Editor’s Note: New Year’s is a time for resolutions and goal setting. Why not make better communication and improving backstage demeanor one of them? When we heard about Lori Madison’s “That’s My Boa Betch!” presentation at Burly Con 2011, we thought she would be the perfect gal to teach us how to reach that goal.
by Lori Madison
Show day. In a whirlwind of sequins and eye lashes you rush out the door. To cool your heels, you mark your choreography on the ride over to the club. Call time. You are informed that the venue doesn’t allow glitter dumps. Panic makes its home in your chest as you realize the punch line to your act is all but ruined. 20 minutes to curtain. You and five of your colleagues are crammed into a space no bigger than a walk in closet with one mirror and a single halogen work lamp to share. The mix of nervous energies sucks the air from the room like carbon dioxide seeping from a rusted tail pipe. One of your cast mates decides to calm herself by singing loudly and slightly out of tune while painting her pout. Her seemingly joyous squeals seem more like nails on a chalk board to your ear. 10 minutes to curtain. A breath of fresh air and a potty break are in order. Upon your return you are stunned as you round the corner to find the lovely songbird indulging herself in a dance with your custom made ostrich boa. A heat builds in your stomach and rises to your throat. With all of your might you try to squelch it but it’s too late. The flames come roaring from your mouth charring the unsuspecting ego of your cast mate and singeing innocent bystanders in your wake. “That’s my boa betch!” An awkward silence fills the room. Your inner diva has reared her ugly head, stunning those around you into an uncomfortable submission to your will. But the show must go on. Making a special appearance tonight, a big, fat, pink elephant!
All too often, so many of us have been on the receiving end or the instigator of a similar scenario. Many performers push hard on their own personal boundaries each day while striving for growth and progress in their craft. We delicately balance emotions and rational while walking a very fine edge. Back stage antics and troupe dynamics can create unexpected challenges. A slip to the wrong side of the edge can easily cause a girl to flip her wig. Let’s face it, being a showgirl is less than glamorous. It’s really hard work. But we all can agree that blowing your top like a volcano is no solution to a difficult situation. Explosive communication creates distance between you and your colleagues . It ultimately leaves you feeling deflated. With the same dedication we apply to our creative pursuits, we can learn to become skillful communicators without disrespecting our colleagues or ourselves.
The first step in transforming our unskillful way is to recognize the commonalities between us. What makes life more fabulous? Not just for ourselves but for those around us? Joy. Joy is the thing that all beings seek. We seek it for ourselves and we seek to bring it to others. Perfect! That’s why we all became glittering burlesque stars right?! So what’s the problem? Why do we claw each other’s eyes out if we seek the same thing? Your idea and her idea of joy may not be the same thing. So there you are standing on two different sides of the same dressing room, having two different experiences, while a deep ravine of misperception divides you. Only one choice for a real solution exists: To build a bridge of compassion. By building that bridge you begin to recognize language that actually blocks compassion. Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD, founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication and the author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, suggests that moralistic judgments, blame, insults, comparisons, diagnoses all block the flow of compassion from one heart to the next. The use of phrases such as “makes me feel like” or “have to” clouds our awareness of personal choice in our feelings. Requests as demands threaten the listener with blame or punishment if they fail to meet your request. By allowing a brief moment of self-reflection: “What will make life more fabulous for myself and my colleague?” the river of compassion will flow from heart to heart, allowing you to communicate your needs more efficiently.
Once the river is flowing, you can use Nonviolent Communication as an effective tool by dividing your communication into four components: Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests. Like any healthy tree, your tree of communication must have healthy roots. Most of us entangle our observations with judgments causing others to hear criticism. “That’s my boa betch!” The use of the word “betch” is clearly an evaluation based upon an uninformed surface level response. Back to square one, shouting at your colleague across the ravine. By separating observation from evaluation you can focus on the facts. You observed your colleague dancing with your boa. This does not make her a “betch.”
