Theater Jul 8, 2010 at 4:00 am

Three Nights, Four Shows, Forty-Four Tits, Two Dozen Satin Opera-Length Gloves, and One Pair of Bedazzled Granny Panties


wow. as a burlesque performer i can't say that i don't agree with a lot that was said here.
Roulette Rose from New Orleans here....

I appreciated your push to look at ourselves with a critical lens, but really- what can one do besides just mind their own business, and I mean business literally. It will all work itself out, and survival of the fittest will take over. You know how that is- you work in a sea of bad writers who could use the same advice you are giving.
If a show/performer actually sucks bad enough, people will stop showing up- I've seen it happen.

But maybe you aren't aware of something since you talk like an expert on the subject- the fittest have survived the last 20 years, not seven like you stated ("The burlesque revival is going strong—we're in year seven with all the books, documentaries, and classes").

The burlesque revival started at different times for many individual performers, many of who were performing burlesque but 1) didn't know that their performances were called "burlesque" or 2)they were strippers who were consciously influenced by historically known burlesque performers and vintaged personas.
My records date the revival getting its jump-start in the early 90's and hitting a peak a couple times since then, and not in all cities at the same time, at that.

For example, there was a New Orleans troupe from the 90's that left a big name for themselves and then kind of just disappeared, and (without any specific record to refer to to say this...) it SEEMS like it might have been another 5 years until burlesque shows left the dive bars to hit bigger stages and triple digit attendance numbers like some of us are seeing now.
And then- we have this lady who tauts herself as the "Burlesque Queen of New Orleans in the 1980's" but I can't find any archival data on her, but it leads me to understand that someone was doing something.

So, I just wanted to say that I think you might be jumping the gun in using this "seventh year" idea, and I love your columns, I've been a follower since I lived in Portland and read "The Mercury", but I think you are missing some historical information to back up your criticism and you are also looking at it from the point of view of an audience member that is seeing a lot of burlesque, too much burlesque (there is such a thing). I would get sick of seeing my favorite performer too many times in a row, and you kind of just made yourself watch a few things that were similar too many times in a row!

While each burlesque troupe/show/performer has their return audience, there is constantly a new audience coming in as well, and if they are too square to be a regular patron, at least many of them look back on it fondly, as the first time they go to see a burlesque show, or a girly show, or their friend the burlesque dancer- and those stories are told often.

Thank you for your insights, they are taken to heart.
Roulette Rose
PS...A good place to start for some history and fun pictures of the revival of burlesque in the 90's and beyond can be found in "Burlesque and the New Bump and Grind" by Michelle Baldwin, as well as some great personal insight about the earlier part of this revival through Jo Weldon's new book, "The Burlesque Handbook".

the future of BQ is a hot topic right now within the community. its exciting that the infamous Savage has something to say about it. JD Oxblood offers up some further thoughts on the argument of critique, having documented the NY burlesque scene rather heavily for the last few years:…
I will try that link again, to Oxblood's response, and many burly-q posts:
To be honest, I don't think 'booing' is the answer.

I've worked with troupes for over 10 years, and some are clearly better/serious more than others, but I would simply say it should lie in the patronage. Even the best troupes really don't make a lot of money, and I think the message can get across without any sort of horrible booing.

That's just fucking rude.

Sure, there's classical, neo-burlesque, and a host of other themed troupes, but it's generally a labour of love.

Since dwindling crowds or packed-houses are a pretty good indicator of interest, I don't see how things should change. For every good troupe, there's three unforgivably terrible ones, but it all settles pretty quickly, regardless.
I'm really not seeing what everyone's getting worked up about. The article is generally positive about burlesque. I'm a burlesque nerd in NYC, and most of the performers I know who've mentioned this article took it as an uncomfortable but worthwhile warning.

I think anyone who gets worked up about this being meanspirited or anything similar is exactly what Dan's warning about.
I think Savage's point re: "booing" was more that it's actually sort of bullsh*t to have to instruct your audience how to react. If a performer is not eliciting a desirable response from the audience, that's not really the audience's fault, is it? Seasoned, professional performers should, in addition to having a trained skill set, have the ability to read an audience and get their attention, and ultimately ENTERTAIN them. Allow me to illustrate with 2 examples pertaining to musicians: There is a bar in my neighborhood which used to have regular live-music happenings. The venue is not really suited for it, IMO, because it's very small and generally crowded, both with a strong regular, local clientele, and a bevy of tourists plowing through on the weekends. The musicians often just played regardless of what attention they were or were not getting. However, there are 2 specific occasions that spring to mind (please note that there is no cover at this bar and many people aren't there to hear the music):
1. Singer of a good, but loud band is so pissed off that people in the bar aren't paying attention to the music, that he throws a hissy fit and shouts into the mic for everyone to shut up because he's trying to play. He was met with a couple of "Fuck Yous" and a lot of people going somewhere else.
2. On a different night a soloist with a guitar is having a similar problem. His solution? He unplugged everything, dragged a chair into the middle of the room, stood on it and sang without amplification. He captivated the entire bar.

