After an incredibly lacklustre performance the other week, I have once again been pondering my future on the burlesque stage. I’d agreed to help out another troupe member who was trying to come up with a piece for a pirate-and-showgirl-themed private party, and the ideas really weren’t flowing. In the end we came up with something quickly, had only a couple of nights of rehearsal and, though neither of us were 100% happy with what we’d created, we didn’t want to let our friends down by pulling out of the show so went ahead with it. The performance was fun and comical, but that aspect was perhaps lost on many of the audience though due to it hinging on a reference to the long-running UK kids tv show Blue Peter! In the end, it was just two girls larking around and taking their clothes off.
I read a review of the evening which said that the cabaret performances ranged from excellent to extremely dubious and, as our act was the only one the reviewer didn’t go on to list individually, I can only assume that ours was the dodgy one. This annoyed me because… well, she was right. I’m not sure if it was the idea itself or the minimal rehearsal time, but I don’t think I’d want to perform that piece again. Ever. The only act I’ve been proud of so far is the ‘suffragette to disillusioned voter’ one I did before the general election to the Muse song, Uprising. Sadly I can’t perform it very often due to it being so topical, and also no-one shot a video of it, but at least this may force me to come up with something else I like rather than simply going back to the old tried and tested acts.
The main thing bothering me at the moment though is do I really want to do this and, if so, why? Kitty Stryker recently posted on her blog* about her despair for the state of burlesque in London and stirred up a whole host of emotions that I’ve been bottling up on the subject. OK, so not everyone wants to see fake-blood-soaked zombie burlesque in the same way that feather fans and ‘glittertits’ can become dull, but it does look like it’s much easier to find some variety in the performers in San Francisco than it is in the UK. At first it made me cross that Kitty described the London scene as boring, but then I realised that she’s right. I enjoy seeing hot girls take their clothes off on stage, a lot, but even I hanker for something different after seeing several very similar acts in one night. Aside from private events and a handful of fantastic individual performances at various places from Torture Garden to ‘Passion’ at Earls Court, only a particularly warped evening at The Double-R Club truly fulfilled my burlesque and cabaret needs.
So you know what this means? I think I have to sit down and work out why the hell I’m doing it. If my liking of burlesque is simply due to a desire to be creative then I should focus on that, carefully working on my own ideas, to my own timescales and then performing them when and where I feel is appropriate. If I like what I’ve created then, to be honest, I don’t care what other people think of it. However, if I’m only doing it to get lots of attention and flash my tits in public, I need to have a re-think. A serious re-think. To paraphrase Alicia Silverstone’s character in Clueless, I’d need a makeover of my soul.
Images of Miss Lolly Pops by Laura Jung.
*This has some rather adult content in places, but the post I’ve linked to is pretty much safe for work, if you don’t mind your co-workers seeing pics of boylesque performers on your screen.
Sometimes you don't need a reason to do something – just to do it is enough. I play sax because I want to, plenty of people will think it's lame and sounds shit – I could care less. (^ ^)
Keep going, you have natural talent and you'll find your direction. Don't get bogged down in others' hyperbole and remember that no matter how awesome you are, somebody won't like you. To paraphrase an old phrase; 'it's not you, it's them'.
A jazz musician I know said recently; “it's easy to sit in the audience and talk shit about what you don't undertstand”.
I think when you combine burlesque with politics you're both inspired and creative, along with making it interesting for the audience. THAT'S something I think you could do, and do brilliantly. And it's something burlesque used to have. Lily Dumont told me of a performance she did where she got onto a scale that ranged from fit to fat, and she kept taking clothes off to try to get to fit, until she just kicked the scale over and smeared herself with cupcakes. That's how feminist ideas can manifest in burlesque, and I think you would be fabulous at it.
I agree with Kitty; your performances have always been meaningful, well presented and really very enjoyable – and they have substance.
Seconded. Er, thirded
Hello Lipstick Lady.
I do agree that the Pirate Show wasn't your most polished piece – but as you said… it was rushed.
I have made work in the past that has been rushed, and I havent wanted to revisit it. But I DID IT – the show must go on. I respect you for doing something for others – even if you felt uncomfortable doing it.
As an animator – I have realised my soul and passion for animation lies in my OWN ideas. I can produce excellent inspired pieces when left to my own devices. The same would go for any creative profession – when your vision is shared for an idea, it loses it's potency.
If you feel so strongly that the Burlesque Scene is 'boring' in the UK – then you can change that. I know you're brimming with amazing ideas, your OWN ideas, and perhaps what you need to do is create a new Troupe to breathe new life into your work, and with others who are feminists and political such as yourself, and willing to smash the boundaries of burlesque.
(And saying that, I'd love to colloborate on a performance with you… I have the ideas too, just not the moves yet!)
Have faith in yourself. You're an amazing individual.
