“It’s amazing, even in incredibly niche art forms like burlesque, the lessons you learn often have universal appeal. To that end, here are x lessons I learned in the world of burlesque that have proved true whether I was on or off the stage.”
Even The Most Meticulous Plans Will Sometimes Go Awry
It doesn’t matter how many times you rehearse your big business pitch in the mirror, or how often you practise untying your corset strings, there will be times when things just don’t go your way.
You will land, literally or otherwise, on your face. There will be awkward silence, you will blush, all artifice will fall away. You will pale under your make-up and you’ll probably wish you’d worn something a little less daring.
When That Happens, There Are Two Things You Can Do:
You can let it spoil your performance, or you can make it part of your act. If your zip gets stuck half way through a reveal, you can freeze, or you can act coy and whip the crowd into a frenzy while you work it free.
If your stockings catch on your rings/bracelets/earrings (it happens, believe me) you can either blush all the way to your wig or throw the audience a dazzling smile, giggle, and rip both stockings all the way off and toss them away. The same is true of any situation, those who seem the most put-together laugh in the face of small calamities, and use mistakes as opportunities to showcase how fabulous they really are.
Sometimes You Don’t Need A Whole New Idea, Just A Twist On An Old Classic
After all, they’re classics for a reason. I cannot count how many times I have seen girls strut out to the sound of Peggy Lee’s Why Don’t You Do Right, or the amount of homages to Marlene Dietrich I have seen in one night.
It’s true that they can get stale, but when a performer takes a concept like that and turns it on its head, it’s one of the most memorable acts of all.
I’ll give you an example. When Mister Joe Black (who I interviewed here) decided on a Marlene tribute, there was a twist. Not only did he keep going back to the mic again and again in hilariously Dietrich fashion, he also had the crowd through Roses — as in the chocolates — rather than the flowers. Being pelted by brightly coloured sweets and continuing to slur in German for a painfully long time made for a disorientating and truly insane performance, but no-one could ever call it forgettable.
Truly Original Ideas Will Have A Hard Time Making It Out There, But They Can Change Everything
Innovation is a risk, especially as far as a bottom line goes. If people have nothing to compare you to, it’s impossible to know how your target audience will react, and that makes you a possible liability. You may have to upload your routine online first to test the waters, or show it in private to an audience of peers. You may have to ask the advice of those who have been in the industry for longer, or build up a portfolio of “safe” work in order to bolster others’ confidence in you.
Once that is done though, you could revolutionise an industry. Dita’s martini glass is now iconic, but someone had to be the first to do it. Mixing drag with burlesque was hugely controversial at the time, but now it’s a huge part of what makes cabaret so fresh. Persevere.
What You Take Off Is Just As Important As What You Leave On
If you really think about it, burlesque is just editing personified. The choreography of slowly removing garments, of deciding what to reveal and how to do it, of figuring out when to pause and when to flourish — these principles apply to any venture, theatre or otherwise. It’s just as important to know when to hold your cards as it is to know when to play them. Whether it’s through strategically ostrich feathers or a tantalising cliffhanger, leaving your audience wanting more is an invaluable skill.
You should always leave your audience excited to return, which is exactly why I will be continuing this list in part two.