Bettie Blackheart’s BurlyCon 2014 Diary
21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene…
The Lean, Mean Glitter Machine: BURLYCON! You stole my heart!
Ever since the first BurlyCon was organised I have followed its development from a smaller gathering to a huge convention with as many as 600 participants. Through the years I have heard so many good things about BurlyCon from so many performers I respect that I was really intrigued and happy to finally be able to travel to Seattle and see for myself what it was all about.
Just looking at the program in advance was breathtaking – so many fantastic classes to take. I was invited to teach my brand new class, Viking Goddess Workout, and give two lectures, one about The History of Finnish Burlesque and the second about Producing a Festival.
The fun started at the airport when Minnie Tonka, Legs Malone and Cheeky Cheetah all boarded the same plane with me. I couldn’t wait to see so many people I hadn’t met in a while, and of course to get to know new ones too.
I had posted on the BurlyCon message board on Facebook that I needed somewhere to sleep the first night before joining my roomies, Dr. Lucky, Nasty Canasta and Kellita, on Thursday. I got a kind offer only five minutes after posting: Marissa Young, aka Loxie Arcane, offered a bed in her room. This was the first real example of how warm the community feel was at BurlyCon.
The first night we watched American Horror Story with Mat Fraser making his glorious appearance in the series. Loxie Arcane was preparing for Peer Reviews which she had signed up for. This was also something I had heard a lot about: two nights of acts that performers want feedback on, reviewed by everyone willing to join and a selected group of guest instructors. I must say, it is a brave and intriguing thing to take your act up there to be reviewed. Bright light, classroom feel, and all your colleagues watching with pen and paper ready to make notes on what they think could be changed, what is good, etc. I was truly looking forward to seeing the acts and it was fun to hear how it feels from someone who was going to do it.
Thursday, it all officially starts! Thursday started with briefly being able to catch up with the headmistress, Indigo Blue. She was naturally super busy and the only way to talk with her was to follow her around for a while. She also let me in the mythical headquarters suite and I have to say it impressed me and immediately gave me a few new ideas for my own festival.
Thursday was also when I had my first class, Producing a Festival. I was a bit worried if anyone would show up since it was already 2pm, but the room filled up quickly and I had such a good time sharing what I’ve learned during my producing years. It was also interesting and relieving to many to find out that so many people share the same problems and worries when producing. I think that one big thing in producing burlesque is that we are all very passionate about it and for most it starts as a hobby and becomes a career. And when the transition period is different for people within your group, the questions of leadership and professionalism can cause massive amounts of friction. Starting out as a group of friends who decide to do a fun project together and suddenly being thrown into a whirlwind of huge things to solve is very hard, and the sad thing is that sometimes to solve things you really need to step up and be the ‘bad guy’. It takes all your time and more to produce, and as many of us are also performers and trying to keep up a daily life, too, it is massive. I think planning ahead if you are really, really willing to give it that much is vital to make a production successful. There are still so many things to learn, and every year and any time something goes wrong you can get better.
After my own class it was time for the BurlyCon learning to start. Straight after was Rosie Bitts’ class about getting sponsors. It was very helpful and interesting to hear about because of the different culture when it comes to approaching people. We in the Nordic countries are often too shy to tell people about what we can do. We immediately feel like we are bragging, and in scoring sponsorship deals that is not a working combo.
Then off to Dr. Lucky’s class, The Explicit Body as a Palimpsest. I have to say I really enjoyed it and it put my brain in the right mode for listening and learning and gave food for thought to consider later. It is easy to understand why she is a highly respected teacher in many fields. I really adore it when someone has the ability to explain conceptual things without alienating the audience.
In the evening there were gatherings – birds of a feather caucuses that created good chances for networking.
Then came the first night of Peer Reviews, hosted by Waxie Moon and Elsa Von Schmaltz. Twelve incredibly brave performers were ready to share their acts with their colleagues. The special guest judges were the legendary Princess Farhana – a guest of honour, the choreographer-dancer Willy Barrett, and Ophelia Flame – a new board member of BurlyCon. It was a learning experience for both the performers and the viewers; when you need to view an act with specific questions in mind, like how, why and why not, you are bound to take some pointers away with you. Also the fact that the performers were both seasoned and newcomers made it very interesting. It’s also very intriguing to see how people respond to feedback; you can either really treasure it and grow from what people see or become defensive. It was such a treat to see my fun roomie from the first night, Loxie Arcane, bringing her act onstage.
