Monday, February 21, 2011

So, Burlesque

Becoming part of an underground, albeit thriving, community such as the Vancouver Burlesque community has presented a variety of unforeseen challenges. Yes networking is a challenge, yes finding the funds and time factor as well, and the sporadic nature of creativity can hamper even the most determined performer. Identity may prove to be the most difficult aspect to wrangle.

For some, choosing a performance identity is a matter of being themselves to music. For others, it's the opportunity to become a completely new character. The simplicity of those concepts obscures several important nuances. Going through this process opens your eyes to the fact that whatever characterization you go with - that's the role you are carving out for yourself. It's who you will be to everyone you meet within that community. And they want to know you that way. It's the first thing they will ask - what's your stage name? No matter how inclusive and welcoming people are, they are assessing you in part on this item. That's because creating yourself within a closed, tightly knit community requires you pick up on the politics of that space almost before you start.

Does someone in your area already have the performance name that you've chosen? Does your chosen name sound too close to anyone else's? You don't want to step on any toes right out of the gate. Likewise, somehow you have to develop routines and a style that don't bite on what anyone else has got going on. These are gestures of basic respect for the genre and other performers, much like listening to the flow of a conversation before interjecting your own opinions on the topic to show that you're engaging with the other participants, not just masturbating in public.

Once you start to think about your creative efforts in this way, you can get further mired in these sorts of considerations. Are you doing songs that are "appropriate," ie. has anyone else been doing that song in your area, has that song been part of any keystone historical performances, and whatnot. You run the risk of seriously offending people on two fronts when it comes to song choice. If you aren't intimately familiar with your local scene, you may not know that one of the other established performers does that song, perhaps on a regular basis, perhaps as a signature performance. If you're new to burlesque, you may not be tremendously aware of the history of the genre. Have you attempted a performance that is already "owned" by one of the legends of burlesque? If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," then you're in trouble.

These quagmires might incline you not to over determine your performance character until you've been performing for some time. Yet, for those starting off, you need somewhere to start and having a character and aesthetic can provide a platform for you to jump off at. The resulting tension is frustrating.