The fabulous Penny Starr Jr. is back with a piece on why you should go to burlesque festivals, and how to survive the post-fest glitter crash…
If you haven’t been to a burlesque festival, what are you waiting for? Being in one should always be an honour, but even if you are not in one, you should attend them. It’s one-stop shopping on the best of the local scene, national and international performers.* Why would you not want to go to the best burlesque show of the year in your own backyard? You can network, meet new performers, and connect the person with their facebook avatar. I can’t tell you how many opportunities have come up from meeting people at festivals. Also, if you do not support your local burlesque festival, you risk the chance of the festival never returning. (Which of our shows can survive a lack of financial or public support?)
If you want to hit the circuit, there are a few things you should know before you start shelling out application fees**:
1. Application fees are necessary. I think we can all agree that most burlesque video is shot by an unskilled camera operator with stage (not video) lighting on a stage that may not be an attractive background. I find watching burlesque performance on video virtually unbearable. Now, imagine watching 200 of them. Those application fees go to paying people to slog through submissions in their entirety, and those fees can often be seed money for a fest to book a bigger venue, fly in headliners, etc. If you are upset at the price of application fees, then you do not want to know how much a fest is going to cost you (see #4).
2. Have a burlesque festival style act. So many performers are working little bar shows these days, throwing acts together at the last minute for whatever theme/nerd show is coming up. Find your biggest, best act, add more to it, get some honest feedback on how to make it better, and submit that. Because every local scene is already filled with performers throwing acts together at the last minute for whatever theme/nerd show is coming up. Also note, this may be difficult in that burlesque festival stages are usually larger than local stages. How do you hone a burlesque festival act that may engulf your local stage? There is no easy answer for this.
3. Never submit an act you haven’t been doing for at least a year. This is live theatre and we only get to the next level by honing our work in front of live audiences. What act can you think of that didn’t get better with age? And the beauty of festivals is there is always one next year. Rushing an act has less odds of making it into a burlesque festival than taking your time and perfecting one.
4. Burlesque festivals are not cheap. Travel to and from, accommodations, food, travel to and from the venue from your hotel, not to mention many burlesque festivals do not provide tickets to shows or workshops just because you are performing in them. Do sign up for frequent flier miles, share a hotel room with others, order a mini fridge in your hotel room or pack a soft sided cooler for snacks. Some performers, like myself, will sell merch to offset the cost, but that has its own headaches in making merch no other vendor will have (I have yet to be at a burlesque festival with less than three different pastie vendors), juggling a merch booth and performing (who watches your booth while you are on stage?) and another suitcase to drag (between the merch, the displays, and my costumes, I barely have room for clothes).
With all that being said, I’ve never regretted attending a burlesque festival. It’s a weekend of drinking with your distant burlesque cousins, getting a chance to perform for some burlesque royalty, and a chance to get out of Dodge and see what others people are doing in their communities. The jolt of inspiration you get from it can last months.
But the one thing no one talks about is the slight depression that can seep in after a burlesque festival. You may have noticed those kinds of status updates after the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. Those ‘I love you all’, ‘I miss my burly-Q family’, ‘Muggle life sucks’ posts. This is the affliction known as Glitter Crash. Its cause is a combination of stress prepping for the fest, sleep deprivation, lack of a healthy diet (so many performers exist on power bars and fast food during), the toll of traveling, not getting any privacy in a room of strippers — yeah, this is pretty much how you’d go about torturing someone, or at least brainwashing them. Glitter Crash in a way is a form of Stockholm Syndrome. How can you live without the kidnapper/festival? All you’ve known is the kidnapper/festival. All hail the kidnapper/festival! Glitter Crash is not just related to burlesque festivals, but any large scale event or show that requires a ramping up of your attention which becomes all consuming for a short period of time. This can be a bigger run of a local show, or Comic-Con.
So how do you combat the general malaise that comes with the territory? Because in most cases, you need to snap out of it. You can’t spend weeks being mooney about the burlesque festival when you have a day job to show up at or shows to rehearse. Well, I’m here to tell you there are a few steps you can take to battle it:
1. Take a breather. Generally when I return from a burlesque festival, I lie about when I get back into town. I buy myself at least a day before I dive head first right back into the hustle.
2. Work out. It’s a known fact that exercise raises the endorphins in your body. Jump back into your workout regime as soon as possible. Or dance around in your living room to start. Either way, get moving!
3. Sleep. Did you know that when you have a sleep deficit your body needs to make up the difference at some point? You need between six to nine hours a night depending on your age. If you spend a long weekend only getting four hours each night, you owe your body two to five hours per night to catch up. This can take up to a week to work itself out. (Again, another reason I give myself an extra day before I tell anyone I’m back in LA — rampant napping!)
4. Eat as many veggies as possible. Because you just ate mostly none during the burlesque festival. And, no, French fries and iceberg lettuce do not count.
5. Find some non-burlesque happiness. Play with a pet, play with a spouse. Go to the movies. Go hear live music. Make some art. Remind yourself that you (legal name) existed before (stage name) and (legal name) has needs too!
And then, once you’ve settled back into you, answered all those new friend requests and reposted all those pictures on Instagram, then you can start planning for next year.
* One of the pitfalls of local performers at burlesque festivals is they treat them as just another show, not a chance to perform for a larger audience that may not have attended just any show. Also, those national/headliners brought in to perform may be watching some of the show, so you might be performing for them. Would you really want a hastily thrown together act the thing Ray Gunn or Jo Weldon sees as an example of your work?
** There are many blogs devoted to this topic that go into great detail about this process. Do check out blogs by Sydni Deveraux, Jo Weldon, Princess Farhana and Sparkly Devil to name a few.
Penny Starr Jr.
After spending three years making the documentary, ‘The Velvet Hammer Burlesque’, it was no wonder that Penny decided to pick up the mantle held by her grandmother, Philadelphia burlesque dancer, Penny Starr. Or, as Penny Starr Jr. puts it, ”You can only live with the circus for so long before you want to join!”(She and Penny, Sr. have performed the first and only grandmother/granddaughterstriptease act.) One year later, in 2004, Penny Starr, Jr. became First Runner-Up at the annual Miss Exotic World (Burlesque Hall of Fame) burlesque pageant. She has performed and/or instructed at a number of legendary venues, shows and festivals, including the Va Va Voom Room, Starshine Burlesque, Margaret Cho’s ‘The Sensuous Woman’, the Slipper Room NYC, Tease-o-Rama, BHoF, BurlyCon and the New York Burlesque Festival. A centerfold and columnist, Penny has also consulted on such shows as Chuck (including a cameo as a bachelor party stripper), ‘Castle’, and has recently taught tassel twirling to the cast of ‘Water for Elephants’.