Friday, February 24, 2012

Face, Face, Give Me Face!

On Utilizing One of Your Best, and Most Visible, Assets.
by Allix Mortis, Rogue Burlesque         

In my professional, non-performing career, I’ve had to spend a lot of time in front of cameras.  As such, I’ve seen a fair number of really not-so-hot photos of myself.  Eventually I started to familiarize myself with my best angles so that I’d never have to live down a “hilarious” Flickr shot or an unflattering candid again.

Photo by Lee Kilpatrick
When I started burlesque, though, I needed more than angles.  Some of the best tips I learned related to facial expressions. As Dixie Douya told us, “it’s all a confidence game.” Early on in my performing career, Kitty Spanks counseled that I could “hide some of my jitters behind great faces.” And so I started to hide my nerves, and work my attitude, behind big smiles, big eyes, and big “holy shit!” moments.

On Twitter, Michelle L’Amour’s “tease tips” hashtag offered: “Give good face. Work on facial expression by sitting in front of the mirror and doing your act just with your face.”

I took the above #teasetip to heart and started to study my expressions as I had angles and photographs. Even now, I look at clips of my favorite performers -- comedic, musical, and burlesque -- and try to emulate their expressions. I work my facial muscles; I test the limits of my smile, my frown, my pout. I compare my expressions when I’m not made up with how they read with the full “Allix” face of foundation, lipstick, lashes, etc.

Giving plenty of face can take a simple strip from basic to bombastic, in a fabulous way. Here are my favorite recommendations for learning to work your face:

Photo by rubicat design & photography
1. Have a friend take photos of you from various angles. If you don’t have a friend (which I doubt), grab your cell phone and take self-portraits. Make note of which expressions, angles, and lines you like the best. Practice these in the mirror. Get to know the feelings your facial muscles make when you’re creating those expressions, and memorize them so that you can make those same expressions without a mirror in front of you.

2. Mimic! Check out clips of your favorite performers and comedians and try recreating their signature faces. I love watching Maya Rudolph, Nicki Minaj, Kristen Wiig, and just about any 70s or 80s metal frontman. (Seriously, Dio, Alice Cooper, Dee Snider -- dudes know how to give face).

3. Outline the faces for your routine. Just as I choreograph the steps, reveals, and dance portions of my routines, I also choreograph my faces. I sit in front of a mirror while my music plays and make note of moments when I can convey certain feelings or even anticipation with my face. I practice big moments as well as eyes-only moments. I’ll listen to my music on repeat until I can do the expressions on auto-pilot, focusing my energy on reveals and removes instead. Bonus: If you have a hiccup in your routine, keeping your face in check can really save things. (Dita Von Teese is great at this and she makes really subtle facial expressions).

4. Finally, ask for feedback! Make faces at your troupemates, your partner, your coworker, your kitty, whomever. Ask if they can tell which emotion your expressing or what you’re relating. Adjust or exaggerate based on their feedback. (Note: kitties are not helpful with this part of the feedback).

Now go forth and give face. And remember: If your expression feels over the top, it's probably perfect!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Crushin’ on the Boston Burlesque Scene

A tingly feeling I got after performing for Mary Widow’s Dirty 30 in June 2011
By Sugar Dish, Babes in Boinkland

Birthday Girl Mary Widow
Photo by Albie Colantonio
After the show tonight I got in a cab and promptly noticed that I was without my phone.

I didn't care.

I got home and spent close to an hour trying to tweeze a shard of glass out of my foot.

I didn't care.

I had glass in my foot because at the sound of the opening notes of "Purple Rain" I was completely transcended. I danced my ass off. Barefoot. I was asked, "Are you on acid?" No. I was the moment. For those of you who were there, wondering about my display, that was ME. I wasn't performing. I was just IN it.

Tonight was special, and a number of us asked why tonight was so different from other nights.

I'll tell you.

