By: Dapper John
The past few years have seen an explosion of new talent, with performers, producers, and choreographers popping up everywhere and putting on creative and interesting shows. Many participants in this burgeoning burlesque scene, however, are worried about how to protect their ideas from unauthorized borrowing. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is not flattering to spend months perfecting an original routine, only to see it performed by someone else a few weeks later. In this article I hope to clear up some of the confusion over copyrights and trademarks, and describe, in general terms, how each may be used to protect original ideas.
Please note, this article is a brief overview and only scratches the surface of a very complex area of the law. It is intended to provide general guidance only and should not be viewed or utilized as legal advice to be applied to fact-specific situations. Contact an attorney for any specific questions or for advice regarding a specific situation.
What is the difference between a copyright and a trademark?
Copyrights and trademarks share many similarities. Both are registered with an agency of the federal government. Each one gives the owner exclusive rights to the work, meaning the owner has the right to prevent anyone else from using their work. What exactly is the difference between these two forms of intellectual property protection?
A copyright protects the expression of a person’s ideas, and is focused on the originality of the piece. Copyright protection is given to creative works like writing, computer programs, music, choreography, lyrics, graphic designs, sculpture, photographs, movies, and sound recordings. The expression must be “original,” which, in this context, means a work that is not an exact copy of another work. Copyrights are also self-executing, meaning that an author is automatically protected by federal copyright. Nonetheless, copyrights can be registered with the Library of Congress, and certain remedies for infringement require registration.
A trademark, on the other hand, protects something that is used to identify where a product or a service comes from, and is focused on distinctiveness. An example of a trademark would be a distinctive logo, like the Pin Curl logo on the cover of this magazine, which is placed on products to inform consumers that the product came from that particular company. The logo itself is not trademarked, but its use in connection with a particular product or service is protected. Just like a copyright, a trademark can be established without formal registration, although, as explained below, the protection will be limited in scope. Trademarks are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
There can be some overlap between the copyright and trademark. If you paint an original picture, that picture is protected by copyright. If you use that picture as a distinctive logo to advertise your business, it can be registered as a trademark. Both protections will be there, and it is only a question of which protection you use to enforce your rights in the work. That, in turn, depends on how those rights are violated. If your picture is just copied, it’s a copyright infringement. If it’s used to sell a different product, it’s probably a trademark infringement as well. In the context of burlesque, copyright can be used to protect original performances and choreography, while trademark protects stage names and logos.
What is the time and geographic scope of a copyright and trademark?
One of the most important differences between trademarks and copyrights is that copyrights will expire. As a general rule, copyrights for your new work will last for your lifetime, plus an additional seventy years. Trademarks are issued for a finite period of time, but they can be renewed and, as a result, could last forever.
The Copyright Act provides nationwide protection of a copyrighted work. There are separate national copyright laws in each country, although international treaties—specifically the Berne Convention—facilitate protection of copyrights worldwide. Protection in one Berne country will be extended to other Berne countries. A list of countries who are signatories to the Berne Convention can be found here.
The geographic reach of a trademark depends on whether or not it has been registered. Trademark rights in the United States can be established through mere use of the mark in connection with the associated goods or services. Without federal registration, however, the rights established by use of the mark will be limited to the geographic area where the mark is actually used. Thus, later users who adopts the same or a similar mark without knowledge of the prior user may develop their own trademark rights to a different geographic region. For example, if you use a logo to advertise your performances in Texas, you will have trademark rights as to that logo in Texas. If another performer unknowingly starts using the same logo in New York, then that performer will have his or her own trademark rights in New York. Accordingly, a mark owner who relies only upon common law trademark rights may encounter obstacles to his or her ability to use the mark (and to exclude others from using its mark) as the owner starts performing in other places.
Luckily, a U.S. federal registration on the Principal Register confers nationwide “constructive notice” of the registrant’s ownership and rights in the mark, preventing a later user from claiming lack of knowledge of the original mark. A federal registration provides a nationwide scope of protection over later users of the same or similar marks in connection with the same or similar goods or services.
In certain foreign countries, federal registration within that country’s registration system is the only way to secure trademark rights, and the first to file an application for registration has priority over later registrants, regardless of who actually began using the mark first in that country or elsewhere.
Can you copyright the name of your troupe, your performance name, or the name of a specific show?
Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans are not protected by copyright law. Similarly, copyright law does not apply to aesthetic elements such as simple product lettering or coloring. To be protected by copyright, a work must contain at least a minimum amount of authorship in the form of original expression. Names, titles, and other short phrases are simply too minimal to meet these requirements. This is why you will often see books and movies sharing the same title.
Names, slogans and phrases which are used in connection with a product or service should be protected by registering a trademark, so long as they otherwise meet the distinctiveness requirement.
Can you copyright a burlesque show itself?
Ideas, procedures, principles, discoveries, and devices are all specifically excluded from copyright protection. As a result, a burlesque show itself, as an idea or concept, cannot be protected by copyright. Specific aspects of the show, however, such as original choreography or music, can be copyrighted. A distinctive name or logo for a show can also be trademarked.
Can you copyright choreography?
Yes, if it is original and fixed. Choreography is the composition and arrangement of dance movements and patterns usually intended to be accompanied by music. To be protected by copyright, choreography does not need to tell a story or be presented before an audience. Each work, however, must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which the work can be performed. Common methods for “fixing” choreography are a video of a performance or written choreographic notes. Keep in mind, though, that choreography that is only performed in front of an audience, without video or notation, cannot be protected. Choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded are unfixed and cannot receive copyright protection.
