Whendy’s Ten Commandments of Burlesque

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Lagunitas Beer Circus 2014, at the end of the day. The babes pictured here from Left to Right are Me, Dixie DeLish (holding Dually the amazing circus dog), Bombshell Betty and Lala (aka Ophelia Coeur de Noir). And I’m super sorry, but I can’t remember who took this photo! If you do, let me know so I can credit them.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for some time, and I end up talking about this constantly with my sparkly sisters and Event Producer pals. I’m focusing on burlesque performance, but these can really translate to any performer-types. And I fully accept the fact that some folks might disagree with me. Whatever. These are all standards I do my best to hold myself to, and they’re pretty damn reasonable.

Alright cherubs, imagine this nailed (or carpet-taped) to the dressing room door of your heart.

THE TEN BURLESQUE COMMANDMENTS (in no particular order)

I. Thou Shalt BRING IT

What ever your style is, don’t be afraid to get all crazy on that stage. Are you a total freak with fake blood and body parts? BRING IT. Are your more strictly-classic, beauty eleganza? BRING IT, BLIND ME WITH OPULENCE. Are you the only political act in the show, worried it may be to “heavy” for your audience? BRING IT, MAKE ME THINK WITH YOUR SMART SEXY ASS. Do you have a different body type than what is mass marketed by the media? Are you a person of size/disabled/a person of color/older or whatever? BRING THAT SHIT SO HARD, IT HAS SO MUCH POWER.

I’ve done a few acts that weren’t supposed to really be pretty or sexy or funny. Which are kind of the easiest crutches to lean on. What happens when you’re doing something that’s different, or scary for you, pushes boundaries? BRING IT, WE NEED YOU.

II. Thou Shalt REQUEST Feedback

Burlesque is very empowering, that’s why many people get into it. The validation and applause can be like a drug, especially for those that have been marginalized. It’s a very powerful, life changing thing. BUT, just because you have the guts to do it does NOT make you a good performer. If you’re truly a hobbyist and are pursuing burlesque as part of your self-healing/fitness/just plain fun etc. more power to you! I encourage that! But, if you are serious about being a performer, you best be requesting feedback. I know I can always count on Red Velvet, Mr. Velvet and others to give me honest feedback and constructive criticism. Because I want to constantly get better! I want to always be growing and improving as a performer! I have this hope for my entire community. Sure, it’s nice to have friends that think you’re great no matter what, but don’t stop there.

II.a Thou Shalt NOT Give Feedback Unless It Is Requested

Yes, you may have an opinion. Keep it to yourself unless the performer asks you. We put a lot of love and a lot of ourselves into our performances. We are, quite literally, naked in front of our audiences. To have just performed and have all your adrenaline pumping, and then have some person come up to you and tell you “well, I didn’t like that one part.” or “I didn’t like that character” or “I have no idea what that was about'” etc. can be really intense for a performer.

III. Thou Shalt Honor Thy Bookings Unless Absolutely Necessary

I, like many of my co-glitterers, have performed while sick/injured/about to rush off to another show/last minute when someone cancelled. I get it. Life happens. But, what I’ve found in my experience, is that if I think I can’t make a booking (for whatever reason) I pretty much always know with a day or more notice. If you’re a professional, you will take it upon yourself to make sure you can get your music to me and in the right format. If you’re a professional, you will figure out a way to get to the show. If you’re a professional, you will let me know RIGHT AWAY if any of these becomes an issue. If you flake or just don’t show entirely with no word or explanation after the fact (SERIOUSLY?), don’t be surprised if I never book you again.

On this subject, Producers talk to each other. You know that, right? If another Producer came up to me and asked, “Have you worked with so-and-so? What are they like?” I’m sure as hell not lying on your behalf. I will keep it professional and not personal, I will not gossip. But if you were late, non-communicative, flaked entirely, was a jerk backstage, got sloppy drunk etc. I will share this information if asked. If you want to be treated as a professional, you have to act like one.

IV. Thou Shalt Respect Thy Crew/Bar Staff/Stage Kittens ALWAYS 

My background is that of a Stage Tech. I was a Stage Manager, Assistant Stage Manager, Set Dresser, Props Designer, Set Designer, Light/Sound Board Operator etc. before I ever became a Sparkly Naked Lady. Nothing is worse than a rude performer that treats you like the help. One thing you should know: Your show would pretty much SUCK without your crew. No lights, no sound, no set-up, no booze, no security…Think about it and act accordingly. These folks are not backup for your lead vocals, they are not “less than” because they have no desire to be in the spotlight. THEY RUN YOUR SHIT AND MAKE YOU LOOK GOOD. Respect!

On that note, if there’s an issue with any of the crew. I dunno, say someone backstage was really inappropriate to you or something, tell your Producer. Let them deal with their crew, it’s not your job to reprimand.

V. Thou Shalt Not Knowingly Plagiarize EVER

Burlesque is an old art form, and a lot of us are inspired by the same things. There will be some cross-over with songs, themes, archetypes etc. Be mindful of this. I’ve refrained from creating a routine to a song I love because the fierce-as-fuck Sgt. Die Weiss has a routine to that song. Some time ago, Dangerous Delilah was going to do a Poison Ivy themed act for a Villains show, but decided not to when she remembered my Temptation act where my costume is vines and leaves. But, instead, she did an adorable and morbid Cruella DeVille act which was fantastic! No one OWNS certain themes or archetypes but you should really educate yourself and make sure you’re not stepping on any toes. If you’re not sure, reach out to that performer and talk about it. Use your Adult Words for fucks sake.

