Burlesque Etiquette with Jo Weldon
Making Introductions: Etiquette Guidelines for Performers and Emcees
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 occasionally post a request for input on Facebook when I’m writing an article. Often there is little or no response, as people don’t always have strong opinions about the subjects I’m addressing, but when I asked for suggestions about performer to emcee and emcee to performer etiquette, I got more response than I could handle in 1000 words!
As always, there are exceptions to most of these rules, but it’s the rules that help you understand the tenets of burlesque show business. When in doubt, etiquette goes by the rules.
First, from the performers:
1) Use a performer’s name precisely as designated. I had no idea that many performers do not wish to be called “Miss” until I got feedback on this topic from several performers who complained about it. I never mind being called “Miss Jo Weldon,” but there are many performers who deeply dislike having it added to their stage names if it’s not already included.
2) Avoid playing favorites. Performers hate it when an emcee spends five minutes talking about his road trip with another performer, then briefly introduces them with a low level of excitement.
3) Performers don’t like to be played up or down too much. It’s obvious that the performers don’t want to be played down, reduced to their body parts, or mocked, but many performers also commented that they disliked being overhyped.
4) Performers like for the emcee to be aware of what they’re doing. It doesn’t do for an emcee to tell the audience to hoot and holler for a number that is more evocative than rowdy, or to set the audience up to laugh when they’re doing a number that isn’t particularly humor-based.
5) Performers loathe it when the emcee gives away too much about their numbers. They like to be the one to provide the reveal. I usually ask the emcee if they mind introducing my Godzilla number as “a tribute to a great film star of the 1950s,” hoping that the giant reptile costume will come as a surprise.
6) Several performers said they don’t like it when the emcee talks during their act. They all agreed that the emcee gets his or her stage time, and the performers get theirs.
7) Performers don’t want to listen to the host harangue the performers, the venue, or the audience onstage. “I don’t see any point in running down the venue. It makes the performers seem cheap and the audience stupid for being there.”
8) Everyone likes it when the emcee can handle a heckler without paying toooooo much attention to them. When a heckler becomes the most prominent performer in the show, it’s a downer.
9) Performers agreed they dislike having the emcees make overtly sexual remarks about them. They preferred to be introduced as performers rather than as potential sex partners.
10) Above all, performers want the emcee to say their name, correctly pronounced and clearly stated. None of them had any patience for carelessness with their names.
My thoughts: As I read the comments, I noticed a tendency a few of the newer performers to be very concerned about having their credits and their introduction and tagline presented exactly as provided, and having the host use every bit of information the performer had turned in before the show; I think this comes from a new performer’s inexperience with being part of an ensemble show. It’s totally understandable, but it’s not exactly how show production usually runs. Generally speaking, it is in everyone’s interest to think of the audience’s attention span. The host will do their best to keep the show moving, which means they may have to edit or pad information on the fly. And the audience needn’t shouldn’t have to sit through a long introduction because a performer was concerned that an element of their CV might be left out. The CV is for producers to use to decide to hire you.
Also, I prefer that the emcee should be discreet about problems when necessary. The audience should be unaware of problems, or at least should feel that the problems of which they’re aware aren’t drastic, or the problems should be made genuinely entertaining. The audience doesn’t want to know about personality conflicts, whether they are taking place in the dressing room or in the burlesque community at large. The stage is not the emcee’s opportunity to vent about other show producers, directly or indirectly. They shouldn’t see the performers and emcees getting annoyed with each other.
Always think of the audience. It’s a show.
I asked a few well-known emcees to contribute their thoughts, and they offered some choice and thoughtful nuggets.
Kate Valentine (Miss Astrid): I appreciate it when dancers keep in mind that the emcee is a performer too. I often need physical and mental space backstage before I go on & for the duration of the show. Personally, I love a performer that sees the whole picture and thus is a pro and a team player. Your job is so much more than your 3 minutes on stage. My biggest pet peeve is when someone brings their diet/exercise regimine/body issues/gluten intolerance into the backstage space. Self loathing talk is contagious among women!
World Famous BOB: My few tips are: please don’t ask an mc to do a “comedy bit” with you as part of your act the night of. Good mc’s already have material and are not obligated to be in your act. Do- provide your tag line or anything special that can help the mc introduce you properly- this is especially helpful if the host doesn’t already know you that well. Example; “Recently performed in the New York Burlesque Festival”, or any awards you may have won. These all make for a sparkling intro. Please do not ask a host to say your website, the audience is not taking notes and if they are impressed with you they can find you online as long as they know your name. Finally, if you are new to Burlesque and people have a hard time pronouncing your stage name often, change it, you will do better to have people say it properly than to have something really witty that every host gets wrong. Your stage name is a concept and character but it is also a marketing tool- make it yours but make it not too difficult.
Murray Hill: For me, great stage kittens are key to the show running smoothly and making my emcee life easier. They wrangle the talent to make sure they’re on deck, remember the set list for me (helps now that I’m an AARP representative), help trouble-shoot live during the show with tech and managers or any of the other crazy things that can happen in live theater, write down new jokes, and then of course to do pick-up in a seamless manner so the show keeps grooving. I always say to the stage kitten at the top of the show, “It’s me and you, kid.” Really the only thing I ask of the performers is to not get glitter or lipstick on my suit and don’t touch the hair!!! At any given time, I’ll have a half a pound of pomade in my hair and if one of the gals runs into me, or runs her fingers through my hair, she may get stuck and we’ll need to call in the jaws of life for a removal!
