|To prop or not to prop… That is the question…
by: Vivienne Vermuth
There’s nothing like watching stagehands bring out a huge oversized prop or set piece before an act is performed… It sets the mood for the performance and gets the crowd buzzing about what to anticipate! On the other end of that scale however, it’s just as big a letdown to see that huge prop dismissed or not utilized to its scintillating potential. Or is it?
Burlesque is all about the tease, the show, and the glam; whether it be in sparkling costumes, glittery makeup, or over the top sets and props. More and more performers are seen with big stage production pieces, with performers like Dita Von Teese leading the way in large-scale glittering props, such as her signature martini glass and her makeup compact. However… the question that is commonly asked… are big props necessary? In order to answer this, one must first make a checklist.
First up- venue restrictions. Each time I choreograph a number, first thing I check is venue restrictions. Where is the most likely of places I am to perform this piece? If you live in a city setting like New York City, Jonny Porkpie had this to say -”I don’t have any numbers that require a large prop, but that’s probably partially because I live in New York, where the backstage can be small, the taxis very expensive, and the subways have a lot of stars.” Lugging around props is a major make or break point… If you own a big truck and don’t mind the extra show load, fabulous! If not, you may be finding yourself borrowing or scrounging to find suitable transport.
Lastly- Do you interact with your prop, is it well thought out, and does the prop serve as an essential part of the performance? Props are tools, and they are only as good as the performer using them. As Penny Starr Jr. of California puts it, “I may remember the prop, but I rarely remember the act surrounding it. The prop should serve the act; the prop should not out-shine the performance.”
If you are going to use a prop, make sure it is sturdy (so that it will not fall apart on stage), is stage worthy (please don’t bring me you crudely hand-drawn sign), and it big enough to be seen by the back row (How am I supposed to read the title of that paperback from 100 feet away?). Some of my favorite big props – Midnite Martini of Colorado uses an aerial hoop to perform beautiful striptease, Viva la Muerte of Chicago uses a coffin in her tribute to Creepshow, and Lexa Lusty of Dallas uses multiple boxes and suitcases to contort in and out of before being stuffed into a suitcase and wheeled offstage. I highly suggest searching these folks and others (Angi B Lovely, Lula Hoop Garou, Roxi D’Lite, Catherine D’Lish, Lola Van Ella, etc.) and check out how they make use of their props. Jonny Porkpie teaches a great class called the Arc of the Tease, in which he talks about the best use of props being using them at least twice- the first to introduce it, then coming back to it at the end as part of the reveal so that the audience can understand its function as it’s related to you. One of our burlesque legends Big Fannie Annie says it best, “Props have always been done, and I think it adds [to the performance] if it is done well and with good taste!” If you choose to use props, large or small, keep it simple, use them to best advantage, and enlist the help of fellow performers to ensure you don’t go prop-overboard! Also, use YouTube, vimeo, and other resources such as burlesque hall.com, burlesque411.com, 21stcenturyburlesque.com and other sites to keep current and get inspired by other performers with amazing props!
Have a question you would love to have a seasoned performer answer? Are you a fabulous burly-q gal who’d like to answer reader questions? Hit us up at email@example.com !
Tips for stretching your costume budget: Making every rhinestone count!
by: Vivienne Vermuth
Sitting in the audience at a burlesque show is thrilling, especially seeing the moment when the dancer struts out on stage, displaying a glittering, gleaming costume full of feathers, sequins, rhinestones and glam. You immediately decide to go home and try to create something similar… Wow, who knew that those teensy rhinestones were worth their weight (literally) in gold! And how much are ostrich feathers? GEEZ!
Yes, burly girls develop quite the expensive habit… But there are ways to cut down costs and not lose the glitz! I will also clear the air on types of bling so you are more educated on where your dough goes!