What is the scope of such copyright (eight count, one move, ect.)?
There is no clear standard on how many steps or other movements are required to create a copyrightable work. The Copyright Act itself does not define choreography. In one of the only cases to address the topic, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that “social dance steps and simple routines” cannot be copyrighted (so the two-step or a simple grapevine cannot be copyrighted), and went on to define choreography as “the composition and arrangement of dance movements and patterns, [which] is usually intended to be accompanied by music.” Yeah, not so helpful. Something tells me judges are not big dancers.
But what “series of moves” is original enough to be copyrightable? Newly-created steps, in isolation from any particular sequence, might be “original,” but are probably ineligible for protection, as they constitute “ideas,” “systems,” or “methods of operations” excluded from protection. Combinations of steps, however, could be original and copyrightable. Group of dancers performing steps in unison are also likely to increase the originality, and, therefore, the copyrightability (I’m a lawyer, I can make up words) of a work. Unfortunately, no court has provided guidance on this issue, so the lines remain fuzzy.
One interesting aspect of copyrighting choreography is that copyright in choreography is not tied to a specific piece of music. A dancer could, theoretically, infringe on another’s choreography by performing an infringing dance to an entirely different piece of music.
It is similarly unclear when a dance infringes on a protected piece of choreography. The general test for copyright infringement is whether the infringing work is “substantially similar” to the copyrighted work. Again, there is little helpful case law in this area, leaving choreographers in the dark as to when imitation changes from flattery to infringement.
Can you copyright or trademark a prop or gimmick?
Not really. Remember that a copyright protects the expression of a person’s ideas. A prop by itself is a device, and, therefore, is not likely to be considered an expression worthy of protection. A description of a prop could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the prop. An exception may exist for props that are themselves original works of art similar to a painting or sculpture, whose copyright protection would exist independently from their use in a performance. Additionally, a copyright of a performance may prevent another performer from using a substantially similar prop in the same way, because doing so would infringe on the copyright of the performance. This would not prevent a performer from using the prop in a different performance, however. Finally, a prop that is sufficiently unique may be patented, but patent protection is well beyond the scope of this article.
Let’s look at an example that ties all these concepts together. A performer performs under the name “The Doughty Brunette” and uses a distinctive banana logo in all her advertisements, business cards, and promotions. She also has a giant banana prop that she rides in an “original” way in her signature routine. For the past three years, TDB has performed this routine in an annual Banana Festival show that she also produces, called “The Phallic Fruit Extravaganza.” This show has been videoed a few times and is available on Youtube. What can be copyrighted, and what can be trademarked?
The names, “The Doughty Brunette” and “The Phallic Fruit Extravaganza” can likely be trademarked, as can the banana logo, so long as they are all distinctive. This protection will only cover the areas where she performs, unless she registers the trademarks. The specific, original motions or choreography she uses to ride the banana can probably be copyrighted, as least as they appear in the video. She should put a short “copyright: [name]” notice on the video, just in case (she can use that fun symbol: ©). Registering with the Library of Congress would ensure that she is protected. This copyright would prevent someone from riding a substantially similar banana in a substantially similar way. If the banana is unique is some way, like if it jiggles or turns into a chili pepper mid-act, she may consider patenting it. A copyright or trademark will not prevent someone from putting on their own phallic-fruit themed show during the Banana Festival, so long as it does not use the same (or a substantially similar) name or logo. Another performer may also create a similar banana prop, so long as she does not copy the same movements used by the copyright holder, or infringe on any patent. In all cases, the performer should consult her local friendly intellectual property lawyer.
The Lifespan of a Burlesque Act
By: Red Hot Annie
We’re delighted to have Chicago’s Red Hot Annie joining the Pin Curl team to contribute her insights on the business of burlesque! Have a question you’d like Annie to answer? Please title your email “Business- _your issue___” and send to editor [at] PinCurlMag [dot] com and we will send them right over to her!
Obviously, like all graphs or systems, a person could have some elements from a higher Phase and still have an act that is in the lower Phases, or vice-versa. It’s not fool-proof, but certainly a good tool when learning burlesque – or as a professional who finds herself stuck!
We couldn’t think of anyone’s advice we’d rather take than Miss Jo “Boobs” Weldon, Founder of the New York School of Burlesque and author of The Burlesque Handbook, which is why we’re thrilled to have her as our Burlesque Etiquette contributor! Have a question you’d like Jo to answer? Please title your email “Etiquette- _your issue___” and send to editor [at] PinCurlMag [dot] com and we will send them right over to her!
I run the New York School of Burlesque, and I get input all the time from the instructors who work with me, as well as from other headmistresses like Indigo Blue and Ophelia Flame. I also get some input from students, though not as much as I would like. Certain issues come up repeatedly, and I think you’ll see a trend when you see them all in one place!
Teacher/Student Dos and Don’ts
Instructor to Student
Be grateful when students tell you that you’ve inspired them, but remember that inspiration is your job.
Be honest. Don’t prize being liked over getting your students to do their best. Not telling people when what they’re doing doesn’t work is like stealing their time and money.
Make sure your class conforms to the description that prompted the students to register for the class.
