Livestreams and Couch Queens? BHoF goes digital, and we have questions…

21st Century Burlesque Magazine
Poison Ivory is crowned Miss Exotic World, Reigning Queen of Burlesque at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2016. Copyright: John-Paul Bichard for 21st Century Burlesque Magazine

Earlier this year, the Burlesque Hall of Fame announced that, due to the Covid-19 crisis, their annual Weekender – a crucial fundraising event for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum and its precious archive of ecdysiastical treasures – would be postponed until August. 

Today (June 11), BHoF has announced that, with much of the world still under lockdown conditions and travel severely restricted, they have decided to turn the 2020 Weekender into “a virtual burlesque festival”.

And heeere come the questions. 

Will competitors vying for the legendary Miss Exotic World crown – in the 30th year of the pageant, no less – have to strut and strip for glory in their living rooms, or on a freshly hosed patio?  We all watched that Drag Race final, didn’t we? Womp womp. 

Will performers accepted to appear this year get a free pass to next year? Do they have to participate in the virtual fest? Will they still have the same spot in 2021, or have to fight it out with new applicants? 

And what about the online fest itself? Will it be a buffering borefest with constant cam crashes and a tirade of technical teething issues?

We went to the top and got the down-low.

INGA is crowned Miss Exotic World, Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2018 at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2018 in the Orleans Showroom, Las Vegas. Photo © MC Newman
INGA is crowned Miss Exotic World, Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2018 at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2018 in the Orleans Showroom, Las Vegas. Photo © MC Newman

“There’s no way the online event can completely replace the in-person event – which is, after all, first and foremost the Striptease Reunion,” Burlesque Hall of Fame Executive Director Dustin Wax told 21st Century Burlesque Magazine. “And there’s a big difference between performing on a stage in a showroom with a live audience and performing remotely from your living room. So we’re not trying to reproduce the Weekender exactly; we’re trying to do something to capture the spirit and quality of the event, in a way that best makes use of the tools we have at our disposal. 

“We are still very much in the planning stage right now, but the goal is to have events throughout the month, including showcases, museum events, classes and talks, and social events.” 

As Dustin continued, it became clear that this digital pivot may not be a novel exception, but the future of the Weekender – and live entertainment as we know it – indefinitely.

“We don’t know that 2021 will be any different than 2020. Or 2022,” Dustin explains. “There are several theater organizations that predict we won’t have the return of live theater until as late as 2023 – and that’s if a vaccine works out. And if we aren’t competing with dozens of other productions for showrooms after theaters and other venues start failing. 

“So we may find ourselves in the exact same position or even worse next year, and the year after, and if that’s the case, we may as well start figuring out how to produce an event online that meets the high standard of a BHoF production. Additionally, with travel restrictions, we were looking at a lot of fantastic performers from outside the US not being able to attend, which compromises the event anyway.”

Dustin was quick to point out the benefits of an online production too – namely broadcasting to a much larger audience around the world, a chance to try out new ideas, and eliminating a lot of the overhead costs of running the Weekender, for BHoF and those who attend. At a time of great financial hardship – particularly for performers who have lost all their bookings – it makes a lot of sense.

BHoF Executive Producer Joyce Tang with BHoF Executive Director Dustin Wax, Robert Best and Desiré D'Amour at the Barecats Bowling Tournament at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2013.  ©Derek Jackson
BHoF Executive Producer Joyce Tang with BHoF Executive Director Dustin Wax, Robert Best and Desiré D’Amour at the Barecats Bowling Tournament at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2013. ©Derek Jackson

So, what about the Pageant?

“We’re still debating a lot of things, but I think the consensus so far is that there is no way to do a competition like Miss Exotic World has traditionally been this year,” says Dustin. “For one thing, the acts that traditionally compete are geared towards (and selected for) their presence on a big stage with lights and sound, not the kitchen or back patio. 

“But when we think of what the competition really does, it captures a snapshot of what’s good in the burlesque world at a given moment. So that’s what we’re focusing on: how can we best document what burlesque looks like in a world besieged by pandemic and inflamed by social injustice? 

“With that in mind, we’re offering all the selected performers the opportunity to push their acceptance back to next year, and if they want to be part of the online event, they can submit for consideration acts geared towards this year’s reality.”

What about the application process going forward? If BHoF 2020 is going ahead in some form, will 2021 just be a do-over?

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“There is not going to be a festival season this year, which means nobody will be developing and recording new acts, at least not in front of an audience,” Dustin points out. “Which basically means that next year, our applicants will be submitting from the same pool of acts we just built a lineup from, so what would be the point of us reviewing them all over again? 

“On top of that, we recognize that getting accepted to perform at BHoF is a big deal, and we couldn’t imagine telling 100 or so people that they’re going to lose what they worked so hard for this year. Application fees do play a role in the Weekender budget, but we decided that we could manage that. 

“In practical terms, we’ll just move this year’s lineup to 2021 and start more or less from scratch for 2020. There may be some preference given to already-selected performers for this year, but I don’t think we’ve made a hard decision about that yet. Then we’ll probably have a limited selection for next year to fill in the gaps, although it may well be that we have enough alternates already.”

Ray Gunn and Toni Elling in the 60th annual Titans of Tease Burlesque Reunion Showcase at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2017. Image by Honey Beavers, exclusively for 21st Century Burlesque Magazine
Ray Gunn and Toni Elling in the 60th annual Titans of Tease Burlesque Reunion Showcase at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2017. Image by Honey Beavers, exclusively for 21st Century Burlesque Magazine

So what will this digital Weekender look like – and can BHoF guarantee a satisfying user experience for burlesque fanatics on both sides of the screen?

“Our team has been working since last month on the technology side of this, in preparation for our now-postponed live auction,” Dustin assures us. “We’re lucky enough to have a fantastic production team, many of whom it turns out have connections to the broadcast world or streaming technology companies, so we’ve been able to draw on a lot of knowledge and experience. And of course, our team doesn’t do things halfway. 

“The events themselves will be a mix of free, paid, and pay-as-you-wish events. Pricing is still completely up in the air as we don’t even have a hard schedule of events yet, but since we generally won’t have limits on how many can ‘attend’ an event, and people don’t have to make travel arrangements, there shouldn’t be a lot of pressure to get tickets far in advance.”

Dustin assured us there will be much more information released in the next couple of weeks. 

While the information and decision-making Dustin has revealed are pertinent to the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend, it has broader implications for all of us and the ‘new normal’ we may have to come to terms with and adapt to. 

What is a stripper without a stage? Answers on a postcard.

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