The most important item that every ecdysiast needs: rhinestones to adorn their pasties, g-strings, gowns and gloves. It can be confusing searching for these, especially when buying in bulk and in high quantity! Here’s what years of searching and buying have lead me to -
1) Not every rhinestone is equal! There a three major types – plastic (acrylic), glass (also can be preciosa) machine cut, and the highly coveted Swavroski. These can be broken down by two main categories that separate them, cut and clarity. Hold up an acrylic rhinestone, and they appear a bit cloudy, not easily seen through, but still some shine, and there is just a little reflection off its surface. Hold up a machine cut glass stone, and it’s much clearer, with more glint. Machine cut stones have more facets, or inner/outer surfaces for the light to bounce off (like a diamond). Swarovskis have a specific cutting process that gives them the most facets, which gives them what’s commonly called the “inner fire”. While a lot of machine cut glass comes close, there isn’t anything like a “Swav”. Good news is you can find balance of sparkle and checkbook by mixing your stones!
2.) Be careful of how MANY you buy! I’ve seen too many companies sell stones for much higher mark
Up, simply by changing the numbers. Look for words like “by the gross” which is industry term for 144 pieces, or stones in a pack, or a “ten”, meaning a ten gross pack, 1440 pieces or stones. Generally the more you buy, the cheaper they become. Don’t be fooled by half gross! You could pay way more!! Best places I have found for great prices on Swavroski without a wholesale ID – rhinestone guy.com, rhinestoneshop.com (free shipping!) and my newest find, rhinestonebiz.com. I have used them all, found great prices, excellent service and fast shipping. For excellent acrylic and glass stones, I highly recommend Decadent Dame Designs on etsy.com, she sells an amazing selection of high quality acrylic and glass machine cut stones, and I have a coupon for you to use when purchasing through this store – use “VIVIENNEVERMUTH” in your checkout for 10% percent off your purchase! Please do not buy crystals at the local craft stores unless you are in desperate need – you won’t get nearly as much bang for your buck!
3.) When combining rhinestones, it’s always smart to use them strategically! If you have a large area to fill, use acrylic or machine cut stones, and use Swavroski to highlight where light will hit your costu e most! the great performer and costumer Penny Starr Jr teaches this in her famous workshops all over the country. You can also use sequins, especially faceted ones (not flat) because they are foiled and will bounce light off easily! You can also use sparkly material and use good rhinestones to accentuate.
4.) Don’t forget a food glue! When possible, don’t use hot glue! It’s not a bad glue for in a pinch, but generally speaking it’s not a long term adhesive. Look to more industrial glues, such as E6000. Do material tests first to make sure these glues don’t stain fabric, and be VERY cautious of fumes and work in well ventilated areas! When used properly, these glues will ensure you don’t lose stones while taking it off! They also work well for trim, feathers and other pieces.
Now get out your crafty stuff and make something sparkly! Happy bedazzling!
DFW’s Vivienne Vermuth talks production, cross-dressing, heavy metal, making a spectacle of herself, and the sweaty side of burlesque.
Since going solo in spring of 2009, you have developed a performance arsenal that’s anything but predictable. From a classic piece like singing in the rain, to Rush in an Octopus belt, to cross-dressing numbers- you are anything but predictable. How do you describe your performance style? Do you strive to bring a little Coney Island to Texas?
Every time I want to come up with a new concept, I think back to when I first started in burlesque – I looked up the definition, and a sentence stood out to me. “Burlesque is to make a spectacle of oneself.” I see that as making a HUGE deal out of the piece, whether it is a larger-than-life costume, way-out-there props or hamming it up! I don’t really have a description; I guess for lack of a better word I’m “weird”. I can literally think up a routine to almost any song (thank your stars I don’t, because some of these ideas are better off in my head). Ever since I was little and in dance classes, I loved to make people laugh and to be in the spotlight, so burlesque just seemed to be a great way to intertwine my passion for the odd and sparkly and making people laugh! (Oh, and getting nekkid. Can’t forget that!)
What do you want audiences to walk away with after seeing you on stage?
I want the audience to be laughing, feeling silly/awed, and maybe even a little bewildered. After debuting my Vincent routine (where I dress as my alter ego twin “brother”) I got a lot of mixed comments, but overall Vincent was met with giggles, questions and a lot of emails telling me how much fun it was to see something so crazy and different. If I can make you think, laugh, even question previous ideas you may have had about burlesque, then I’ve done my job right! Burlesque can be so much fun, and I want all of you to see how many different sides there are of it!