Describe your qualifications and accreditation honestly.
Don’t teach what you haven’t studied. However, it’s okay if you can’t do it, as long as you can teach others to do it.
Don’t impress upon students that your pet peeves are universal standards. While advocating what you believe in, do tell them that your approach is one of many. Encourage them to research. Offer them positive examples to emulate rather than negative examples to avoid.
Don’t allow photographers in the class without students’ permission, or make students who don’t want to have photos taken have a different experience of the class than those who do.
Don’t teach other teachers’ material without permission and attribution. A syllabus is actually copyrightable, as is choreography.
Be forgiving. You used to not get it, either.
Student to Instructor
Don’t try to teach the class. You don’t need to point out every exception to the rule, especially in a class on fundamentals. However, a good instructor will often ask students about their experiences when class time permits.
Be on time, or if late, be quiet when entering, and don’t ask to be caught up on other students’ time.
Don’t argue with the payment policy. It was there when you paid, and it’s there to protect the livelihood of the instructors. Most folks will make an exception for a death in the family, but it’s not your school’s fault if you missed the bus.
Don’t ask questions without checking the website first. Everybody in the world gets too much email already.
Tell the instructor if you have a problem, not the other students.
Read the class description carefully and don’t be surprised the class conforms to the description.
If you already knew what the teacher told you, learn from watching the other students in the class learn it.
Give feedback when asked, and offer it when it may be appropriate. Not only is it valuable for the instructors, but it benefits the students who come after you and the burlesque community as a whole.
Don’t teach other teachers’ material without permission and attribution. A syllabus is actually copyrightable, as is choreography. Yes, I’m saying this to both instructors and students.
Be forgiving. Teachers, like performers, occasionally have off days.
Here’s the New York School of Burlesque’s mission statement: “The New York School of Burlesque has worked with Burlycon, Coney Island USA, Tease-O-Rama, and The Burlesque Hall of Fame. These associations inform our aesthetic, our educational approach, and our values.
The essential mission of NYSB is to provide both unique and fundamental classes taught by experienced performers. We strive to promote diversity in performance styles and so present instructors with different interpretations of burlesque. We want to promote instructors who teach both locally and worldwide. We want to provide classes for a variety of student interests: for fun, for fitness, or for preparing to perform. We believe in glamour that is bursting with intelligence. We believe that studying the history of burlesque is an essential component in creating burlesque with depth and character. We believe in the originality that can come from both experience and inexperience. We respect those performers who came before us, those with whom we now work, and those who will come after us. We respect performers who see things our way and performers with different goals and approaches. We believe in asking challenging questions of ourselves and others. We believe in being open to approaches and history beyond our own easily accessible realm. We believe in self-expression and audience appreciation. We believe in the excellence that develops from study and repetition as well as the excitement that comes from experimentation without guarantee of success. We believed in both seasoned and emerging performers. We believe in entertainment for its own sake, as well as for its ability to change the world.”
As I’m clearly invested in this, I look forward to getting more insight from comments on this article! This is part of a bigger project in which I’m hoping to learn what benefits performers and producers feel burlesque classes provide, as well as what responsibilities members of the burlesque community would like burlesque instructors to assume. If you have suggestions, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to see more of Jo’s etiquette columns? Check out: These Children That You Spit On: Established Performer to New Performer Etiquette, Stage Kitten Etiquette, Making Introductions: Emcee Etiquette, Photos & Pasties, How to Annoy Producers, How to Annoy Performers, I’m Just Saying, Headliner Etiquette – Part 1, Social Media Etiquette for Nearly Naked People
Burlesque Rates of the Union
An issue ago we finished up our Guide to Touring series. It was with touring in mind that we dreamed up the idea for our Burlesque Rates of the Union. We asked several gals from all over the country what to expect from their hometowns and compiled their responses into an easy to access reference table. Be sure and grab the Best of Spring 2013 for even more cities!
(Click images to enlarge)
By: Lillith Grey
I recently launched a new project, the Academy of Queerlesque, and I have been getting a lot of interesting reactions from people in the local burlesque community. The reactions haven’t been negative at all; they’ve been generally supportive but confused and unsure of what queerlesque means or what place it has in the broader burlesque scene. There is no shortage of allies in the Dallas burlesque community – on the contrary, the community is warm, loving, and accepting, and I have no doubt that if I wanted to douse myself in rainbow glitter and run around a stage yelling “I’M A DYKE” as part of my act, I could find a producer and an audience that would appreciate it here. Last year, a local straight(ish) performer did a Muppet-against-Chick-fil-A act in front of a huge mainstream audience and was very well received. A popular local host is a wildly gender-bending drag queen and budding boylesque star. All-in-all, being queer in the Dallas burlesque scene is pretty freakin’ cool.
So it’s not surprising that many of the people around me are not sure how to feel about this project. They’re wondering why I felt the need to start a series of performance education classes focused specifically on the queer community when the queer community is so welcomed in mainstream burlesque. Some of them don’t know what queer means, let alone the concept of queerlesque. And, although none of my kind friends and burly colleagues have said this to me directly, I wouldn’t be surprised if there might be a twinge of hurt or rejection, or maybe the feeling that I’m somehow blaming them or saying I don’t feel welcomed here, which is absolutely not true. Hopefully I can answer some of these questions and be open about what my motivation and vision is for the academy.
