Friday, March 9, 2018

Walking away

I haven't opened up Blogger for a while, mostly because I've been afraid of doing so. Lately, I've felt kind of unconnected with the community, and kind of at a loss for how to express that. It's not that I'm not grateful for being given so many opportunities to perform and be a de facto leader and role model in the Boston scene, but there's another force tugging at me from somewhere else, and I thought it might be worth exploring here.

As I look around and observe different interactions both backstage at venues, on social media, and in casual conversations between fans and performers, I'm gradually getting more and more uncomfortable. I've written before about how burlesque is a vulnerable artform, one where we have to lean on each other to feel safe in spaces where venue owners, fans, producers, and newcomers can be dangerous.

I'm feeling like there's a lot of toxicity between performers lately. Some of it is justified, some of it is perceived. Almost all of it has been directed at other performers, and with that comes a microscopic evaluation of each of us, constantly asking us "who's side" we're on.

All of it has merit, and everyone's feelings are real. That's not up for debate.

What I'm reticent about is the constant polarization of each burlesque performer based on every comment they post online, what producer they work with, who they're still friends with, and more than anything else, what they DON'T say when others expect them to.

It seems like the most vocal performers and leaders in each scene are focused on whose careers deserve to be ruined. Who needs to be raked across the coals. Which person should be cast out of the community and for what reasons. While I will always support producers and performers avoiding people who are dangerous or have proven remorseless about their problematic behavior, I've noticed that burlesque performers are by and large focused less on calling out said problematic behavior and more on decrying performers who make them uncomfortable.

I've had numerous conversations about people I associate with and who I hire, and I've felt pretty solidly about my guiding principles when it comes to problematic behavior. Is this person a danger to others? If so, they won't be in my show. If they've been historically problematic and unrepentant when confronted? They won't be in my show. If they're generally disrespectful and find it hard to follow rules and guidelines, I likely won't hire them more than once.

These self-made guidelines have served me well over the years. I've had to apply them when considering whom to hire, what producers I'm willing to work for, and even how to manage my own troupe.

My main issues are not with people who don't operate on the same pretenses that I do. My issues stem from when people claim they stand for certain things and then are selective about when they apply them. Is this a person I've heard about and have never worked with and has been publicly accused of unacceptable behavior? Written off immediately. Is it someone I've worked with and like and has given me lots of gigs? Wait, slow down. You can't talk about them like that, it'll damage their career. YOU'RE the monster, this person CAN'T be guilty of anything.

To me, true friendship doesn't involve shielding people you care about from the consequences of their actions. I'm often the FIRST one to talk to my friends when there's bad rumors going around. I encourage people who are being publicly accused of poor behavior to apologize for their role in what they've caused, not necessarily because they were being intentionally malicious, but because so much of our behavior is ingrained to the point of obliviousness. Granted, there are predatory people in our scene who intentionally commit acts that hurt others, and have no intention of apologizing and making amends for what they did. THOSE are the people who should be cut out, with the behaviors in question put up on display as an example of what actions we cannot and will not tolerate.

But for everything less, people should publicly own their behaviors, and apologize for them when they've hurt others. They should acknowledge that conflict rarely exists because one person says that it does. They shouldn't silently assemble and hide behind a phalanx of loyal supporters to run shaming campaigns against the people who would call out their behavior. If this happens to me, I hope to hell or high water that I don't let my ego convince me I'm faultless just because I've made art here in town.

Lately, gigs have been feeling like wink-and-nod social clubs where people make plays to get you on some performer's moral street team. Frankly, I'm not interested in that and I never have been. I'm way more interested in encouraging good behavior and calling out poor behavior, and encouraging my friends to know the difference. I've never been interested in ending someone else's performance career, especially since unrepentant repeat-offenders will eventually do that on their own.

I've been giving away my acts and costumes because of how good I feel spending less time in gossipy, toxic environments--which predominantly in my life are burlesque spaces. Granted, there are producers out there who I truly admire and run very professional productions, and what I fear the most is that this general malaise has sapped my energy for even performing alongside them, and it makes me feel somewhat guilty for enjoying the time I've taken.

I've come to realize that I need that time to really figure out what it is I'm getting out of being in burlesque shows, as well as what it feels like producing fewer of my own. I'd like to still teach my class and do the amateur showcase, but even that feels like it needs a facelift ("Dale's All-Male Yardsale" is a name I still kind of dislike). I'm proud that I got to help create a group that performs at a high level, and that we have the kind of clout that people appreciate when using us to promote shows.

It's also important to help give opportunities to newer performers, who often get overlooked. I've been suggesting some of the alums of my class as replacements for gigs I'm offered, and it's a good practice for helping remind me that we're supposed to be here to lift each other up.

Thanks for reading, and for following me for the past several years. I'll leave the door open for possibly returning, but for now I'll continue to take some time to really get into married life, my new career, and working on circus skills, music, comedy, and building and maintaining friendships, all of which during busy burlesque months, I end up neglecting. It's been fun, and thank you all for being a part of it.

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