In addition to being a performer, you are also a producer. You have two distinct show series with different approaches- Sunset Strip and Broads and Panties. What did you feel DFW was missing, and what do you strive to bring audiences and performers with your shows?
Who doesn’t love a party? So many DFW shows are about the glamour, the sparkles, the “pretty” side of burlesque – but what about the sweaty side? The raunchy side? The girl you’d see behind the alley in the leather jacket and heavy eyeliner, smoking a joint and wanting you to skip class? That’s the idea behind Broads and Panties. I love the term “broad” – it can invoke a very specific image! B and P shows are full of raw, kinetic energy – it’s not a theatrical burlesque show! Now, don’t get me wrong – I LOVE pretty burlesque, my house is practically COVERED in rhinestones! But it’s nice to stray from the equation, and see something different! The Heavy Metal show we presented at Trees in July was definitely something Dallas had never seen – and I still get emails asking about when we are going to do that show again! It tapped DFW’s desire to add another kind of show to the budding burlesque scene here!
You speak of not looking to book “the popular girls”- what do you mean by this?
I follow the audience first approach to creating a show, and when I say this I mean I look at the show from the ticket holders’ point of view. I always strive to want to bring the newest talents and mix them with talent that may not be so known to DFW, even in our own backyard there are a LOT of entertainers not utilized! I’ve brought dancers from Oklahoma, Los Angeles, Louisiana, Austin, etc., and so many of them Dallas hasn’t seen or heard of, but when they were seen, they were loved and wanted back!
For example, Kira von Sutra was our neighbor to the North (Tulsa) for almost 8 years as a burlesque talent, and was never brought to Texas! I am so happy that I was able to introduce her to Dallas at our Metal show in July, she was perfect as our headlining act and we can’t wait to have her back! The “popular girls” are wonderfully talented and became popular for that reason, and I do utilize them, but I also look to showing my audiences that there are LOTS of amazing entertainers that they should also love!
What are three most important qualities that a producer must have in order to be successful? What are three tips you would give to fellow performers looking to book with new production teams?
Honestly, to be a great producer I think you need to be tenacious, open-minded and creative. You have to be passionate about what you are showcasing, or your show will suffer and your audience will notice! Creativity comes into play when choosing a theme, location and your performers! The audience is paying hard-earned money, they want a good show! Tenacity I find plays a major part in the whole process, from negotiating with venues to simply putting up with obstacles along the way! I put my heart and soul into every show, and I know that my crowds love the Broads for that reason!
On working with new producers, I say get OUT there to clubs and talk to people! Find bands that you dig, and ask ‘em if they’d like go-go dancers, or an act to open for them! Get to know your local art community and see if they’d like themed acts at their openings! Burlesque is a beautiful and fun addition to any event, so put your name in the pot! And of course, if you work with a team new to the concept of burlesque, don’t forget to tell them about your needs (stage kitten, prop setup, music/lighting, announcing, etc). Your new producer may not know, and so it will be on your shoulders as a professional to give them some insight. They will love and appreciate you, and the performance will go super smoothly!
You also have a pretty heavy arsenal of costuming experience as
well as beginning work as a make-up artist. Are you self taught in both?
I actually have a long history in makeup artistry, almost 9 years! It’s just recently that I have delved into the pinup/commercial shoot world. I am self taught in both, and also have been fortunate to learn bits and pieces from amazing costumers and MUA’s along the way! I really have to credit local ladies Ruby Redlocks and LaDonna Hearne to my success in the past year, both ladies have been so amazing to me, teaching me and working with me, and just being so sweet to me! They have inspired me in my creative process and given me a lot of confidence in my abilities. I also credit my burlesque friends, dancers and photographers, for collaborating with me on so many projects and trusting my crazy side!
What are some of your proudest costuming moments?
Honestly, getting THE email from Perle Noire asking me to create a hat for her for the Burlesque Undressed show. She wanted a custom creation to go with a gown she had, and she told me she loved the hats that I had outfitted the greeting gals at the Amour show. I about died, and set out to make a hat fit for a Queen. 2 failed attempts, 3 trips for pearls and ostrich plumes and almost 1000 Swavroski’s later, I had created a masterpiece. When I lifted it out of the box to show Perle, she gasped, told me she was in love, and that she wanted me to make her costume for Miss Exotic World in June. I am currently designing a vintage inspired gold outfit for her, and we have plans for more. I am also commissioned to create a costume for a dancer in San Antonio, we are doing to black widow outfit!