Before I can talk about queerlesque, though, I want to be sure I’m being clear about the terminology I’m using, particularly the word queer. Society at large conceptualizes gender as a dichotomy – only two options: boy or girl. Researchers, scholars, and social justice advocates (particularly those in the women’s movement) have a lot to say about this perceived dichotomy, and more and more people are coming to realize that those two categories don’t really make much sense. There are so many ways to be a guy and so many ways to be a girl, it seems weird to have all these expectations about femininity/masculinity connected to somewhat arbitrary body parts (WARNING: BABY WITH PENIS WILL EXPLODE IF TOUCHED BY PINK FABRIC). So a more diverse and accurate understanding might fit better on a spectrum, rather than two checkboxes. Taking the body parts out of the picture, we can loosely classify gender like this:
We’ve all known men who embody more traditionally feminine characteristics, and women who tend toward the masculine (my fav). If you were to put yourself on that spectrum where would you fall? Does it change sometimes? Mine does, depending on how I feel – sometimes I’m all high heels and glam, sometimes I’m in jeans at the gun range. In fact, that’s one of the things I love about performing – pushing my gender alllll the way to the tip of the spectrum (ten points if you know how many rhinestones I can fit on my eyelid!) And that’s the fun and appeal of drag – jumping drastically on the spectrum. Some people feel strongly identified with one place on the spectrum, and that’s cool, while other people feel most comfortable moving around it more fluidly.
Unfortunately, social messages about the relative meaning of those points on the spectrum are misleading and often harmful. We are taught early on that men should be manly and women should be ladylike, that boys should only strive to push themselves closer to the masculine and never ever to the feminine (ballet and skirts? Doubtful). Girls can push toward the masculine a little bit (playing sports, wearing pants), but cannot go past a certain line without social repercussions. Breaking these rules of gender is very, very dangerous – it is the root of gay- and trans*-bashing and is strongly related to violence against women.
Because I was born into a woman’s body and I also happen to identify as highly feminine (I am cisgender), I carry some privilege in the mainstream culture. No one looks at me funny, no one taunts me or challenges me or threatens me, no one feels the need to heap their biases on me. I don’t visibly appear to break the rules of gender. So very many people I love, though, do visibly break the rules. They are so brave and self-aware and confident and insightful that they will not conform to an unreasonable and inaccurate method of categorization. They choose instead to live authentically, and they pay the price for that, from tiny micro-aggressions to overt acts of violence.
Enter the world of the queer. In this world, we collectively reject those stupid checkbox genders – we shatter them as we dance wildly around the spectrum. We dance around the spectrum of sexuality, too, defying labels that are dichotomous, knowing we don’t have to be either “gay” or “straight,” but can love and connect with people freely and in whatever way feels right. Queer takes away the need to categorize – I mean, if someone moves around the gender spectrum, does that make a feminine gay dude a lesbian? Am I not a “real” lesbian because my partner is masculine? Wait, what? THESE WORDS ARE STUPID. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
So queer gives us space to connect, to celebrate, and to feel safe with other people who don’t live in the world of heterosexism and heteronormativity. While we love and respect and care for our friends who do live in that world (the vast majority of the burlesque community), we don’t have that comfort of normalcy. We don’t put on queer when we get to the theater and take it off after curtain call, we live it every single day. We face the oppression and hate and discrimination aimed at our people, our family, every single day. And it is exhausting. It’s exhausting to walk the tightrope of safety, to wonder if your identity will cause someone to harm you. It’s hard to hear people tell stupid jokes, make mean comments, use the word “gay” to mean something bad or unbearable. It sucks to see friends and family post hateful political messages on Facebook. It’s heartwrenching to read about another murder, another suicide, another assault. Every. Single. Day.
And we take risks when we take queerlesque to the mainstream stage. It is entirely possible that an audience member will take issue with our queerness and choose to make a scene. My partner and I had to leave a show once after she was harassed and overtly threatened when she used the women’s bathroom – I barely made it through my act and we got out of there. We were terrified and devastated and alone. And this isn’t uncommon – I have to consider our safety when booking gigs anywhere. Venture twenty miles out of Dallas and Texas becomes a whole ‘nother country. This isn’t the fault of producers, of my burlesque sisters – they don’t want us to be hurt, we know that. It’s the fault of a fucked-up social system that for some reason can’t handle the fact that my girlfriend wears ties.
Queerlesque is an attempt to create safe space. It’s a place to celebrate queer history and queer culture – and we do have our own culture! Drag Queens and Kings go way back in our history, and we have our own icons and ancestors and important events – and we want a chance to focus on that. Instead of being one queer in a cast of non-queers (which is fun and awesome and I love you all), I get to be in an ENTIRE SHOW of queers! OMG heaven!! Instead of worrying that I will make someone in the dressing room uncomfortable if I admire their panties, I know that my compliments won’t be misunderstood. And since all of us – our audience and our cast and crew – walk in the same world, we can understand each other, support each other, and celebrate each other. We can be a little bit more vulnerable, a little bit more real. For a few hours, we can be unabashedly queer, and that’s magic. Just plain magic.
As the producer of several queer-focused shows in Dallas, I see a lot of queers in very vulnerable moments. It takes a lot of guts to stand up and perform something real after living for decades in a world that says that who you are is wrong. That’s what the Academy is for – it’s a place to start unlearning all that shame, all that critique and censorship and rejection. It’s a place to heal self-doubt, to help others heal theirs, and to dance naked together in a shower of rainbow glitter spraying from the horn of the gayest unicorn ever.