Insane dirty cake made by DSI Incorporated crew
In this show we were performing for one of our own. No offense, audience, but it makes an immense difference. I was moved to tears because of the level of fucked-up creative genius that happened on stage. I was amazed at the crew's seriously hardcore dedication to building the most ridiculous set pieces.

We danced and caroused and laughed and danced and entertained the FUCK out of this night.

This is my life. This is our life. We work our asses off or this life. And it's worth every fucking moment.

At the very close of the night I was able to drop all game face, all pretense, and just dance the way I felt...and in my civvies!...because I was so completely at home there at the circus. I know I've quoted her before, and I'll do it again, because her words speak to me so clearly. Ani Difranco, PREACH!:

Mary Widow receiving her birthday flogging!
Photo by Albie Colantonio
life in the circus ain't easy
but the folks on the outside don't know
the tent goes up and the tent comes down
and all that they see is the show
and the ladies on the horses look so pretty
and the lions are lookin real mad
and some of the clowns are happy
and some of the clowns are sad

but underneath
there's another expression
that the makeup isn't making
life under the big top
it's about freedom
it's about faking
there's an art to the laughter
there's a science

You need a lot of LOVE and COMPLIANCE.

Thank you all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Shit Burlesque Dancers Say - Part 4

If you have to ask, you do not have enough glitter on!

Boston Burlesque parody of "Shit Girls Say". Directed, shot and cut by Julia Van Daam, Alpha Girl Films, Starring Some of Boston's best Burlesque artists: Lolli Hoops, Femme Brûlée, Sugar Dish and Abby Normal.

Shit Burlesque Dancers Say - Part 3


Boston Burlesque parody of "Shit Girls Say". Directed, shot and cut by Julia Van Daam, Alpha Girl Films, Starring Some of Boston's best Burlesque artists: Lolli Hoops, Femme Brûlée, Sugar Dish and Abby Normal.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Newbie Burlesque: More Than a State of Undress

by Sweeney Tawdry

As I turned thirty this past year, I wanted to prove that I still had the ability to surprise myself.  Rogue Burlesque’s Lucky 13 Amateur Burlesque Competition was the challenge I needed.  Of course, it is no shock that burlesque ends in some state of undress.  The process of becoming a newbie performer, however, is every bit as tantalizing and revealing as the striptease -- both personally and on stage.

Photo by Lee Kilpatrick
Assessing My Talents:  With a background in ballet and assorted church plays, my background wasn't a puzzle-piece fit for burlesque.  I had a certain degree of comfort with being on stage, but I wasn't sure how to translate that energy into a different art form.

Doing My Homework:  Going to several troupes’ performances around town was an education.  Some troupes relied heavily on highly choreographed routines.  Some involved clever skits and more comedy and acting.  Others included the talents of hooping, belly dancing, pointe and pole dancing.  The common thread running through them all was a trail of glitter. After watching the highly recommended documentaries Behind the Burly Q and A Wink and a Smile, I began to appreciate the rich history and inclusiveness of this long-standing tradition.

Picking a Song:  Counting off steps to movement was nearly an internal metronome after my years in the ballet, so I chose a song I could dance to with ease: Janelle Monae's "Tightrope."  I began in front of the mirror in my room, plotting out my movements based on the amount of space the Middlesex Lounge stage provided.  Slowly, the routine came together, and the frightening reality of my imminent workshop with the ladies of Rogue became apparent.

The Workshop:  Many challenges in life are easily escaped without some sense of accountability.  The workshop -- an informal recital of the piece I'd been working on, yet in front of impartial and supportive burlesquers -- was what kept me from running.  I displayed what had been a bedroom flirtation and waited for their constructive criticism.

"You want to incorporate the tease into the dancing."

"Remember, this isn't just dancing with incidental taking clothes off."

"Once you get your outfit together, the tease will become easier!"

The workshop armed me with information and confidence. It was time to reward myself with some fun.