What does the future hold for Vivienne Vermuth?
I hope everything! My main goals are to grow my burlesque brand, my artistry and my overall creative career. There are so many things I hope to accomplish and do, and am so very thankful to everyone who has been instrumental in bringing me to where I am now. I haven’t slept a full night in almost 3 years, why start now?
Dallas Burlesque Festival, billed “The Sexiest Show in Big D” took place last month at the Historic Texas Theater in Oak Cliff, one of the oldest sections of Dallas. Only two years old, the festival, produced by Elisa Davis, Ginger Valentine, and Black Mariah, grew by leaps and bounds over its inaugural year. While ticket sales for 2010 were about the same as 2009, the festival spanned two nights, which meant all festival goers had the luxury of their own seat. The sold out production grew to host over 50 performers spanning seven states and two countries. The DBF gals also decided to add a featured performer to the line-up, Angie Pontani of New York headlined the festival. Due to the 1000 plus attendees in 2009, the media was ready this year and gave Dallas burlesque lots of attention the week prior to the show.
While Friday night’s showcase was hectic and had some technical setbacks (the wrong music was cued up and took seven minutes of silence to fix, at which point the crowd became agitated, the producers were also thrown a last minute curve ball when the fire marshal was called in due to questions about the venue’s safety, which resulted in ticket holders being turned away.) By Saturday night the Dallas Burlesque Fest crew, in a large part due to stage manager Nick, got all of the kinks ironed out. Saturday night’s performance was nearly flawless, and the energy of the crowd was amazing! Pin Curl was on hand to ask festival attendees to share their experiences. Here’s what we learned:
Jessica Dawn, from the audience perspective:
I arrived Friday night eagerly anticipating the event. Both Pixie and I were excited to attend as audience members instead of working the event, either off or on stage. When I arrived, there was confusion at the door with the different lines you needed to be in and though it was a cold night to be left waiting a half hour for the house to open- it was neat to listen in to those in line with us and what they were anticipating the event. The Friday night showcase was performers bustin’ out the crowd favorites. The show was a little rough with a couple of snags which the emcee, radio personality Jesse- handled with flare and aplomb. I had a friend with me who had never been to a Burlesque event before and she (of course) fell in love.
Saturday night was less line confusion but still a long cold wait for the house to open. A group behind me that had not been to a burlesque event before worried whether or not it would not be worth the wait. I reassured them it would be, but I’m not quite sure they believed me.
I have to say Saturdays showcase was FABULOUS. Many of the acts, routines and performers, were new to me, which was quite a treat. The production on the second night was much tighter and seemed to run very well from the audience perspective. The sound quality this year was a vast improvement from the year before as was the closer attention to crowd control. It was easy to see that the team had learned a lot from last year’s event and applied it skillfully to this one. At the end of the show I did run in to the couple that had stood with me in line and I asked them if they had thought it was worth the wait in the cold. Their faces lit up with smiles, assuring me it had been and they were very excited about next year’s show already.
Jessica Dawn’s favorites? Angie Pontani’s veil routine Friday night, and Roxie Moxie’s Saturday night routine, about which she remarked- a Vodun who kills herself at the end- gotta love it!
Jessie, the festival’s emcee
Terror aside I had a ball at Dallas Burlesque Festival. Emceeing such a huge show over the course of two nights was totally out of my realm of experience…as a dj I am usually hidden in a small studio where it is just me and a mic. It is a totally different animal to be thrust in front of a paying crowd AND have to be entertaining; which is probably why I spent both days TREMBLING and slightly horrified. But once I was in the Dirty Martini/Ellingson inspired Wonder Woman gown it was all right.
Highlights for my role include the Cat Butt Gum intro for Athena Fatale, seeing Angie Pontani’s dazzling bongo number live, ohhhhh and Lily Wilde’s explosive dance routine…. that was MOM upside down for sure….WOW! Small wonder she earned a standing O.