Also, on this note, I think it’s very important to keep an eye on this is your immediate community. I don’t expect anyone to know what every performer on earth is doing and not do anything remotely similar. (But, if your plan is to do a routine in which you bathe in a giant Martini glass….you better do something CRAZY different with it or don’t do it at all). The internet is a BIG place, BUT if you decide to plagiarize someones blog, or the like, PEOPLE WILL FIND OUT. This happened to a dear friend of mine, where some burlesque performer from another state literally cut/pasted a several blog entries and didn’t use any quotations, give any credit or anything. She sold it as her own. That shit is TACKY AND RUDE. She was confronted and she took it down. Please don’t do this, ok?

VI. Thou Shalt Not Use Leg Avenue (or similar) Bagged Costumes

As someone who isn’t a super seamstress, I understand that it’s easier to take a garment and build off it. Go to town! But, please, modify the shit out of it. When I MC, I love pointing out that these performers created everything you’re seeing! She rhinestoned those shoes herself, fools, and you should be applauding for that alone! We’re giving a people a fantasy, a walk on the wild side, a break from their everyday. We’re not showing them what they too can own if they shop at the Halloween store, ya dig?

If such a bagged, pre-made costume really works for your act for some ironic reason or whatever, go for it. Or when having a troupe of Go-gos or something, it makes sense. As a solo performer? I dunno…But, it’s like I always say kittens, DO IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT.

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Masquerotica 2013, roving fabulous characters, myself and Barron Scott Levkoff mugging for Adam Parmalee’s camera

VII. If Thou Borrowest, Thou Better Fuckin’ Give It Backeth!!

I can’t tell you how many pairs of scissors/rolls of pastie tape/tubes of lipstick etc I have lent out over the years and never gotten back. And I know those are my scissors and tape, bitches, because I write my name on everything!

I don’t mind lending stuff out ever, but it really sucks when people aren’t considerate in getting your stuff back to you. I’m made of Glitter and Swear Words y’all, not money. Come prepared, babies! And be good borrowers so when you need something people won’t hesitate to help you.  On the other side of this, some of my favorite moments backstage are when something has gone wrong and everyone bands together to help fix it. Like, that time at the Glas Kat when I read the set list wrong and put on the wrong costume when both costumes were complex, had layers, and required different pasties. A few helpful pairs of hands had me ready to go!

Also, please be mindful and respectful of other people’s belongings back stage. I haven’t had any issues with this in ages, which is great. But GOD HELP YOU IF YOU TOUCH MY FEATHER FANS I WILL DESTROY YOUR WHOLE FAMILY

In life, to me,  Rule #1 is Don’t Be An Asshole. Basic, but extremely affective. You know when you’re doing it…stoppit.

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Proof I’m not a total asshole, here I am helping Cookie Crumbles with her false lashes. Bombshell Betty’s Too Many F@%#ing Bunnies show at the Elbo Room 2011

VIII. Thou Shalt Promote Your Shows!

This drives me totally crazy. Especially when it takes about 4 seconds to share an event on Facebook and invite your friends. It is unacceptable to me for a performer to be booked in a show and to not promote that show in any way. It makes me think twice about booking you, frankly. It makes me wonder if you are so self-serving that you can’t be bothered. Plus, don’t you want the shows you’re in to thrive? Don’t you want your friends and fans to know where to see you? To have a supportive community, we need to actually SUPPORT each other. Don’t be “takers” darlings, you need to give a little too. Extra points for supporting and promoting shows that you’re not in.

IX. Thou Shalt Respect Thy Producers Process and Ask Them to Respect Yours

So. I’ve seen this become a touchy subject lately. All Producers have their own process when it comes to booking and running shows. If I’ve never seen you perform before, I’m going to want to see you or a video. Is that really too much to ask? I’d like to know if you’re going to come out in a KKK robe and tell rape jokes or something, ya get me? If I request a video, respond like a normal human adult please. If you don’t have one, we can talk. If you start lashing out and becoming abusive? Sorry, no.  When all other performers, because the majority are great, have complied to our process at DIVA or Die or talked to us about it, do you really want to be the toddler throwing a tantrum? On the other side, stand up for yourself. Get all the info on a show, dressing room/time/expectations etc. If something isn’t ok by you (like, I dunno, there’s no dressing room so they want you to change in the back alley) SAY SOMETHING. If a venue or Producer is being shiesty with paying you, don’t let that shit fly! As always, be a respectful adult until it seems the big guns are needed.

X. Thou Shalt Check Thy Ego At The Door

Yeah, you may be great at what you do and that’s awesome! As always, Rule 1 is Don’t be an Asshole, watch any egotistical/self-involved/condescending behaviors. I’ll guarantee you one thing: there are a million other performers out there that are great at what they do AND they have a great attitude. I’m not saying anyone is replaceable or expendable, everyone has their own thing to offer. BUT, if you’re difficult to work with, that may be the first nail in the coffin. I find the people that toot their own horn the most….are often the ones that have the least to be proud of and/or just total pains in the ass to deal with. When you start bragging about how great you are and have a shitty Diva attitude, that’s when I stop wanting to book you. You may be awesome, but I honestly don’t want that attitude in my green room. Don’t be toxic. Instead of spending your time demanding star treatment and bragging about your amazingness, spend it actually getting better and improving. We all have space to grow so sit down with that shit.

So, that’s my 2 cents. And a lot of this comes from performing for 5 years, observing and fucking up. Seriously. What do you think? Any special Do’s/Dont’s? Mantras? Mandates? I’d love to hear them!

With Sparkly Love and Sass-Mouth,

Whendy

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Photo by Serena Morelli taken at the EXIT theater after a DIVA or Die show. Left to Right: Josie Starre, Red Velvet, Tasty Temptress, Myself, Bunny Von Tail, Lula Applebruise and Tornado Supertrouble

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