Bradford Scobie: A supreme pet peeve of mine is when an MC screws up a performer’s name. It strikes me as disrespectful, unprofessional and a little self-absorbed. True, burlesquer names get pretty out-there and tricky to remember. Do what I do: Suck it up and read it off a piece of paper, Stupid. I’ve even stooped so low as to stop mid-intro, tiptoe behind the curtain, ask the kid her name, step back out and announce her name correctly and with conviction. I mean, it’s her NAME…!
Mat Fraser: Most hosts like myself like to get a handle on the performers before the show if possible, so a couple of lines about them in an email a couple of days before the show is useful, but any pre act set up/description should be short and snappy. Recent accolades are fine but no one wants to know if you won a dance competition at school dammit, so keep it recent and relevant and short, spell any difficult to pronounce words and names especially, make it easy to read, and your host will love you.
Jonny Porkpie: Remember that everyone – performers, host, kittens, producer, tech crew – is, from the moment they arrive at the venue (perhaps even from the moment they agree to do the show), part of a team. The show is a collaboration, even if you’ve never met some of your partners before. One of the glories of Burlesque: it is an art form which celebrates the talent and vision of the individual, but that can never be at the expense of the whole show — That isn’t fair to the people who have paid to see you. The host is your point person, the one on the front lines, the ambassador between production and audience. As such, their responsibility is to serve the audience first, then the needs of the show and the needs of the performers, and his or her own material last. It’s great to provide a host with 2-3 pieces of information with which they can pad out your intro, but don’t be insulted if they don’t end up using it. A host must keep the show flowing, and while it’s helpful to have extra material available, saying these things about every single performer can interrupt the rhythm of the night, making it seem a series of unrelated events instead of a unified production. That being said, there’s no excuse for getting a performer’s name wrong. If a host does that, feel free to point it out (gently, of course, we’re all in this together) – any good host will be apologetic and correct the error at the next appropriate opportunity.
Scotty the Blue Bunny: As a host I like to rock. The important thing to remember is that an MC’s job is largely unscripted and f*cking up a name or getting the set a little confused goes along with that territory. Sometimes you can ask and ask and ask for bios and show orders way ahead of time and you still get a napkin written in sharpie the night of. Everything else in a show is choreographed but the host has to field millions of variables. I think an important thing to remember is that hosts and dancers are not separate entities. We are all burlesque performers and we all have our styles. Dancers have to do their show and hosts do theirs- that’s our performance. Sometimes dances suck and sometimes hosting sucks but we all have our relationship with the audience to navigate. The host is the glue. The one character who stays with the audience the entire time and we will do whatever it takes to keep them. I like to tease and cajole and ruffle and do shots of tequila with my audience. The best thing that can happen to any MC is a stage manager. I don’t appreciate the word “stall” although I am using it as an opportunity to be filthy. PLEASE BE READY FOR YOUR PERFORMANCE and try not to be overwhelmed by your props. Other than that I would like to say that my latest goal as a host (other than not f*cking it all up) is to introduce the performers as performers and artists. I find that if I stay away from gender it’s easier to stay away from words like “tits” and “boobies.” There is a double standard where female hosts use that language and only men are called rude and misogynistic. Maybe there are two ys in that. In any case if I have a personal relationship with a performer I might take a chance on razzing their character. I like to burlesque the burlesquers. After all it usually happens in a bar after 11 PM. People want an adult show…a live adult show.
Shelly Watson: As an MC it’s MY job to be prepared and I’d like to think I spend time getting to know the performers, the show, making space between acts and give everyone equal build-up. It’s not easy doing improv on the spot when something happens but I revel in it and always find a way to turn a bad situation better. I want to add that it is very frustrating when you do ask about a performer and they do not give you any information until the second they go on. Two emails are more than enough to get that info.
Keith Nelson: As an MC, I try to know my audience, know as much as I can about the performers, be able to pronounce the names of the acts, and bring more material than I will ever need. As an MC, it is our job to save the day and be the general lubricant for the show.
Shaffer the Darklord: I do pre-show homework on each act and shower every performer (including kittens) with praise when I get booked to host any show, but I make sure to show the producer tremendous respect/love as well. Simply booking a host demonstrates to me that the producer recognizes hosting as skilled labor and not just some superfluous show element that ANYBODY can do.
Bastard Keith: Ironically, as a master of ceremonies, my attitude is that of a humble servant. Serve the dancers, serve the show, serve the audience, serve the night. But as in any arrangement of servitude, there are ways of making it all run smooth. My pledge is to be courteous, get your name right, promote what you want me to promote, represent you the way you wish to be represented, and get the audience revved up properly for your entrance. Here’s what YOU can do: know how you wish to be represented (and if you say, “Oh, I dunno, just say whatever you want,” don’t get pissed off at me if it isn’t exactly what you wanted to hear). I’m there to help. Use me.
For more on this conversation, see the posts here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/NYCburlesqueperformers/
The conversation began on September 18.
There is a wealth of input from performers as well as from other excellent emcees such as Shelly Watson, Shaffer the Darklord, Brett Rollins, and Chris McDaniels.
As of the deadline for this article I had not yet transcribed the comments for my blog, but I plan to do so.
Want More Jo? Check out her previous Etiquette columns: 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