The courses we’re offering at the Academy of Queerlesque are specifically geared toward queers and queer culture, but people who identify as non-queer are absolutely welcome. We love and need allies, and your presence tells us you stand with us. We only ask that you recognize that you’re coming into our safe space, and make sure that you’re respecting that. Don’t judge us, don’t tell us we shouldn’t be worried or that we’re overreacting when we express fear or concern. Don’t forget the struggles we face every day, and do everything you can to contribute to the positive, warm energy of queer space. If we designate a class as limited to a specific identity (i.e. Trans* only, or woman-identified only) please respect that and don’t be offended – it is our mission to create safe space, and sometimes that means being in private groups.
So that’s my vision. I welcome questions and conversation about it, and am always looking for more talented students, instructors, advocates, allies, and supporters. Oh, and if anyone knows where I can find a gay, glitter-spewing unicorn, please let me know.
These Children That You Spit On: Established Performer to New Performer Etiquette
We couldn’t think of anyone’s advice we’d rather take than Miss Jo “Boobs” Weldon, Founder of the New York School of Burlesque and author of The Burlesque Handbook, which is why we’re thrilled to have her as our Burlesque Etiquette contributor! Have a question you’d like Jo to answer? Please title your email “Etiquette- _your issue___” and send to editor [at] PinCurlMag [dot] com and we will send them right over to her!
In The Burlesque Handbook, there is an entire chapter on etiquette. Since the book is intended to be fundamental, most of the etiquette in the chapter is designed to help new performers, known affectionately as newbies. The goal of the chapter is not just to help them avoid offending established performers, but to understand how to get gigs and get called back for more. When I teach I try to frame my advice as useful to helping new performers get what they want, rather than as a way of teaching them to care what established performers think. For instance, when I talk about stage names, I don’t tell them that established performers will find it annoying if a new performer uses a stage name too similar to names that already exist. I tell them it will make their stage name hard to find when producers do an internet search for them, and that they’ll get confused with other performers, which could result in getting fewer gigs. It does behoove new performers to learn from experienced performers. The experienced performers are often the ones who got the revival started in the first place, the ones who gave it a reputation as a form of entertainment appealing to mixed audiences, who helped build it into contemporary culture. The perspectives and information gained by experience have unique value.
Most new performers and most experienced performers treat each other with respect and generosity–not to mention that most of the legends these days are loving and supportive, unlike the haters of my early strip joint years. However, I’ve seen a few instances of bad behavior that drove me to consider etiquette from the angle of experienced-to-newbie.
A few of the suggestions I offer new performers in The Burlesque Handbook:
1) Ask before taking pictures backstage. A person who doesn’t mind being seen naked onstage may not want to be photographed checking for a tampon string, especially if s/he hasn’t finished her/is makeup.
2) Do not perform a messy number (whipped cream, water, confetti, wax, etc.) without permission. Cleanup is boring for the audience, and if you can’t be interesting without endangering your fellow performers by making the stage slippery, you’re a crappy performer.
3) Don’t bring a plate of spaghetti backstage. It isn’t just the chance it might stain the costume, though that’s important; it’s the chance that the smell might remain in someone’s costume. If you think we clean those things frequently, you ARE new.
4) Don’t bring your friends backstage. Especially friends with benefits.
5) Don’t distribute flyers for shows at other venues without asking. And don’t just ask the producer, ask the venue.
6) Be wary of calling yourself anything unless you’re reasonably sure it’s true. You are probably NOT “The First Ballerina in Burlesque!” Wait a minute–I’m SURE you’re not.
7) Don’t add people to your email list without asking. Especially if you haven’t added yourself to theirs.
8) Don’t use another performer’s signature gimmick in your act. If you see someone using one of my gimmicks, smack ‘em.
9) Don’t assume that anyone owes you stage time based on how hard you worked or how much money you spent. Or for any other reason.
10) Don’t contact a producer and say, “I’ve never seen your show, but I’d love to be in it.” You should be in their audience, at least on Youtube, before you get on their stage. That represents only about 5% of the chapter, which includes detailed explanations for why I make these recommendations.
However, I didn’t spend much time in the book talking about how established performers treat new performers.
When I first started working in strip joints in 1980, there were still what we now call “Legends of Burlesque” working in the clubs, usually as costumers or house mothers. And they HATED us. They had worked in the 40s-70s and they’d had minks and limousines and choreographers and champagne and feather boas and had all been engaged to Frank Sinatra. We were whores in spandex who were destroying the art form with our full nudity and jukeboxes and lack of artistry. I certainly wasn’t inclined to think of them as mentors. Realistically, they didn’t have much to offer in terms of helping me make more money–their era, which in some cases was only ten years past, had a different format. If I had done what they did I wouldn’t have gotten the results they got. Also, I didn’t care to be trained to end up stuck in a strip club I detested. I did, however, adore them for their stories. And their incredible hair and nails. And I really wanted to get paid to prance around in a beaded gown and play with ostrich fans and boas, although it took me another 12 years to figure out how to make that happen.
Remembering how they alienated us, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts on how the established performers of 2013 might relate to the new blood. Even if you disagree, I hope it gives you food for thought.
