Burlesque Spotlight: David Bishop

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Above Photo: Don Spiro

You may be best known to the community as the Bishop of Burlesque and *the* stage manager for huge productions coast to coast including Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender, New York Burlesque Festival, and Viva Las Vegas to name a few.  With that in mind I asked a few stage managers what they’re dying to know.

Q: Divertida Devotchka asks, “What was your most memorable recovery from a backstage/performer crisis? Either prop/costume/set etc. disaster last minute, what happened and how they reacted/resolved, whether the audience was ever aware of the issue, etc.”

Fortunately I work with wonderful and very capable crews nearly everywhere I go- whether it’s Japan, Vegas, China or NYC- so thankfully mishaps are rare. When I teach my ‘Stage Management 101’ class, I tell my students “WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN” because thorough preparation helps prevent crises.
It breaks my heart when something does go wrong because the performers put their all into those quick 4 or 5 minutes — months and months of rehearsal, costuming, hard work, etc.
Most performers are very gracious and understanding (occasionally after a cooling down period) for which I’m very appreciative.
One memorable moment was at a Very Big Show on a Very Important Stage — the performer’s second song did not play properly and the whole second part was nearly ruined.
I was traumatized.I was shouting over my headset at the sound guy but to no avail.
Lesson learned there – hire sound and lighting people you can trust to be sober during your show.

David Bishop2009j04-378EdBarnas_webQ: Pixie O’ Kneel asks: “What’s the most professional way to tell a performer who is running behind and is about to miss their cue to get their ass in gear and get on stage NOW! Oh and is it a bad thing to have the reputation for being a hard ass?”

It’s very important to give performers their Call Time at Tech Rehearsal (if not sooner). Remind every performer what time they need to arrive and what time they need to be stage ready.
Performers should be stage ready no less than 30 mins before they are expected to perform.
If there is a quick change that is going long (or another issue out of the performer’s control) do your best to help them get to stage on time.
If the performer is not doing their job, (talking, procrastinating, etc) very politely ask them if they want the next performer to go on in their slot.
If that is not possible, gently inform them 10 mins before that you may need to cut them from the show if they are not ready on time.
In order to avoid any unpleasantness or surprise – have a meeting with the whole cast explaining what is expected of each performer and let them all know the plan of action if someone can’t perform or is not ready at the right time. Having an understudy ready to go on or being ready to replace that performer with a different one are all options for repeat offenders.

Stage managers need to be firm but kind, strict but compassionate, and in charge but respectful.
If by “hard ass” you mean ‘someone who does the job well and doesn’t take any bullshit’ that is probably OK.
But if it’s meant as ‘someone who is disrespectful or inflexible or always stressed out” that probably isn’t meant as a compliment.

Q: There was some controversy in the 2014 Burlesque Hall of Fame competition when it was announced that due to space limitations, no props were going to be allowed, which changed by show time. How difficult is it to navigate the desires of the performers, producers, and venue in putting on the best show possible, and have you found any tricks along the way to make navigating those waters any easier?

I strongly believe creativity, uniqueness, innovation and artistic expression should come before all else— but I don’t write the checks.
I think the controversy came from a place of wanting to put the focus back on the dancing, the interaction with the audience, and presence on stage and away from HUGE unnecessary props. A large prop can be impressive if used well – but it isn’t the be all and end all of a stellar performance.
As a producer, attention must be paid (*ahem*) to the cost of teching a large complicated prop or a full sized band or any complex set up that takes a long time to set up or break down. Many audiences do not want to wait for long set ups.
One trick is to have the host or another act perform in front of the curtain while a big set up happens simultaneously but that isn’t always possible.

Perle Noire & David Bishop. Photo: Ed Barnas

Perle Noire & David Bishop. Photo: Ed Barnas

Q: You have been in the industry since the last 1990’s. Has the growth of burlesque worldwide surprised you? What notable landmarks have you seen in the evolution of burlesque as an art form in the past 20 years, and what growth would you still like to see?
I’m pleasantly surprised by the explosion of burlesque festivals in almost every US state and all over the world. I’m thrilled to see circus, aerial, clowning and other vaudevillian aspects find their ways back into burlesque shows and acts.
I would love to see more gender fluid performances and was very excited to see Lou Henry Hoover perform in the KING category at BHoF.

I hope a biological male will one day compete in the BHoF Queen category.
I want the BHoF Debut category opened up to men and women.
I want to see more boundaries pushed and more barriers eliminated, but I have a long love affair with performance art so I’m biased in that direction.

Q: In your opinion, where is burlesque headed in the next five to ten years?
I have no idea. I hope it continues to grow and we have festivals in every state and every country.
But I don’t know if we are at an over saturation point or not. I hope the growth and expansion continues.

Q: When you’re not managing burlesque stages around the world (and probably sometimes when you are) you are a life coach and you recently did a self-love/ self-care series on Facebook. What are your favorite self-care tips?
Hydrate!
Eat well!
Breathe deeply.
Relax and let it go.
Be kind and compassionate to yourself and others.
Choose love in all you do.

Photo: Ed Barnas

Photo: Ed Barnas

Q: Traveling can take it out of a person and make it hard to feel centered. What’s your best advice on having a more balanced life while keeping up with a demanding show schedule?
Follow the above self care tips!
Dehydration is one of the biggest contributors to jet lag, brain fog and exhaustion.
Get enough rest. They say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” but you can’t perform if you’re dead – so rest up folks!!
Take good care of your instrument (your body).
Make time for yourself and your friends and loved ones.
Learn to say NO.
You can’t possibly do everything- don’t try to.
Perfection is not only totally impossible – it’s rather boring.

Q: Speaking of balance, what are your top three guilty pleasures?

1. I may drink an adult beverage or two occasionally.
2. I enjoy the company of folks with great big personalities (and even bigger wigs!) and sometimes we may stay later at the party than we should.
3. If I’m in a particularly happy mood after a show – I have been known to pick people up “carrying the bride over the threshold” style.
Oh– And I like to instigate human pyramids.

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  1. Thanks for this interesting Q&A. I just want to clarify something about large props. Bishop’s answer is spot-on, but to expand a bit: large props have never been barred from BHoF Weekend, neither in general nor in the competition. We have had a note in the rules for several years *discouraging* large props and asking performers to think hard about the value they add, because it is indeed difficult to store and maneuver them. In 2014, a performer misread that note and raised a fuss online, which was quickly addressed. Several acts in 2014 included large props, including Burgundy Brixx’s Rolls Royce, Mr Gorgeous’ ice cream cone, Land of the Sweets’ boiling cauldron, and of course the giant ladder in Midnite Martini’s MEW-wining act.