Now that you have your facts straight you can clearly identify your true feeling around the conflict. “That’s my boa betch!” was stated out of an emotional response but does nothing to communicate how you were feeling when you saw her with the boa. In fact, that statement will likely escalate her to a reactionary state in return. Angry, frustrated, agitated, nervous are all very clear identifications of feelings, however the way you incorporate them into your speech affects how the listener will hear them. “You make me angry when you play with my boa” is a common way one may choose to communicate a feeling. The use of the phrase “you make” distracts responsibility away from you, the feeler, and places the blame solely on your colleague. By simply stating “I feel angry” or “I am angry because you are dancing with my boa” your colleague will more likely hear your needs and request.
By taking responsibility for your feelings you can begin to understand the root cause for your reaction. You had a need which was unexpressed and unmet. Before we identify the need, let’s examine the events leading up to the appearance of your inner diva. Nerves were already on edge as you rushed from the house to the venue. Upon arrival, a sense of control was taken from you when you were told you could not use glitter in your act. As you entered the dressing quarters your personal bubble was invaded by the squawking of your boa dancing nemesis. Agitation had been building long before you observed her with your boa. So what was the need? It was a need for order, a need for organization, a need for control, a need for respect. You may choose to acknowledge your need by stating, “I feel angry when you dance with my boa because you don’t respect me.” The observation of the action and the feeling were both clearly communicated without judgment, however the need was not. Stating “because you don’t respect me” makes a judgment about your colleague’s opinion of you. A more effective way to communicate your need might be to state “When I see you dancing with my boa I feel frustrated because I need respect for my personal space.” This statement extends the bridge of compassion across the ravine to your colleague who is now more likely to hear you because she can relate to the need for personal space.
With all this beautiful communication you’ll be winning the award for Miss Congeniality in no time! But not so fast, it’s time to put your new found skills to the test by making a request. Consider using positive action language and be as specific as possible. Ask for what you want; don’t ask for what you don’t want. “Don’t play with my boa” would be the common request from the untrained glitterati. But remember your original intention. How can life be more fabulous? A more effective request may be “I would like for you to ask my permission before touching my personal belongings.” This lets the listener know exactly how she can help make your world more fabulous. This statement leaves some room for you to make her world more fabulous too. It implies that for her to experience your luscious boa all she need do is ask for permission. Once the request is made, allow space for your colleague to respond to what you’ve said. This creates an opportunity to be sure that your request has been received clearly. You may gain better understanding for why she chose to dance with your boa without seeking permission. Be aware that requests can quickly turn into demands when you judge or criticize your colleague’s response. Be prepared to let go of any expectation. The goal of Nonviolent Communication is not to get your way, but to learn to communicate without disrespecting yourself or those around you.
“When I see you dancing with my boa I feel frustrated because I need respect for my personal space. I would like for you to ask for my permission before touching my personal belongings.” The bridge has been built and both parties now have the opportunity to cross freely from one side to the next and back again. This is open dialog. When you feel the fires of frustration churning in your stomach, stop, close your eyes and breathe. Your inner diva speaks to you with wisdom. “I have a need; a need for my world to be more fabulous.” Open your eyes and acknowledge that your colleague has an inner diva too, and she’s saying the same thing.
Rosenberg, PhD, Marshall B. Nonviolent Communication: A Language for Life
Encinitas: Puddle Dancer Press 2003
Rosenberg, PhD, Marshall B. Speak Peace in a World of Conflict
Encinitas: Puddle Dancer Press 2005
Lori Madison is a pioneering burlesque performer, producer and educator residing in Portland, Oregon. Relying on her BA in music performance, Miss Madison has successfully produced an extended run of her one woman show Madison Moone’s Burlesque Revue and currently co-produces Orchestre L’Pow! presents Dames and Games and Orchestre L’Pow! presents Big Time Burlesque. As a soloist she has performed as Madison Moone on premier Northwest stages such as The Triple Door, The Rosehip Revue, The Bossanova Ballroom, The Can Can Cabaret, and Dante’s. As an educator, Miss Madison has been operating a busy private music lesson studio for the past fifteen years, as well as being currently enrolled in a 500 hour yoga alliance training program while volunteer teaching for the revolutionary nonprofit organization Street Yoga. Lori Madison leads burlesque performance workshops at She Bop in Portland, Oregon; she presented her revolutionary workshop That’s My Boa Betch! at BurlyCon 2011 in Seattle, WA.