Burlesque Etiquette with Jo Weldon: Stage Kitten 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!
“Stage kittens have become iconic elements of many burlesque shows. These are the fabulous creatures you see getting so much time are often also part of the glue that holds the show together. A burlesque show bonus, a stage kitten is the person who picks up the costume pieces and props after a burlesque number. They may also set up props, assist the emcee, gogo dance, sell merchandise between sets, and a whole lot more. A stage kitten can make a show run more smoothly, helping the performers make seamless transitions from number to number.” – Murray Hill
I’m not sure when I first saw a stage kitten, as I don’t remember having them in my earliest shows. I remember having bouncers assist me when I was a feature dancer in strip clubs, and I can remember emcees pitching our clothes behind the curtain in some burlesque shows, but the first time I became aware of the full potential of these sexy stage managers was while watching Augusta Avallone’s documentary of The Velvet Hammer. There were twin French maids called The Poubelle Twins who picked up after the performers, with tremendous disdain and aplomb, working their roles to the hilt. At Starshine Burlesque, I first became aware of stage kittens as a specified part of the show–an actual presence that made life easier, and much much cuter.
Now having a saucy maid (or maidman!) setting down chairs and picking up panties is a burlesque staple, thank goodness.
When I do student showcases, I employ students in all the roles of the show–door person, DJ, and stage kitten. I encourage new performers to put in time as stage kitten because it’s a perfect opportunity to spend time backstage finding out exactly what performers do to prepare for a show and get to know people in the community. They always approach the job with eagerness to do well, and they want guidelines to ensure their success. The New York School of Burlesque presents a stage kitten class instructed by Lefty Lucy, Miss Coney Island 2010 and a proud panty-picker-upper, to improve the learning curve for what can be one of the most useful positions in a new performer’s career.
For the sake of this article I’m calling the people who are doing numbers performers, but of course everyone in the show is a performer!
Top Tips for Stage Kittens:
1) Ask the producer (or whoever contacted you to book you for the gig) exactly what they need from you. Since stage kittens can help in so many ways, it’s important to know if there is also a stage manager, if you’ll be expected to collect music, etc. Find out if the gig pays–some producers prefer to hire kittens as unpaid interns, some prefer experienced kittens who already know how to make the job go as smoothly as possible. Even if they are not paying you, treat it as a professional gig. If you don’t want to do the gig for free, don’t do it–that’s much better than doing it and then going around complaining that they don’t pay.
2) Ask them what they’d like you to wear, and don’t let them get away with saying “Whatever you like.” Theatre stage managers usually wear black jeans and t-shirts, but stage kittens are more likely to be seen in fringed gogo outfits–and you may end up go-go-ing in them! Make sure your costume suits the aesthetic of the show, and make sure your shoes are cute but comfortable enough to allow you to run from dressing room to DJ at top speed, should the need arise. Wear makeup and do your hair as if you were going to perform a routine, because you’ll be onstage a lot.
3) Get there before everyone and be ready to go onstage. You should not be doing your makeup when the performers are doing theirs–you should be stage ready and getting their info at that point.
4) Do your best to avoid gossip about the other performers and don’t get involved in talking smack about the venue or producer. If you must talk smack, save that for another place and time.
5) Bring a clipboard and a couple of pens, preferably sharpies, and get everyone’s name (including the staff’s names–and be sure to give those to the emcee as well). Find out from each performer what they need to go onstage, if they have any setup, and WRITE IT DOWN. Find out how many copies of the set list the emcee needs, and write them up as promptly as possible.
6) Pay close attention throughout the entire show. Watch the performer to see what they remove. There are generally two gloves. 🙂 If they let their hair down, see if you can find the clip or pins that held it up.
7) Move quickly, but make sure you don’t get in the emcee or the performers’ ways. No need to bend over very slowly and wink every time you pick up a glove–the emcee may not want your schtick going on at the same time as his or hers, and it loses impact after a couple of times anyway. Ask them how much they want you to perform while you work.
