My act was not accepted to compete this year at BHOF. Of course I was disappointed. I spent a full 15 minutes in a mad quasi-pity-party, trying to figure out how fast I could sell off my weekend pass before I reminded myself of my own reasons for competing in the first place: I compete to best myself, to one up myself and to push myself to my own next level. So, was the version of the act I submitted my very best work, was it my next level? The honest answer is "not yet."
Do I believe I'm a good enough performer to be on that stage no matter what the act is? Yes. Do I want to be on it without my best work to support me? No. Putting ego aside, how do I feel about not getting in this year? RELIEF. Seriously, I feel like the universe or Madeline Kahn (guardian angel) is really looking out for me.
Despite being well into the second year of development on my Banana Peel act, the truth is that the act it isn't fully cooked. My 7 foot long banana prop is at this very moment in my friends' workshop- totally gutted, awating a new fiberglass coating...I won't meet with my costume designer in Seattle until April to re-make the undergarments with some new effects...even the more portable version of the act I perform regularly doesn't have set choreography- I perform it differently every time...not to mention the fact that I haven't road tested the full act with giant prop as much as I would like in order to be ready for the biggest stage in the burlesque world.
|Film Noir 2006 Photo: Don Spiro|
Monkey and I have made the June pilgrimage to Burlesque Hall of Fame / Exotic World every year since 2005...the final year in the desert...street cred! Here is an outline of what I've done each year:
2005: Competed for Best Duo with our foot-balancing fan dance. Winners: Wau Wau Sisters
2006: Competed for Best Duo- WE WON performing Film Noir
2007: Performed stepping down Best Duo act- Total Eclipse of the Heart
2008: Competed for MEW Title- Placed Second Runner Up with Mermaid. Winner: Angie Pontani
2009: Competed for MEW title with Flea Circus. Winner: Kalani Kokonuts. Monkey also competed for Best Boylesque with his Marching Band number. Winner: Hot Toddy
2010: Competed for MEW/RQ title with Viking. Winner: Roxi D'Lite. ALSO Monkey won Best Boylesque
2011: Performed Thursday at Innovators, Movers, Shakers with Jail Bait. Performed Sunday with Monkey performing Gypsy Little.
2012: Competed and Placed 2nd Runner Up with my Balloon number. Winner: Imogen Kelly. Performed Sunday with Monkey- Kama Sutra Duo Trapeze.
2013: First year ever I didn't perform- I just watched and it was wonderful!
|Viking 2010 Photo: Derek Jackson|
I live in New York. I mostly create new acts to keep working. Luckily I work in venues that push me to do it all: classic burlesque, circus and even late night whacked out shit. I also create acts for my own cabaret shows with Monkey. I'm creating new work constantly. The gestation period of a new act is so wildly different, it's like I could be giving birth to flies, puppies or a giraffe. Each act needs different things, some simple and some complex.
Last night at a gig, I watched a juggler who had just won silver at the Cirque De Demain, one of the most illustrious circus competitions in the world. His act was simple, moving and heart-tugging. He only juggled 3 rings and an umbrella. I actually know his coach well, so I easily imagined what went into the creation of that act. It reminded me how in burlesque our frame of reference is so much shorter, people are expected to churn out big, impressive Vegas-size acts year after year. And it's possible because burlesque is very image-oriented, you can outsource costumes and props. But in circus, a performer may perform one single act for a decade or a lifetime. Because it's skill oriented, it can't be bought. I happily straddle those two worlds because I believe in choosing the harder road. The rewards are bigger. And by rewards, I mean that illusive feeling of accomplishment.
Even if I had tons of money to pay a dozen designers at once it wouldn't really matter. It takes me time to really think about the clever details that make my performances ME. No one can do that for me. I'm not a dancer. I consider myself a physical character actor. There's no formula for making acts that are truly smart, sexy and unique with a great payoff...it's just a grueling and continuous slog of trial and error. Circus and theater have prepared me for that endless slog. Burlesque makes us much more vain and we need more ego stroking. But it gets fun when we put ego aside and do the real work. Ultimately, we arrive at an act that makes us evolve as artists and humans. And then we create a whole show that does that. And then we create a body of work that does it again. And so on...until we're out of ideas. Or dead.
MY DEFINITION OF A FULLY REALIZED ACT:
*Has a clever premise, unique story or strong driving theme
*Has music that serves the idea and makes me feel sexy
*Has physical tricks seamlessly integrated with thoughtful costume reveals
*Has tricks that increase in difficulty/impressiveness as the act goes on
*Has a professional level costume
*Has a great pay-off
*Has set choreography with juicy character moments that I perform in the same order every time.
The last one is the stickler. That's where the "endless slog of trial and error" comes in.
|Balloon 2012 Photo: Derek Jackson|
In 2011, my Balloon act wasn't accepted either. In 2012, I competed with it and placed 2nd runner up. Now, that act is one a small handful that I consider fully cooked- I do it the same way every time and it still makes me happy. In hindsight, I am really grateful I wasn't accepted the first year I applied!
Performing on that stage is one of the greatest thrills and most horrifying nightmares. BHOF is hard because:
1. The stage is the size of a football field. It's like a giant still lake where every hesitation or poor choice ripples out endlessly across the surface.
2. The audience is made up of your peers. They have literally seen it all, so it is both hard and easy to impress them.
MY ADVICE TO OTHERS NOT ACCEPTED? HERE IT IS:
*You weren't rejected. Your act was. There is a difference.
*Don't compare yourself to other people. It's really pointless, I don't need to explain why.
*Set your ego aside and and ask yourself if what you submitted was your personal best? Or was it something you thought was classic/elegant/typical you figured was what "THEY" were looking for? If it was your best, keep refining and apply again. If it wasn't, keep going.
*Focus on bringing the most YOU to every act, stop worrying about judges, the selection panel, the legends, your peers. Keep doing you. Sounds obvious, but can't be stated enough.
*The only reward is the feeling of executing your act to perfection. You can do that on any stage in the world.
*Don't get discouraged. I read in a book that the single defining characteristic of an optimist is the speed at which they rebound from rejection and adversity. So, all we can do is get up and get back to work.
I'm accepting that my Banana Peel is still in development, and I'm really excited to finish it...hopefully in 2014. And I'm lucky that Monkey and I will still get to perform together in Vegas on Sunday. We will be digging out an act that we've always felt was about 75% cooked and will be working diligently this spring to bake that fucker to a perfect golden brown so we can perform the hell out of it and feel 100% satisfied.
See you in Vegas, Bitches!