On Friday morning I could not take the classes I wanted to, such as Legs Malone’s Zen Stretching, because there was Helsinki Burlesque Festival stuff that urgently needed mending. I went straight into my own class, The History of Burlesque in Finland. I just love showing the photos from the old cabaret theatre we had in the fourties to sixties in Helsinki. We have the joy of still having two ladies around from that time who have shared their stories with us. We are so proud to have legends of our own.
I still managed to take some classes, like Social Media Marketing for Winners by Jo Jo Stiletto and Erica McGilliwray, and I had a lovely time catching up with friends like the incomparable Kitten De Ville, who graced the stage in Helsinki earlier in the year. She is a true treasure in the community, warm and wise, and what could be sexier than that? Peer Reviews took place again that evening, where Ernie Von Shmaltz shared his manhood with us in a very poetic way! Later in the evening it was time for the Lust in Space themed party and class photo. I did not bring a costume for the party as I thought BurlyCon was all about not dressing up, but I regretted that; next time I want to dress up for the big partay! The BurlyCon boss ladies Miss Indigo Blue and Jo Boobs looked spaceamazing! I decided to make it an early night to be able to learn on Saturday with a clear mind.
Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hospitality lounge, it was time to get my mind blown in Bic Carrol’s Easy Tips For Burlesque Costuming class. Whoa! This man! I took so many notes that I still haven’t been able to go through all of them. Bic is such a fantastic person. I admire his honesty and his ability to talk about his life and paint such a vivid periodical picture of the entertainment business. I went to all his classes, just to listen and enjoy. People, listen to your legends!
There was more costuming in the lovely Bettina May’s class. Her passion for creating cruelty free costumes is truly admirable and she is like a mad scientist experimenting with materials!
Then I was off to Vivenne Vavoom’s Drag in the Sixties class. I loved it! I love this lady, her knowledge and research is so thorough.
On Saturday I also realised that there is only so much you can take in, so I tried to just relax and have chats with friends. One big thing was visiting the Atomic Cosmetics store. It was the first time I actually got my hands on those products and I was very impressed by many of them. My Femme Fatale lipstick is my favourite and I already dread the day it will be finished. Luckily Atomic Cosmetics are able to ship to Europe, too. Oh, and did I mention the bathtub full of bubbly? It made for a truly fulfilling shopping experience!
The vendor fair was a blast too, with so many things to see, touch, dream of and purchase. My favourites were the BodyFX Burlesque foam and latex pasties and merkins. I got myself a fierce Viking set, a really metallic looking one that is still light and very transportable. Also, my Booty and the Geek pirate style shorts have been a hit in my dance classes here in Finland; I think they may have received some orders from this side of the world.
Sunday morning I had an early exercise class, my Viking Goddess Workout, which is one of my favourites to do. Again I was a bit worried if anyone would wake up on Sunday morning to take the class, and once again I was proven wrong. The class was a full house and it was so special to teach a class with students like Jo Boobs, Kitten De Ville, Bettina May, Dr. Lucky, etc.
On Sunday afternoon there was a panel discussion which I was invited to join. It was about how to put your best foot forward in applying to festivals and competitions led by Dustin M. Wax. This was one of the times when I wish there had been more time to dig deeper into the subject.
The last but by far not least class that I took was Jen Gapay’s Collaboration class: how to share and delegate responsibility. I have followed and admired Jen’s work for years and it was such a pleasure to hear her thoughts about this topic that is so often very hard for individuals with a strong vision. Also the little chats with Jen during the weekend were very enjoyable. That is what BurlyCon offers – the chance to share ideas and thoughts with fellow performers and producers without the stress and hurry of a show.
I had thought BurlyCon was something I definitely needed to do one day, but it exceeded my expectations. It is such a massive effort from the whole team and makes my heart warm to think about all the passion put into it. I recommend the event 100% for everyone who wants to develop themselves as performers or producers, or just people who love burlesque. It has so many different things to offer and the networking and sharing is so useful and vital for all of us to be able to keep on going. I love you all, old and new friends made at BurlyCon. I hope BurlyCon will keep on going and growing; next year it will be in an even bigger venue!
See you next time!
21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.