alcohol you've had. I've seen both new patrons and seasoned performers break these rules, and it only makes everyone uncomfortable.

2 - Keep interactions limited and polite both before/after the show.

As a performer and producer, I'm often a total mess before shows I'm working, and have easily 19 or 20 or 417 things that I need to do which are necessary to make the show happen. I also happen to be too polite to interrupt someone who has been talking to me for 15-20 minutes to tell them this and often have to be pulled away by another person who has something that needs to be addressed.

Before most shows, performers have to do makeup, tech runs, blocking, logistical planning, scripting, and taking stock of costumes and props, and don't have all that much time to talk.

After shows is usually the better time to talk to performers. For me, that's usually when the wave of adrenaline from the performance cancels out my extreme introversion and makes me excited to talk with complete strangers and fellow performers. But usually, if you don't know someone who you've watched perform, it's customary to say hello, introduce yourself, chat about the piece you did or some related topic, and then bid them a good evening.

It's always rude to interrupt people while they're talking (performer or not), but I've still had randos crash into conversations I'd been having with someone else, post up directly between me and the person I was talking to and just start saying words. Once, I had someone snap their fingers in front of my face to get my attention. As a former waiter, I have some serious trauma attached to that. Please don't ever do that.

...Regardless of whether or not I'm actually dressed as a waiter.

On that note, the next point is about boundary crossing.

3 - Do not, under any circumstances, harass or touch performers inappropriately.

I hear tons of stories from my fellow burlesque performers about show-goers who, for whatever reason, feel the need to make inappropriate comments or advances. Sometimes, fans get grabby.

One time, I was chatting with a small group of people after a show, and a group of drunk, middle-aged ladies started grinding their butts against me. I did not know these ladies, and I believe it was an overt ploy to get my attention. I ignored it, and one of them kept doing it with increasing levels of aggression until I was completely displaced from where I had originally been standing. Who does that?

Lots of people assume that since you're baring your body for them, they have carte blanche to treat you like an object. I don't know why this is, but it's not cool.

Everyone in this photo has explicit permission.

4 - Don't be mean directly or by proxy.

It gets mad awkward. For everyone.

The standout story that Lucky Charming told me was that after a performance he did, some bro-dude came up to him to tell him something to the effect of "I'm not gay, but you're a good performer," and then proceeded to tell him he "needed to work out" so he can be hotter on stage.

A lot of times, people feel  the need to tell performers about the other people in the show they didn't like or thought were ugly, not realizing that for the most part, we're all friends and hang out with each other.

If you feel the need to body shame or tell someone you hated their stuff, here's what you do. You go outside, whisper your feelings into an empty glass bottle, and then smash yourself over the head with it.

5 - If you'd like to take a photo or have some strange individual request, simply ask if it's okay to do.

This one time after I did an act at one show years ago, a pretty lady in a red dress came up to me, handed me a sharpie, and asked me if I could sign her breasts. So I did.

Another time, a gentleman approached me after a show and asked me if I would like to make out with him. I respectfully declined, and it was totally fine.

In both of these situations, someone asked for permission to do something, and both situations were totally fine and normal. See how easy?

It's much easier than what is pictured here.

In general, performers open themselves up and give the audience a kind of vulnerability. I've found that most people don't have the desire nor the fortitude to do burlesque, and many folks prefer to remain audience members as far as their willingness to participate. This has its own set of obligations and responsibilities, and as performers, we always appreciate mutual respect and curiosity.

I know I've missed one or two things that producers and performers would advise audience members, and I'd love to hear from you all about what rules are important to you. From the audience side, I'd also like to know what some of your interactions with performers were like, and the impressions it left you.

Have fun!