Build Your Character: It’s Just What the Dr. Ordered

29 May

Tomorrow I’m teaching a brand spanking new workshop,  Burlescology: Character Building.  It’s entirely possible that by the time it’s done my version of  “Your Burly Info Sheet” will look a great deal like a 4E D&D Character Sheet. Just sayin’. It’s entirely possible.

Charmion (1875 - 1949), vaudeville strongwoman and trapeze artist

Building Character.

It’s good for you, like Malt-o-Meal, Wheaties or Kale Chips…but better. In my book, performing in and of it self is character building. For me. But it’s not ME me the audience has come to see – it’s Sweet Louise. Likewise, if you are performing publicly your general audience didn’t come to see You, you. They came to see fabulous burly-q you.

Tomorrow’s class is all about #8 below.

I came by the following words of wisdom from the amazing Dr. Lucky via Annie Cherry when I sat in on one

Dr. Lucky photo by Dale Rio

of her classes a few years back. They were printed on pink paper and when I distribute them in my class they are always on pink paper. That’s the way Dr. Lucky wants it and I agree it’s better that way. With no further ado:

Dr. Lucky’s Top 10 Tips for Budding Burlesque Babes

So you wanna be a burlesque babe? Take the following with a grain of salt; I offer these tips to make your future performances seamless, enjoyable, and productive! Enjoy and I hope to see you under the bright lights!
1. Respect Your Predecessors
Always acknowledge those that have helped pave the path that you now find yourself on. You haven’t invented anything. Everything has been done before. Which is both liberating and challenging. The history of burlesque spans over 150 years while the circus arts go back, well, let’s just say WAY before that. Which leads me to 2…
2. Do Your Research
See shows, read books, watch movies. Subscribe to listservs dedicated to the scene. Surf the net, watch videos on YouTube, and be a myspace whore. Know the major players in the scene. Your humility will enable you to learn an amazing wealth of knowledge from experienced performers. Which will help you avoid 3…
3. Don’t Copy Others
Inspiration is one thing. Stealing (or borrowing heavily which is basically stealing) a signature move or concept is another. No one owns the fan dance at this point but you should avoid copying something you’ve seen before (which, if you haven’t seen anything, see point 2, you are clueless). And if you are recreating a classic, simply attribute the original as inspiration. Dirty Martini makes it very clear that certain numbers are inspired by her predecessors (see point 1). She acknowledges these as “tributes” (and the person who originated the idea) and always inserts her own “original idea.” Make sure you are making an original contribution and not simply copying. Which leads me to 4…
4. Don’t Use the Stripper CD (“Striptease Classics”)
Many pick this CD up to start and everyone is tired of hearing the same fucking songs over and over again. One suggestion, borrowed from Julie Atlas Muz’ advice to my students at NYU in the past (see point 3), is to pick a song you love. A song that you can listen to over and over (and over) again. Simple as that. Of course, you may use the stripper CD if you are making fun of it. In which case, if you are making fun of it, anything goes! Burlesque is, after all, largely (though not wholly) about parody. Which segues, quite nicely, I do say so myself, into 5…
5. Avoid Cliché Archetypes
There’s a fine line between cliché and clever. As a general rule, if you can buy the concept of your act from a plastic bag at Target during Halloween (i.e. kitty cat, naughty nurse, dirty school girl/teacher, angel, devil, housewife) you may either want to consider: 1) coming up with another archetype or 2) work the fuck out of it in an unexpected way or make fun of it (see tip 4). Most burlesque numbers use archetypes of some type but after seeing 6 housewife numbers in a night, the audience may grow tired. Even if you do 2 (i.e., work the fuck out of it/make fun of it [in which case anything goes]), you will still want to avoid, at all costs, 6…
6. Your Underwear is Not A Costume
I cannot stress this enough. This is not a Victoria Secret runway or a Pussycat Dolls Show. If you want to do a sexy strip down to your panties stay at home. Clothes in your closet, no matter how fabulous, are not enough for the stage and require bejeweling, bedazzling, and general whoring out. Which as a concept and a lifestyle cannot be separated from 7…
7. Do Not be Pedestrian
People are paying to see you perform. Entertain them at all times and at all costs. From the moment you walk into a space until the moment you leave, you are performing a personae. No one wants to hear about your shitty day job or how early you have to get up in the morning (unless, of course, you’re going on tour or flying to Paris). Which, once you’ve mastered, is inextricably linked to 8…
8. Build Your Character
You does not equal Your Stage Personae. Make up stories. Invent origins, biographies, performance history. Lie all the time. (And I mean ALL THE TIME.) Pretend you are way more fabulous than you are. Eventually, you’ll start to believe it and so will others. But be aware that you do not forget rule 9…
9. Being Fabulous Does Not Mean Being a Diva: Make It Work
Turn mistakes into new choreography; no one will know something wasn’t planned unless you tell them. Throwing tantrums backstage, complaining about the sound or space or [fill in the blank] is annoying. Fellow performers are your allies. Save the catty crap for close friends. Do not talk shit or complain. Commiserating is one thing; making an entire show about you, you, you! is another. Which leads me to the 10th but not final tip…
10. Practice. Practice. Practice.
You will probably suck for awhile and until you become a veteran performer, you may be able to pull it off despite your greenness by practicing. Maybe sometimes you will get lucky but practicing is an even better strategy. That means practicing with music, full costume, and choreography from beginning to end until you are ready to puke or are really, really bored. Control props and costumes; don’t let them control you. Which leads me to the three final basics of all performance which, though they may be dreadfully obvious, are worth restating: 1) have fun; 2) be in the moment; and 3) smile!
Oh, and one more bonus tip for those ready to take on the word of our savior, our Lady Luck, the Patron Saint of Glamour, MORE = MORE and LESS = LESS. Once you recognize the power of those simple but provocative equations, excess and glamour will rule your life. Amen.

[1] © 2007 by Dr. Lucky. Must be printed on Pink Paper.

And that m’dears is some fine advice. Burly pearls of wisdom to live by!


~ Sweet Louise

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