1) Remember that things are supposed to change. If burlesque looked the same as it did fifteen years ago, that would be weird. And if you were doing the exact same thing you were doing fifteen years ago you’d be bored out of your skull.
2) Give them a reason to care what you think. If you think that they’re destroying the art form, why should they care? Are they having fun making new friends and earning money doing what they love and delighting audiences with their aesthetic? Are you considering paying to get into their shows? WHY should they care what you think?
3) Don’t be offended if they do burlesque repertory (ie, things that have been done before). They may come from an art form where that is what you do–you watch people do the thing, you learn the thing, you do the thing. Give them some time to get to know the community before you get all up on your hind legs about it.
4) Don’t give them a hard time for doing it differently than you do. Otherwise what can they do but do what you do?
5) Don’t mistake your insecurity about your future for concern about the art form. These kids WILL get your gigs. You will find people who value experience– let new performers find people who value the new. It’s a beautiful thing that there are audiences for both.
6) Don’t feel superior because they’re dying to dress up like a superhero or because they’re dying to dance with feather fans and you feel you’ve seen it all before. They may attract people who’ve never seen that before. You may not be their intended audience. Just because they’re not blowing you away doesn’t mean they’re not blowing someone else away, and initiating new audiences who may end up paying to see your show. Do tell them if an act they’re doing isn’t likely to be unique enough to get them into a particular festival, IF THEY ASK YOUR ADVICE.
7) Don’t ask them to work for free just because they’re new. If you have an intern slot or an audition slot, that’s one thing, but if you’re asking them to do something that you would prefer to use an
experienced performer for, but you’re trying to avoid paying anyone so you can make more money than you’re entitled to, you’re exploiting their hunger to get onstage and it’s icky.
8) You can let them know if they are doing an act that is likely to spark conversation about copying another person’s act or if they are engaging in cultural appropriation. You don’t have to lecture them about it–just let them know they are going to end up having certain conversations if they continue. They may not appreciate it, but you’d let them know if they were about to trip over a rock, wouldn’t you?
9) If you think they suck, don’t hire them for your show or venue. And don’t tweet about them sucking or annoying you (you don’t have to name them for them to know who you mean). Maybe they’ve been paying to see you perform or get into your show for the past five years.
10) Remember that a newbie may have mad skills in an area in which you have none and may be a rockstar in another field than burlesque.
If you want to enjoy your community, be willing to find inspiration in your generation, the generations before you, and the generations after you. Respect works best as a two-way street. If you don’t respect the pioneers of your art form, you’re setting the standard for disrespect of pioneers and setting yourself up to become a has-been when the new breed after you accomplishes things and establishes themselves. If you don’t respect the new breed, you’re setting the standard for exclusivity and alienation and setting yourself up to become a has-been when the new breed after you accomplishes things and establishes themselves. Be secure in yourself, respect everybody’s ambition and accomplishments, and live and work in the present.
And finally–yes, somebody is always ruining burlesque. It’s been ruined a million times. Histories of burlesque usually detail its demise. Your perception that burlesque is being destroyed is accurate.
However, if your shows, which you structure and style as you like them to be, keep selling out, and you keep being flown around the world to perform, and you keep getting press, and your audiences remain loving and enthusiastic, the demolition of burlesque may be just what you need.
Want to see more of Jo’s etiquette columns? Check out: Stage Kitten Etiquette, Making Introductions: Emcee Etiquette, Photos & Pasties, How to Annoy Producers, How to Annoy Performers, I’m Just Saying, Headliner Etiquette – Part 1, Social Media Etiquette for Nearly Naked People
Lillith Grey has been lighting up the stage for over five years as a burlesque and fetish performer, musician, and emcee, and can frequently be found performing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education, and is currently completing her Ph.D. in psychology. She has worked as a psychotherapist, educator, and social justice advocate, and currently teaches at a local university while working on her research. She travels extensively, teaching classes and workshops on a variety of subjects including relationships, communication, trauma, body image, sexuality and gender, and diversity issues. Lillith is also active in the Leather community, serving on the NLA-International Writing Awards committee and as a co-chair for the Women’s International LeatherFest. Visit her at www.LillithGrey.com for more information.
Have a question for our advice columnist? Please title your email “Lillith- _subject___” and send to editor [at] pincurlmag [dot] com
It’s that time of year again! The closing of another holiday season filled with sugar-crusted sweets, savory meats (or meat-like soy products), and long lazy nights leaves many people wondering what happened to their willpower. These days of ambitious promises and critical self-reflection may be the best time to seek a new understanding of who you are and how your life is going, but it’s all too easy for our thoughts to become mired in the negative, focused on what we don’t like about ourselves and how we wish we were different.
I absolutely hate hearing people complain about how much weight they gained over the holidays, particularly when it’s followed up by a “so my new year’s resolution is….” [insert some comment about dieting/exercising/surgically altering body]. One of the greatest joys of the season is that we allow ourselves to enjoy nostalgic treats, we drink a little more, eat a little more, laugh a little more, and imagine a little more… I don’t see that season as a loss of willpower, I see it as a willingness to set down the self-critique long enough to let a little fun in. And I don’t think it’s fair to look back and regret, or try to classify that experience in terms of failure. It was fun, wasn’t it? Stop trying to convince yourself to regret it!