The Get-Up: I am fortunate enough to work a hop, skip and a jump away from a drag boutique, Dorothy's.  Dashing over during breaks at work was like going on a secret mission, and returning with fishnet tights, a lacy tutu, and a sparkly push-'em-to-the-sky bra felt like a top secret mission.  A friend gave me a pair of lovely, sequined, peacock- colored pasties with tassels that she'd gotten from New Orleans, and a guy friend loaned me a suit vest.  Armed with items purchased, borrowed and given, I felt like I had all the elements to give me the final push on the stage. 

TA-DAAAA:  The night of the performance, I gathered all the friends who felt comfortable seeing me partially nude.  This was a mire of social mores in and of itself, and certainly a topic of much discussion. The audience was the fourth judge in the competition, so stuffing the crowd full of supporters was a must.  Third in the line of thirteen performers, I waited in the wings for emcee/comedienne Liz Fang to rile the crowd up.  In a state of frenzied anxiety, I actually jumped up and down and shook my arms out, like a bedazzled athlete before the big game.  The routine, lasting all of about four minutes, whizzed by.  The excitement of the crowd bolstered my confidence to throw in an extra toss of hair, a wider smile, and a more dramatic pop of the hip.  By the time the whirl of flying clothes and precariously affixed pasties died down, I found myself standing in the Middlesex Lounge bathroom, out of breath, grinning from ear to ear.

Yes, burlesque does end up in some state of undress.  Being a newbie, I thought the biggest challenge was being comfortable with partial nudity in front of a crowd.  Yet, when all was said and done, more was done than said, and that is not something to be taken lightly.  I admired the charm, the tenacity, the humor and the creativity of each of the dancers I saw, and I realize now that, more than anything, burlesque is about being comfortable with yourself and your own individual talents.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Shit Burlesque Dancers Say - Part 2

Boston Burlesque parody of "Shit Girls Say". Directed, shot and cut by Julia Van Daam, Alpha Girl Films, Starring Some of Boston's best Burlesque artists: Lolli Hoops, Femme Brûlée, Sugar Dish and Abby Normal.

Shit Burlesque Dancers Say - Part 1

Boston Burlesque parody of "Shit Girls Say". Directed, shot and cut by Julia Van Daam, Alpha Girl Films, Starring Some of Boston's best Burlesque artists: Lolli Hoops, Femme Brûlée, Sugar Dish and Abby Normal.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Say It Loud, I'm a Dork and I'm Proud!

by Mary Widow of Black Cat Burlesque

Mary and her glasses
Growing up, most of us burlesque beauties weren’t the prettiest or most popular people in class. In fact, most of us were nerds, outcasts, drama club members, art room kids, band geeks, “lesbos,” “fags,” freaks, and weirdos (all titles we are still proud to hold!). As a child, I was skinny, gangly, wore huge glasses, and didn’t know what to do with my curly hair, so I let it frizz out every which way. My dad was my hero and he is still the goofiest guy I know. He introduced me to Spike Jones, Monty Python, and the Marx Brothers.

When I started making silly tapes, and writing parodies of Shakespeare in elementary school, he was my #1 fan. My Sony Walkman saw an odd rotation of genres, ranging from (but not limited to) “Weird Al” Yankovic, Queen, Twisted Sister, jazz standards, barbershop quartets, Janis Joplin, and New Kids on the Block. The Muppets were more real and relevant to me than any characters on Beverly Hills, 90210.

I had dorky friends. In fifth grade, we got called “the Nerd Herd” by the popular kids in our class, and we didn’t mind at all. I looked up to people who were silly like me, or weird like me. I was never afraid to be myself, even when other kids didn’t understand me. My dorkiness never stopped me from thinking I deserved attention from the opposite sex, either. I was voted “class flirt” in sixth grade (though not one single person seemed to flirt back -- I mean, who could resist a gal with giant glasses whose ideal mate knew all the lyrics to “The Lumberjack Song”??).