8) Don’t do anything that takes you away from your job. Let the producer and/or emcee know if you take any kind of break or run an errand for anyone. If you smoke, don’t wander off to smoke without telling anyone.
9) If anyone offends you or treats you in a way you consider disrespectful or abusive, keep doing your job, and make your feelings known after the show.
10) Send a thank you note to the producer who hired you.
Top Tips for Kitten Interaction for Performers, Emcees, Producers, and Venues
1) Say Please and thank you. Get the stage kitten’s name and remember it.
2) Don’t assume that this kitten has the same duties as the last kitten you worked with. The producer, not the performers, determines the stage kittens’ duties.
3) If you are an emcee and you want to use the kitten in a bit, make sure it doesn’t interfere with his or her ability to manage the next performer.
4) Don’t order the kitten around. Let them know what you need when they ask what you need. If they don’t ask, let them know graciously–they are an essential part of the show.
5) Don’t try to talk the kitten into doing something that isn’t part of what they do if it will take their attention away from the stage, where it needs to be.
6) If the kitten is a new performer, be encouraging. Give them tips on how to get booked. They may have a lot of accomplishments outside of burlesque–all you know, if they’re new to you, is that they’re new to YOU.
7) If the kitten upsets you, save any conflict for after the show. Until proven otherwise, assume all mistakes are honest.
8) If the kitten asks not to be called a kitten, call them whatever they like.
9) Be willing to help with the stage if the kitten has a problem.
10) If you’re the point of contact for the kitten, send them a thank you note after the show. And Performers, thank the kittens for everything they do. Where would you be without them?
Finally, and most importantly, if the kitten or producer or performers want you to do things differently than described above, listen to them, not to me!
See you naked soon, burlesquers!
OLD ARTICLE FOR THE KITTENS
It’s crucial to understand first of all that each producer will have their own guidelines, some of which may be different than these. However, these will let you know some of the things stage kittens need to think about, with the questions they most frequently ask.
Q: What is a stage kitten?
A: A stage kitten is the person who picks up the costume pieces and props after a burlesque number. They get lots of stage time! When you’re kittening, be sure to watch the performers undress to help you know what to pick up and get every piece. Remember, there are usually two gloves! If one is missing, wait until after the show to find it rather than rummaging around in the crack between the stage and the wall during the show.
Will I also have to set up the stage for the act?
It depends on the show, but it’s very common for stage kittens to also set out props such as fans, chairs, and tables with props.
What should I wear?
Ask the producer, but if they don’t specify, wear something fun and flirty and sexy. Not a party dress, but perhaps a go-go costume with fringe and some high heels. Wear makeup and hair as if you were performing. You can often be a character if you like, but be sure to check with the show producer about that. Depending on the show, you may need to be lowkey.
What else will they need?
A stage name. Do a search for stage name tips. Remember, names like Kitten, Kitty, Kat, etc., tend to be taken and it will be hard for you to get gigs if you’re getting confused with someone with a similar name.
Will I get paid?
It depends on the show and on your level of experience. Some shows just don’t have a budget, and you can kitten for them based on how you feel about that–it’s always fun. Most of the time you will not get paid the first several times you do it. After that, you will probably get something along the lines of tips, $20-$50. It isn’t fair for people to ask you to do it for free if you’ve been doing it a lot and they are making money. If you become a very good and adept stage kitten and highly in demand, you may get more, especially if you really dress for it and use your stage time wisely. If everyone else is getting paid, you should probably get paid too. If you are selling things for the show during intermission or before or after the show, you may get a percentage of sales.
What will I get out of it?
It’s one of the best ways to find out what really goes on in a show. You’ll learn a lot about costuming as you pick up the costume pieces and about staging as you handle the props. You’ll learn backstage etiquette quickly. You’ll get to network and meet a lot of people and get to know a lot of venues. There may be other perks as well–free dinners, free shows, swag, and other treats!
Want to see more of Jo’s etiquette columns? Check out: 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