I'm a burlesque performer who has performed her art in people's homes, in a church, at a pre-school fundraiser, in bar/cabaret settings, in broadway sized thaeatres, in large concert halls, and in front of an orchestra at Symphony Hall. I've performed in front of thousands of people. I've performed in front of 5 people. I have never instructed people how to react to my art. I have tailored my acts to my audiences. I have improvised mid-act if my original concept wasn't doing the trick. I know I can't please everyone all the time, but I do know that I can sure as hell try. If I have an absolutely stunning costume, I better be able to do that costume justice. Hell, the costume should be trying to do ME justice, not the other way around.

@77 You've clearly only seen the burlesque shows that Savage is pointing out as the ones that should get booed.
If people think this is a negative article, they need to re-read it. If you put something out there as 'art' (which is what burlesque is supposed to be, yes?) then it will be critiqued.

Dan's aim in this article is to see burlesque thrive and grow, not stagnate and disappear. And a bad show is a bad show, no matter who the performer is and/or what the art being performed is.

Take, for example, the singer/songwriter scene in America. It used to be fantastic: people writing and singing about things that mattered, and trying new things musically. Now? It's AAA radio-ready pop-folk mush, with little or no soul. Even the old-timers have lost their fire (except Tom Waits.. that guy is awesome!) The local 'folk societies' are the worst: they have no sense of what they're doing, and it's just a big old back-patting party when you see them together... and it's sooooooo boring! It makes me sad, as folk music doesn't have to be boring (pick up a Kingston Trio live album for the early 60's to see what I mean; I suggest "Live from the Hungry I")

Burlesque could go the same way: too much "you're awesome" and not enough "hey, here's something that didn't work but might if you try something different with it". Constructive criticism is not a bad thing, folks! But we live in a world of 'dare not criticize' and all that PC garbage; everybody's so afraid to offend someone else. Burlesque doesn't thrive in that mindset: it needs to be fun, irreverent, edgey, even at times offensive. And the crowd should feel free to be a little lewd themselves: this isn't the Disney Channel!
Here we are years since you first wrote this article.
You cannot throw a tissue down in Seattle without hitting a "burlesque performer". I find BQ blasé anymore.
Frankly, it has become more of a Ego Boost than an Empowerment. Women in Burly-Q have become arrogant and in many cases unkind, playing high school games of who's most popular within their many cliques. The only ones in the audience are friends of the women in the show.
I have seen supposed Burly Hierarchy on Facebook's Burly Clubs- shred the likes of Dita Von Tease for the Sin of doing an Opium act, "How dare she? She's NOT Asian like me! OMG!" and the cruel treatment of out of towners, who have similar names to more famous performers, slicing them -up and down as if they, are the keepers of said performers reputations, all to look important to them and receive some sort of nod of "yeah, I had your back, how dare they use part of your name!
There are the so called, main stay performers, who serve up venom to newbies, as if to beckon "Look at Me, I am so fucking important, my opinion weighs so heavily, cuz I take off my clothes" . Well La De Da Snot Face McGraw!
The advent of Burly Con has turned burlesque into a quilting club. Women gathered around, Paying a lofty fee to posture- who has the most rhinestones on their costumes, who has the most feathers in their fans.... They have developed a class system, of who's most important, within their back biting "community" .
Somehow Burly-Q has become way less about a titillating art form, for which it was intended, and much more about who wear's the crown. Their reigning "queen" who had how many swipes before they finally handed her the crown to get rid her of yearly competing- over and over again... like 8 times? Can she not see how belittling that was?
The only true burlesque "Star" we have left is Tamara the Trapeze Lady. Who started the majority of this craft to begin with back in 1999. She still possesses grace and a fine tuned sense of Entertainment.
I agree with you Dan, it's is over saturated and on it's way out, all over again, just like burlesque in the 70's. Goodbye.
All glory to Armitage Shanks!

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