But now it’s resolution season, so we look forward to who we think we want to be. All too often, though, our goal setting is based on the ways we feel we’ve failed, which is simply the wrong way to set a resolution. Not only do we often have skewed perceptions of ourselves and our bodies around this time of year, resolutions based on perceived failures are steeped in failure from the beginning! So, dear readers, please consider making this year’s resolutions from a place of growth, of excitement and anticipation… of hope!
Stop resolving to fix the wrong, start resolving to add more right! Take a look at your life – what feels good? What’s going well? What do you want more of? If you can’t find anything, resolve to create something! Ignore those pesky self-doubts and the voices in your head that constantly criticize you – those voices are liars, and they are fed regularly by media and other social influences. It’s up to you to feed the good voices, the right ones. Find them and nourish them.
A specialist in behavior modification will tell you that to sustain a resolution you have to establish some sort of positive reinforcement to go along with it. If you go to the gym every day, for example, you get to buy yourself a new shirt at the end of the month! Did you starve yourself like a good girl? A non-fat cookie for you! This cycle of self-denial and conditional approval does not make us feel better because it still includes the possibility of failure – a failure of the self. Fortunately, the beauty of the positive resolution is that there is no failure: just by making the resolution, you’ve already take a step forward. And reinforcement is already built in – as you increase goodness, more goodness will find you.
Once you’ve decided on your positive resolutions, surround yourself with them! Use bright markers and construction paper to write them out, or make a graphic that you can set as your computer wallpaper. Go for a walk and find beautiful stones that remind you of your resolutions and keep them on your dresser. Exchange lists with a friend and check in with them from time to time. Post it on Facebook and ask people to comment when they see you doing them. Put a note near your steering wheel, or make one of your resolutions your password for something you use regularly. Surround yourself with your intentions and they will become real.
Need some ideas? Here you go:
Resolve to give yourself credit when you do something awesome
Resolve to smile at a stranger every day
Resolve to express gratitude
Resolve to remember the good things about someone
Resolve to practice radical self-care
Resolve to send thank-you notes (or emails, or wall posts, or texts)
Resolve to increase play time
Resolve to touch yourself more often
Resolve to eat things that sustain your amazing body
Resolve to hand-write a letter occasionally
Resolve to tell people what they mean to you
Resolve to “like” more stuff on Facebook
Resolve to try something new
Resolve to have more sex
Resolve to only buy clothes that fit
Resolve to try something you’ve secretly wanted to do
Resolve to listen to your body
Resolve to teach someone something you know
Resolve to find a swing set at least once a month
Resolve to pay more attention
Resolve to round up when tipping
Resolve to make peace with someone
Resolve to practice patience
Resolve to only say positive things about people’s bodies
Resolve to grow a plant
Resolve to increase personal insight
Resolve to get more sleep
Resolve to point out good things about people in public
Resolve to practice radical acceptance
Resolve to nourish and care for your body
Resolve to increase humility
Resolve to move your body more (walk more, take the stairs)
Resolve to give tiny gifts
Resolve to tell every performer something nice after a show
Resolve to use the word “love” on a regular basis
Resolve to breathe deeper
Resolve to take yourself less seriously
Resolve to give second (or fifth) chances
Resolve to reconsider ideas
Resolve to connect more personally with a child
Resolve to drink more water
Got more ideas? Leave them in the comments below!
It has been my absolute delight to receive your letters, comments, questions, and good wishes over the past year, and I look forward to hearing more from you in the coming year. May your world be filled with an abundance of blessings, hope, light, and inspiration.
So you wanna tour? You want to get out see new performance styles, learn and grow as a performer, make business connections, and get your name out there. Part I of our Guide to Touring will give you some resources for doing just that. Part II will run in next month’s issue and guide you through what to expect as an out of town performer and how to make the trip as affordable as possible.
Approach #1 – The Tried and True Method: The Festival Circuit
As Coco Lectric puts it, “It’s very hard to cast someone you’ve never met or seen [perform] live.”
The festival circuit is the most popular method of getting your name out there and also the most expensive. Lula Houp Garou shared some of her strategies in a recent interview with us, and while they are *so* worth reading, she sums it up with, “Have I recouped all the money that I have spent on festivals? Not at all. Do I still consider the investment to be worth it? Absolutely.”
The new 2013 Burlesque Festival Guide is out and there are over 30 festivals in the U.S. alone, and unless you have unlimited resources and a very empty calendar of obligations it is impossible to hit ‘em all. So how do you decide?
Midnite Martini’s approach: Focus on the mid-sized festivals. “I have done the really large festivals and everyone is so nervous and there are so many people it’s hard to make real connections or be noticed, or really remember the acts that you should notice. I really enjoy the smaller festivals as they are more laid back and there’s more opportunity for a whole lot of networking.”
Coco Lectric’s Approach: “I have a list of the major festivals that I want to hit each year, and festivals I have enjoyed in the past, and I do those. I make sure to make it to BHoF every year.”
Donna Denise’s Approach: “ I do as much as I can. I want to be able to go to them all, but I have to narrow it down to places I want to perform in more often.”
Tips for making the most out of festivals:
- Do go to as many of the shows as you can and make sure to compliment the acts you genuinely enjoyed. Try to focus on other performers’ acts and needs as much as your own. You want to impress the producers of course, but you also want to impress your fellow performers both on stage and off.
- Do go to all of the workshops, classes, after parties, and all of the other extras. You are surrounded by new people- make the most of all of the new connections. If there are other shows going on around town outside of the festival , check those out as well if possible.
