Friday, January 21, 2011

The quest for persona and individuality in burlesque.

The quest for persona and individuality in burlesque.
by Burgundy Brixx

As burlesque is a unique art form, it’s natural to struggle to find your place within it. Especially since such a foundation for it is the preservation and tribute to the history and heritage of the form. It’s easy to feel stuck in a rut in terms of style, and it can be incredibly difficult to break that pattern. It’s a concern for any artist, of course, but as burlesque is a solo art form, the quest for a personal identity and sense of style will always be a challenge since our individual stage personality is such a large part of our craft.

Q: Does your style find you or do you find it?
A: A bit of both

As audience members we are naturally drawn to appreciate some styles of burlesque performance more than others. That doesn’t necessarily mean the style you appreciate is the right style for you. It may be, but consider all the natural gifts that you have to offer before trying to possibly fit a square peg in a round hole. If you find yourself continually struggling with a style, admit it may not be for you and move on. That being said, it’s certainly important to challenge yourself and try new things. You’ll never know if that style IS right for you if you don’t try.
Play to your strengths.
Sometimes easier said than done. We all don’t always know exactly what our strengths are. It’s often difficult to be realistic about our talents and our limitations, pro and con. Try videotaping yourself in rehearsal and experiencing the performance of yourself on the video as if you were an audience member and the performer is not yourself. What appeals to you? What doesn’t? What ideas does it give you? This is an invaluable tool which I often forget to use myself, until I see a video of myself online that someone has posted in which I’m not pleased with the piece at all. My first pieces in burlesque were all created this fashion and I think they are still some of my very best work.
Think outside the box.
As much as burlesque is a style in itself, it’s also a place to innovate and explore. Look for inspiration OUTSIDE the burlesque community to help drive you into your own creative realm.

On that note,
Make sure you actually enjoy the stripping aspect of burlesque.
I’m not saying you have to take off everything – that’s up to your comfort level. G-strings and mirkins are not for everyone, and that’s ok! But if you have aspirations as an actor, singer or dancer and find the stripping aspect of burlesque to be like taking a swig of Buckley’s (do it and get it over with), then consider that burlesque may not be for you and re-direct your creative energy into the genre where you really shine. Otherwise you may end up very frustrated. Of course you can be BOTH a burlesque artist and a performing artist in other genres, too! As an example: Dirty Martini is a curvy gal with years of ballet and modern dance experience. Onstage she is dynamic, bold, playful, graceful and ironic…and she happens to LOVE being naked. Backstage you’ll rarely see her wearing anything but a wig! Burlesque is TRULY her calling in life.

Iconic Characters
It’s easy and natural to get discouraged when trying to find your identity in burlesque. Especially when you have a lot of different skills and enjoy performing many different styles. And since stage persona seems to be such a big part of popular success in burlesque, performers who perform in only one style sometimes gain more success and recognition, even when there are other more talented performers with myriad skills. Why is this? Human nature is such that people identify with strong icons. So performers that create a certain look, style, character and stay within it often gain more recognition. But once a performer makes that commitment, it’s difficult to play outside it. If Scotty the Blue Bunny took off his spandex bodysuit, ears and heels and decided to do serious dramatic acts, no matter how brilliant he was, he would have an extremely hard time getting work in the same way that he does as The Bunny. Icons condition people to expect something specific from them, so it’s a tricky business artistically, unless you’re 100% sure that you’ve found your persona.
Negative reinforcements
Events like The Burlesque Hall of Fame and other Festivals, especially pageant-based festivals are presented as events to celebrate the alternative diversity of our artform, yet often contradict themselves by rewarding the same types of conventional beauty and performance style as the rest of the popular media. It can be incredibly discouraging to continue to see the official representatives of our world re-cast each year in the same Hollywood ideal that constantly bombards us in our daily life. Don’t let those feelings colour what you think you should be creating artistically. Create what you feel, and you’ll eventually emerge into your own butterfly. Some people emerge quickly, others of us take time. There is no magic dust to make it happen instantly.

“Don’t dream it…be it.”


Anonymous said...

Hi, Burgundy! I very much appreciated the last comment in this post, about not letting festivals color what you do in your everyday performance. I had a conversation with my costumer very recently about a piece we're building together, and I'll admit that afterward I felt a little ashamed. We were discussing each piece, from the gown, to the garter, to what would be left after the final reveal. She was fighting very hard for me to end up in a pair of high-waisted, 40s-era panties, rather than removing them at some point for a g-string. After going around and around, I said, "but I want to submit this to festivals, and if I don't go down to a g-string or merkin, I'll never get in!"

Here's the truth of the matter, though: I'm not comfortable in a super-skimpy g-string, and I cannot imagine a time or place I'd ever go for a merkin. I have a pretty healthy self-esteem, but like everyone, I have my personal issues, and frankly my ass is one of those things. I want to be able to wear fishnets no matter what, and a teensy g-string isn't going to hide the seams. I have one costume already that just does not work with fishnets, and I hate every single picture taken of me in it. Which makes me shy in my performance, which means I'm not giving the best performance I can.

And yet, I was willing to jeopardize giving an amazing performance, because I was so focused on fitting into the mold I see over and over again at festivals. But what's a girl to do?

Burgundy Brixx said...

Talk to Satan's Angel about stockings! She's got a very strong opinion about maintaining a specific look onstage. She loves them and wishes more gals would wear them.

Buy yourself a good pair of professional Capezio fishnets to match your skin tone - if you're as pale as I am you'll need to look for "nude" or throw a little bleach in their first wash. You can cut off the waistband without feat of fraying and sew little hooks (inside, facing down)into your g-string or to hook onto the top and keep the stockings from showing above the top of your panty. This is what professional showgirls have been wearing for years in Vegas, cruise ships, etc. They last for YEARS (seriously, I have some that are almost 10 years old now). You'll be amazed at how incredible your legs and bum will look, but how actually naked your flesh appears onstage! Pull the stockings WAY up your bum to sculpt it...but a word to the wise: make sure to wear a small nude g-string underneath or beware what I unpleasantly refer to as "waffle-puss"!