Ana maTrix. xxx
I love your posts about your burlesque acts (I've never commented before, but since I've been following you on Twitter, I do lurk around reading but not piping up), probably because I also feel conflicted about it. I used to perform when I lived in Manchester, and then when I moved to London I stopped, without knowing why. I used the move as an excuse, telling myself that the scene in London was so much bigger, it would take so much more time and effort to get gigs and make a name for myself(rather than being able to dabble as and when I wanted in the much smaller Manchester scene). But really, they were just excuses. I love attention, I love theatrics, I love the originality and innovation in some burlesque acts. But…I'm still not entirely sure of my motivations. So, this comment probably isn't very helpful, but I just wanted to let you know I love your posts about this, and I understand!
Tis me, Cornflake 🙂
Well, when I first read your Facebook status about retiring, I did think “Why?”
But a lot of what you said- I kind of knew I was going to read before I read it. I met you prior to you pursuing your burlesque performance side. Like you, I embraced the scene (not quite in the spot light) but with the enthusiasm and excitement- I think it was something that came along at the right time for me, it made me feel like there were other women like me, truly interested in the vintage scene and the lifestyle as a whole. I was amazed at the quality of art across the board- costumes, models, performers, photographers, choreographers, event managers- the whole shebang. As time passed, you'll remember- I tried to instigate a book project, encompassing all the raw talent in one place that people could contribute to and access.
I'll be honest- thats when part of the scene died for me 🙂 Looking back I, like you, was looking for a vehicle for these people to have their voice- tell their stories and show their talent. What I found, was a lot of women who (usually for confidence issues) had transformed themselves into burlesque models- won over the audiences, and then…..brick wall- they had nothing to say. Their was no fire. I was looking for opinions, ideas and lifestyles encapsulated in the medium of burlesque- and all I found was egos.
I must point out here- there were several that were not like this- and they were usually the actual artists and designers of which category- I would include you in.
I think from the sounds of things- your in 2 minds. The exhibitionist side of you wants to be up there- but the thinker side of you wants to be putting a message across and challenging the audience.
In times of uncertainty- I take myself back to the Why question. Ask yourself- why did you get into it, track it all the way back to ultimately- what is the point, and what do you want to say.
Once you work out your destination, the journey always gets a little less confused.
Just my two-penneth 🙂
Hi Lori! I'm Tiara the Merch Girl, burlesque performance artist from Australia. I posted this as a reblog on your Tumblr but here it is again in case you don't see it the first time.
Lori, I feel you! I look at San Francisco and New York and Canada, where there is a rich variety of activist, queer, minority, feminist, thought-provoking, artsy burlesque. You can do whatever you want (like the suffragette-to-disgruntled voter act you mentioned) and there will be a strong community of people supporting you, helping you grow, cheering you on.
And then I look at Australia, where there are people who do the stuff we do – Iskra Valentine, Roxy Mon, Ladies of Colour Agency, Vixen Noir, Zahra Stardust – but we’re all spread out across the country, often working solo. There are pockets of supportive communities (like the Pussycat Club and edgy queer burlesque in Sydney) and you get pro troupes like La La Parlour and Briefs that are super good, but again it’s quite spread out and not as strong as the US/Canada.
I’m surprised there isn’t a stronger political/arty burlesque scene in London, considering England is pretty much the birthplace of burlesque (especially the rabblerousing satirical theater kind), but perhaps our compatriots lie not within the “burlesque” scene as such but under performance art and live art? I do know England has a really strong live art scene, and the Australian women’s circus community – a unique-to-Australia thing and really strong – has had acts that were very much burlesque in nature (such as my Aperture piece, which was directed as part of a Vulcana project).
I hope you find what you were looking for with burlesque – whether it means readjusting how you do burlesque or leaving the scene entirely. I myself found that I preferred to take the time to create pieces that I liked, so I don’t work the circuit as much as my friends and peers do, but I do seek out more offbeat opportunities to perform and present. At the very least – you have a friend in me!
I found this blog through Tiara Merch Girl's facebook update.
I am a burlesque performer based in Nottingham and I have been performing since 2005. I normally do quite comedic, character based upbeat stuff (my signature act I play an octopus woman who hacks her tentacles off to make sushi)but this Thursday I debuted a very serious, artsy-fartsy, very personal act and it scared the life out of me.
I have been questioning myself a lot and feeling a little constricted by what a lot of audiences expect from a burlesque performance. Working on this new act that is much closer to performance art that the mainstream ideal of burlesque has been really challenging but has also opened me up to the possibilities of the art form.
I think the UK scene (can't speak for London specifically as I have only performed there a handfull of times) can run the risk of becoming a little homogenised but we as performers have the power to change that. Whenever I question myself I remember why I fell in love with burlesque: because is performer is the writer, director, costumier, star of the show, music selector and all round auteur. Very few other media give one individual so much creative control and if you don't like the direction your work is going in you have much more freedom to mold it that in other disciplines.
Really glad I found this blog,
Wishing you the best for your future creative endeavors.
We really appreciate your comments on The Double R Club. I try hard to bok acts and put together a night which I know I'd enjoy.