- Do follow up when you get home. Add people on Facebook, drop them an email and let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them. Keep in touch.
Make a list of all of the cities you know with a large burlesque scene, or a scene in which you are particularly interested in performing. Now make a list of all of your out of town friends, relatives, exes- anyone who has a couch on which you can crash. See where you converge. You have a sister in Dallas you say? Great- let’s start there.
Step 1- Take your vacation days from the day job to go visit your sister, and plan your trip around a time when there are a lot of shows (a long weekend perhaps).
Step 2- Research the local scene. Who’s who among the producers and performers? What kind of shows are being produced and in what kind of venues? Which acts do you have in your arsenal that will fit well?
Step 3- Reach out. In a well-crafted email explain that you are coming to town and would like to perform. If you’ve already met who you are reaching out to, remind them of where. Let the producer know that you are familiar with his/her work, what you like about it, and which acts you have that are good fits and where they can learn more about you and said acts.
Step 4- Know the expectations. If you get a bite, make sure you find out the following: Are you able to perform in other shows on the same night/same weekend/etc? Would having you teach a workshop be something enticing to the producer, or just more work for them?
Step 5- Get referrals. If the producer who booked you doesn’t mind, or if they cannot book you during the time you’re in town, ask for referrals. Try to get a short list of other folks in Dallas whom you should contact, as well as surrounding cities. It’s time for the Piggy Back.
Approach #3- The Piggy Back
Whether you’ve used the festival approach or the whoring approach, the piggy back is a valuable strategy. So you’ve been booked in Dallas, but you’d like to do more in your week away- enter the Piggy Back.
Grab your map of Texas and look around. If you have a car or can afford to rent one, it’s a straight shot to hit the San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and Corpus Christi scenes. It’s now time to repeat Steps 2-5 from above for each of these cities. If you play your cards right, the dates line up and the stars align, you could feasibly schedule four shows in four cities in four days- which makes you- officially on tour!
Now what to expect when you get there? Check back next month for Part II.
Welcome to the Burlesque Roundtable. (Did you miss the first? Or the second?) The hope is to create an open dialogue to discuss relevant burlesque questions in an honest manner. Have a question you would like to propose or two cents you would like to throw into the ring? Please do so via comments; we would love to hear from you!
Q: What is billed “classic burlesque” is actually a really small portion of burlesque that was popular in the US from 1920-60. Burlesque performances of that time were set to modern music of the time and not all of it was glitzy- some was “exotic,” “comedic,” “satirical,” etc. Why then in the modern burlesque revival does “classic burlesque” have to fit in such a narrow window, and is neo-burlesque to modern music that pushes societal norms, and plays to a modern audience actually more in the spirit of “classic burlesque”?
Jo Weldon (NYC) I call it “showgirl burlesque.” I personally am a fan of striptease and while I’m happy to acknowledge that striptease was not always a part of burlesque, it’s what I care about the most. It’s the part that was first when burlesque circuits died down, while the comics and musicians and other variety performers had the opportunity to move into radio, television, film, and family entertainment if they wished. I agree that in the mid-twentieth century the performers were also topical, comedic, themed, and used the celebrities and pop culture of their era. However, the biggest difference is that in their time there wasn’t an entrenched retro culture, or such a long and photo-documented and video documented history to hearken back to, so they were less likely to have a distinction between old-school and contemporary burlesque. There were full-on nostalgic recreations such as Sugar Babies and This Was Burlesque, but the audience they sought wasn’t the same.
Roxie Moxie (Austin) This is a big divide in some sectors of the community but I really think should just be a matter of personal taste. “Classic” bump and grind burlesque is not my favorite genre, but it’s counting angels on the head of a pin to start arguing about the merits of neo-burlesque vs. classic. I don’t care much for death metal music, but I recognize the people who love it REALLY love it. And the people who love classic burlesque should continue to love it if that’s their thing. There are a million shades of (sparkly) gray when it comes to burlesque performances – to get caught up in neo vs. classic is shortsighted and not giving enough credit to the flexibility of the art.
Trixie Minx (New Orleans) It always makes me laugh when people ask if I’m a classic or neo performer. Does it really matter what you call it? Isn’t it all burlesque in the end? I have many opinions on the subject but honestly as long as the audience gets a chance to see a sparkling pastie or a twirling tassel they will probably be happy no matter how you title your specific style of burlesque.
Miss Violet O’ Hara (Dallas) I think film and media have had a lot to do with those definitions. It’s up to us at the local level to educate our fans and communities about the long, rich and diverse history of burlesque.
Every holiday season here at Pin Curl we ask our contributors to pick out the best gifts for the pin-up or burlesque gal (or guy!) in your life. Below are our selections for this year. Happy shopping!
Shoshana Portnoy – Editor-in-Chief
Nude Cuban heel backsteam stockings from Kuhmillion Lingerie $11.95 reg price, but 20% off with the coupon code “pincurl” through Jan 25th
Divertida Devotchka – Managing Editor
Atomic Clock (prices can range from $20 to several hundreds of dollars)
Femme Vivre LaRouge – Ravishing Researcher
Tickets to the Texas Rockabilly Revival Festival (Date and prices for 2013 pending)
One from my personal wish list, a jukebox. (Prices vary)
Cora Vette – DIY Diva
I really wanted to focus on small businesses run by or for the burlesque community.