Mostly I LOVED the goofball Jigglewatt boys who kept screaming “GOD BLESS AMERICA“ during Fridays show. That was actually helpful because the crowd was kind of rough and unresponsive. They gave me someone to focus on and to play with. I got them good on Saturday when I wore the lacey see-thru Immodesty Blaize gown with the Swarovski merkin. They were screaming again as I came out on stage so I looked down at my bedazzled merkin and then, stared right at them and said “you know… if my cooch were a rifle it would go BLANG BLANG!” and I blasted a few very pronounced rat-a-tat-tat pelvic thrusts in their direction…the incredulous yet radiant look on their faces was worth its weight in rhinestones. Hilarious. They were cool too because they helped us raise some additional money for Patriot Paws Service Dogs and comedy attempts aside, that was really the passion that fed my participation in this wonderful event.
I am eternally grateful to Ginger Valentine, Elisa Davis & Black Mariah for inviting me to be a part of Dallas Burlesque Festival. I would love to do even more on the scene and in any capacity be it as an emcee, pantie wrangler, seat-pointer-to-er, program hander outer, dressing room fixer upper etc… the ENERGY and the art of burlesque really captures the primal essence of what it is to not only be feminine but also to be powerful without having to apologize or downplay it. Burlesque celebrates the female body in ALL of its forms and that is an electrifying combination that is as beautiful as it is intoxicating. I am woman hear me RAWR!
Vivienne Vermuth, performer in Friday night’s showcase and make-up artist Saturday night
At 6 pm on Friday Feb. 5th, the Texas Theater was fairly quiet, except for the low hum of crew bustling about setting up. The only signs that the biggest burlesque event in Dallas was about to happen was a white screen, that had clips of Bettie Page and Tempest Storm rolling. They smiled their Mona Lisa smiles, as if they knew the festival was going to be amazing – and they were right!
Burlesque festivals – To the dancers, it means a chance to hone their skills, strut their stuff, and meet other like minds from other parts of the nation/world. To the audience it means a chance to see a WHOLE LOTTA STRIPPIN’ GOIN’ ON, and a lot of different interpretations of burlesque, from classic to modern and beyond. This was my second run at DBF, having performed in the inaugural fest the year before, and I was determined to leave my big, glittery pawprint! This year I performed in the Friday night showcase with a new sea-inspired routine to Styx’s “Come Sail Away”, complete with glittery Guitar Hero controller, and helped backstage as a makeup stylist alongside LaDonna Hearne and Ruby Redlocks for the fashion show models on Saturday. This allowed me to enjoy the fest from all angles, and meet people on all sides of the show, as well enjoy the entire showcase on Saturday.
Without a doubt, this years’ fest certainly had something for everyone. There were great local artisans showing off their wares . Being in line with offering all side of burlesque, the fest featured pole dancers from The Girls’ Room in Dallas on stage before the shows, and local models took the stage in fashion shows both nights for Electrique Boutique and Jupiter Moon 3 custom corsets. The burlesque acts also varied greatly; some of my favorites included Viva La Muerte’s (Chicago) tribute to Creepshow, Angi B. Lovely’s (Dallas) aerial silks, …The emcee for both nights was the lovely Jessie Jessup, and she kept the audience laughing and cheering on the ladies onstage. The audience was outstanding, and I think Dallas has gained a new legion of burlesque fans!
The biggest and sincerest applause goes out to the entire cast and crew who put this together, and to the three producers (Elisa of the Ruby Revue, Ginger Valentine, and Black Mariah) for putting on this fest and upping the ante with each year. All in all, the show was a rousing success, and I know I walked away from it feeling fantastic! Met some great performers, got to talk to a lot of fans, and generally had a great time! Can’t wait til next year – can you?