In my early 20s, Black Cat Burlesque formed, and my life changed forever. I finally found an art form where I could express myself however dorkily or sexily I wanted, and be applauded for it. The founder, Devilicia, taught me that we can use this art form to live out our wildest fantasies, and recognize all of the oddities that inspired us. One of our first shows was a tribute to Russ Meyer, where Dev did an act with a real fish in homage to Meyer’s movie Vixen. J. Cannibal helped me push ideas further than “let’s dress up like these characters and take our clothes off.” And burlesque as a genre isn’t just about taking your clothes off, it’s about telling a story, taking the audience on a journey with you. Black Cat got a well deserved reputation for taking an act, leading the audience in one direction, and grabbing them with a twist ending. We also strove for authenticity whenever possible. If you’re gonna rip someone’s guts out on stage, they’d better look like guts – or else.

Mary as "Marko"
Through my journey as a burlesque performer, I’ve been able to portray so many characters that meant a lot to me growing up. Black Cat had a beautiful and gory “werewolf suite” where I played Little Red Riding Hood. J. Cannibal and I have a spectacularly bloody “Freddy vs. Jason” act (complete with latex face on yours truly). In 2008, we did a shadowcast of The Lost Boys, where I portrayed Marko, the vampire played by Alex Winter, a.k.a. “Bill S. Preston, Esquire” from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure…the list goes on and on. We’ve even done an epic, eight-minute act based on Sumerian mythology. Then in 2010, I hit my pinnacle of dork/fan burlesque: my Jareth act.

Mary as Jareth
There aren’t many ladies who grew up in the 80s who didn’t love Jareth the Goblin King, (played by David Bowie in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth). As a personal rule as a performer, I won’t do an act until I feel it meets my standards. I won’t just get on stage dressed as a character; I’ve got to tell a story, and then push it a little further, and further, and further, until the audience is forced to say, “What the hell is happening? This is awesome!” Jareth is by far my most popular and most requested act to date. I love it, and I love performing it. If I retired from burlesque tomorrow, I would be proud to have that act as my legacy.

Mary meets her idol, Weird Al!

In 2011, I got to perform with one of my childhood idols, “Weird Al.” It was a chance opportunity that fell in to my lap, and it was an incredible experience. Everyone in the band and crew were extremely nice, and a pleasure to work for. After the show, I hugged Al and told him that I had been a fan since I was little, and that it meant a lot to me to perform with them. The picture taken of the two of us is him saying “Awww!” and hugging me back. After the photo session, Honey Pie (of Babes in Boinkland) and I were having a drink with Jim “Kimo” West (guitar player and all around super-nice guy) and I said to him, “I really appreciate that you guys are still around. ‘Weird Al’ was MAJOR for me when I was growing up, and I found my true friends back then because we were all goofballs and weirdos, and I think what you do is really important.” He thanked me and said that the reason they are still doing it is because Al is timeless, he’s always parodying something current. He told me that a week before their Boston show, he looked up into the balcony and saw a row of 8-year-old girls holding a sign that said “We Love Weird Al!” I smiled and had a warm feeling for those girls. I was happy that they had each other, like I have my burlesque community. I was proud that there is a new generation of people who love weirdness, and aren’t afraid to admit it.

When I first came on the scene, we were swimming in a sea of burlesque revival, and we seemed to be the only weirdos in town. That is not the case anymore! I’ve had newer performers come to me and say “You guys were the first burlesque I ever saw and now I have my own troupe!” Or, “I didn’t think I liked burlesque until I saw you.” That feels amazing, and I couldn’t be prouder. In 2008 I was dubbed “Boston’s Burlesque Queen” by Lola magazine, and was featured in this year’s Halloween issue of Pin Up America magazine. I have had a long and exciting journey and it’s not over yet!

To the weirdos reading this: I want to tell you to love who you are, express yourself, and don’t be afraid. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. I will continue to be a dork, “class flirt,” and a force to be reckoned with. I will challenge you and ask you to join me.

See video of Mary Widow and Honey Pie performing with Weird Al Yankovic!