Tips to Improve Your Performances

blackmariahYour Burlesque Questions Answered by Black Mariah

Q: What are some ways I can become a better performer? I want to get into more shows, and I’m not sure how to be more appealing to show producers. – Laina

I try not to make strict rules when it comes to burlesque. Burlesque is an art form I do not want to put in a box, as its growth and development is the very heart and soul of the creative process. The freedom to grow is exactly how great ideas become great performances. One key to performers who seem to get lots of bookings is well developed performances that are well executed. Here are some tips for giving your performances marketing potential.

Limit your props- Stage space and backstage area will vary drastically from venue to venue. The more props you include in your act, the more complex of a performer you will become. Weight and set up of your props should also be a consideration. When developing props, always remember that at the bare minimum, a stage kitten may be the only person available to set up your props. Your props need to be light and quick to set up. A kitten may have only a few moments to set your stage for you, so your props need to be light and easily moveable. If your props are in pieces and have to be put together, be responsible and do that before the show begins. Leaving prop building to your stage manager or stage diverts the production staff’s attention away from the overall execution of the entire show. Test the item for quality as well.  You and your props need to be as low maintenance as possible.

People as props–  In my experience, this is a recipe for disaster. Using random people, backstage crew, audience members, your cousin Fred, performers who have finished their number already, or anyone else who was not booked as a paid performer for your number or has rehearsed this number with you, should not be onstage in your number.

Let me explain how it looks from the audience. Everyone will see the performer who was introduced, and then another person, smiling, but has a definite look of “I have no idea what will happen next” look on their faces.  We see people who are wearing clothing or costumes that have nothing to do with your act, and as a result, it creates an uncomfortable energy in your audience feeling concern for what is actually happening. Your audience will focus on anything that clearly doesn’t appear to fit with your costume, theme or overall look.

People props will in the end, take attention, focus and the spotlight away from you and the continuity of your performance.  Keep your stage entourage to performers who have rehearsed with you extensively in your routine. Thrown together casts will only appear thrown together.

Costumes– Costumes and theatrics are what makes the show in burlesque, and separates the art form from the traditional strip club. Jo Weldon even teaches a class called “Your costume is your choreography”! Burly-q-ers should take care in selecting items for a costume, and making the item unique to the stage and to the number. Costumes should reflect the performance, and remove elegantly (there are exceptions to that statement if the idea is deliberate) and effortlessly.

The biggest mistake I see dancers make onstage is costume pieces that are underwhelming, either by being undecorated, unmatched, or worse poorly sewn (even hot glued in some cases). Your lingerie should not look like you wear it anywhere else but stage. Unique, in every aspect of a burlesque performance makes the audience feel special! Never assume your audience doesn’t care, or won’t notice haphazard costuming. They notice.

Your costume pieces are a direct reflection of the amount of time, effort, and care a dancer outs into the routine, but executing their removal is directly reflective to the amount of time a dancer spends rehearsing her routine. Grosses of rhinestones, fine satins, and excellent costume designers do not make great burlesque dancers, but practice and flawless execution do.

Editing your ideas and concepts – We all have a laundry list of ideas some born out of inspiration, special interest, or even our own personal comedic taste. I encourage every dancer to keep a small notebook handy to write down those ideas. Much like brainstorming   term paper ideas in English class, dancers should brainstorm their ideas for validity, relativity, and marketability.  Write every idea down, but go back later and edit your thoughts.

Some ideas seem brilliant at the time, but later come across as trendy, overworked, irrelevant, or only amusing in certain company. With the ideas you think may develop, consider your audience and how they will react to your performance.  Ask yourself if the concept is current or mainstream enough that your audience will understand what you are conveying. A dancer simply cannot alienate his/her audience as the connection between the dancer and the audience watching is the only reason your audience will come back.

Lastly, consider where you can perform this new concept. Concepts that are specific to holidays, seasons or audiences (sci- fi) are going to be more limited than general concepts that can be relative to any audience. I also encourage dancers to develop performances in all styles of burlesque that they can. Classical, Neo, and comedic routines in a dancers repertoire make any dancer more marketable to a producer. Offering a variety of styles for your clients or producers is much like being multilingual!

Be on time and communicate with your staff. Even I struggle with this. Make sure you arrive on time to your venue at the requested call time. Life in the big city is crazy so if you are trapped in traffic, your plane is late, you forgot your stockings and have to stop somewhere……..make sure you communicate with the appropriate staff members of your show where you are in regards to arriving to the show.

It’s not only important to the staff and the fluidity of the show, but other dancers notice tardiness as well.  You don’t want to be known as the “Hottest Mess in Burlesque”. Never leave for your show without the phone numbers for your producers or stage manager on hand. Anything can happen and being prepared to communicate in case of an unforeseen emergency is the best policy.

Make sure you communicate all of your needs, props needs, lighting cues, and send your music to the producers BEFORE the day of your show. No one likes surprises, and leaving those very important details until the day of the show is nearly a guarantee that your needs will be over looked, or miscommunicated.

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