Rouby Joule, Performer
I was honored to perform in both the 2009 and 2010 Dallas Burlesque Festivals, and though the 2009 show was a smash hit, I thought this year’s show took it to another level. I love how the Dallas community of photographers, producers, designers, models and performers comes together to support this festival, and this year it seemed more focus was channeled toward the performances themselves. It was wonderful to have such a seasoned and capable tech crew running sound, lights and stage managing. The theatre itself was a bit on the chilly side, especially in the dressing rooms, but it’s a historic building after all. It was a small price to pay for such a beautiful stage. Having some reserved seating for the performers was a big plus, as we learn so much from watching each other, and from feeling the energy of the crowd all around us! The audience was very enthusiastic and responsive, seeming to gobble up every act like candy. I got to perform both Friday and Saturday nights, and the show and crowd on both nights was outstanding. Some new fans even made the trip from Houston for the show. I must say that having female producers who are also performers gave a rare spirit of camaraderie and heart to the entire event. We were all invested in it together, body and soul.
Jennifer, Jupiter Moon 3 Corsets, Vendor
Dallas Burlesque Festival was an absolute blast. Even as a vendor, I had a great time. The energy was fantastic, people were really enjoying themselves, and the performers were top notch. I am so glad it was a two night event, because with that many people in attendance, it would have had to run all day to cram them all in to a one day event! I personally had my best night vending, twice over; I was a happy camper! I also had a fashion show to kick off the evening, and I couldn’t have been happier. I had eight great ladies modeling for me, and it went off without a hitch, especially for not having a single rehearsal! It was a great little fashion show, and the crowd really seemed to enjoy it. All in all, it was a fabulous show, I have only heard wonderful things, and I sincerely hope to do it again next year!
DIY Pasties with Vivienne Vermuth
Photos: Courtesy of Miss Vermuth
One of the most fun things about being in burlesque has to be making pasties! These little circles of delight can really bring out your creativity, and lets you express your personality on your…well, personalities! Once you get the basics down, you’ll be a pasty making princess in no time!
As far as materials for pasties, I tend to use buckram, which is a stiff mesh-like fabric that’s used commonly use for millinery (hat-making.) Other materials that are good to use are vinyl and stiff felt. I tend to use Aleene’s Fabric Fusion or E 6000 as my glues of choice. If you choose to attach tassels to your pasties, you will also want to grab some metal grommets to ensure a smooth twirl. I’ll go over tassels more at the end.
Measure how big you want your pasty to be, by measuring the dark part around your nips. That should be the size of your pasty. Then use a protractor, set it at 1/4 of an inch more than your size, and draw 2 circles on your fabric. Cut them out, and cut out a small “pie slice” from the edge to the center. Your circles should look like a PAC MAN.
Take your glue and run a small line of glue down one edge of the pie slice, then bring the other edge of the pie slice to the glue side. You’ll find that your pasty now has a prominent upside down “V”, or tent shape. Take your finger or Popsicle stick and smooth the glue down over the edge so its seamless, and it will get rid of the edge a bit. If you are attaching tassels, snip a TINY hole in the tip, and place the grommet into the hole, and glue the edge, leaving the hole clear.
DECORATE!!! This is the fun part! You can use sequins, rhinestones, glitter, fabric- whatever your heart desires! Keep in mind the weight of the pasty – the heavier it is, the harder it will be to keep on! Also, if you attach pasties, make sure everything is smooth and laying flat – you don’t want to catch your tassel on an edge!
STEP FOUR (ATTACHING TASSELS)
Starting from the outside of the pasty, take the non business end of the tassel and thread it through your grommet, just enough to poke through the inside of the pasty. Then take your glue (I prefer hot glue for this because it’s waterproof when dry) and drop a bead big enough to cover the back of the grommet and the tassel, then place s small circle of fabric over it to protect your nip. Once dry, your tassels should swing freely! You can also experiment with using necklace chains as your tassels, because then you can change out your tassels!
USING YOUR PASTIES
My favorite adhesive is toupee tape made for wigs and hairpieces, but you can also use eyelash adhesive, double sided tape, spirit gum, etc. Keep in mind how you will use them, i.e. if you are a performer, you may want to use tape to ensure that they stay on. If you want to use liquid adhesives, I would advise putting a small layer of hot glue on the back of your pasties, because once it’s dry it will be waterproof and then whatever adhesive you use won’t stain or damage your pasties. Take the adhesive, and line around the edge of the pasty, then press onto the nip. You are set to go!
Enjoy your new pasties!
Cheers! Vivienne Vermuth