BurlyCon 2008 to 2010: A Retrospective.
I have been a part of planning BurlyCon in different ways since its beginning three years ago, and just like a fine wine – it gets better with age. In the last two years (just two years!) the number of attendees has DOUBLED in size, a testimony that burlesque is here to stay. BurlyCon is constantly evolving, and many people from all over the country are aching to take classes from their peers and legends.
Every year that I have attended BurlyCon a different evolution of my own has occurred. The first year I worked on hospitality with Hottie McNaughty (a hospitality rock-star, I say) and attended only as a student and observer – feeling my four year growing pains of being a performer who has outgrown basic classes and was thirsty for conversations about community and ethics and the question, ‘where do we go from here?’
Second year, I jumped onto the programming team, helped Hottie with a bit of hospitality and had the honor of teaching two classes: ‘Production 101’ and ‘The Anal Retentive Performer: Being Organized’. I also had a strange experience of feeling a bit more of a part of the community I had previously taken classes from, and the years’ prior successes in making more of a name for myself showed in the conversations I had with people, who I was sure had no idea who I was.
From that ‘Con I took with me some new friendships and kinships with performers I have watched from afar and on big stages, as well as meeting thirsty young talent who take pride in their craft and their ability to learn. It was a fun year, and though I took over twelve classes over that four day convention, my most vivid memories are of a private one hour session with Catherine D’Lish, a class with some burlesque heavy hitters improvising one-by-one while everyone watched, and a particularly funny time trying to get a cab with Alotta Boutté and Foxy Tann outside of Whiskey Bar (the pictures indicate I will never be able to run for office).
Year three proved that good things do come in threes. In addition to getting to teach my specialties, I got to do the thing I’ve always wanted to do – help newbies get excited about burlesque. Teach them what I know, and in exchange I get to learn so much about how people learn, what they want to learn, and I fall in love with burlesque and its performers over and over again. Taking Tigger!’s ‘Persona Parts A and B’ classes were full of life and fervor for his topic, which he is brilliant at. Michelle L’amour’s class ‘Behind the Behind’ was fun, informative and totally user friendly. The approachability of these teachers, and many others (Miss Indigo Blue, Catherine D’Lish, Kristina Nekyia, Jo Weldon, Trixie Little and The Evil Hate Monkey, Waxie Moon, Darlinda Just Darlinda etc.) is what makes this con so much different from going to a festival.
At festivals, many of these performers are steeped deep into their personas or simply trying to catch up with the performers who they resonate with and get to perform with only a couple times a year. Festivals are all about what happens on the stage, about what you’re wearing, catching lunch with a new friend or simply traveling around in your troupe (if you’re in one) trying to simply take in the fact that burlesque is a whole lot bigger than the town/city/country you’re from. It’s overwhelming – at festivals, all of a sudden you become aware of a whole HUGE collective consciousness that is Burlesque.
BurlyCon, on the other hand, lets everyone take a break from the glamour and really get into the meat and potatoes of why we are itching to get on stage, and how to do it better. Unique classes, like ‘My Life’ with LEGEND Dee Milo, ‘Being Present’ (with Trixie and Monkey) and The World Famous *BOB*‘s twelve person, sign up only workshop on ‘Ultimate Self Confidence’ help to re-align you with your goals as a performer and as a person operating in a glittery world. And this happens all in one weekend.
Interesting conversations are had that hopefully ripple out into the community beyond, for challenging topics such as Ethics and Intellectual Property, Cultural Appropriation and a topic that is constantly being talked about – ‘what makes a good performer?’
Since I live here in Seattle and BurlyCon is also in Seattle, I chose to sleep at home, which for future incarnations of BurlyCon, I won’t be doing (Seattle kids take note!). From 9am-11pm (and sometimes later in a bathtub full of sparkling boylesque performers) you are fully entrenched with all things burlesque. I’m certain that many performers, both hobbyist and professional come away knowing 1) whether performing is for them 2) what they could work on to be better and 3) where their fascination with burlesque lies. Is it in producing? Performing? Just the costumes? Stage Managing? Many answers can be found at a convention vs. a festival. It’s not all smiles when you’re challenged to do new things and go outside your comfort zone.
Not that you shouldn’t go to festivals, but the nature of BurlyCon is a breath of fresh air after going to (or trying to go to) ten festivals in a year. And I don’t mean to sound like a blah blah academic, because BurlyCon is FUN! It’s a whole bunch of wacky, glittery people who love what they do and want to do it better. How awesome is that?
The one way BurlyCon is similar to festivals is that we do get to see a lot of performances, but a HUGE difference is that the Scene Reviews of BurlyCon become a group activity in helping a performer grow. At the end of a performance, the audience is invited to give constructive criticism while the performer sits quietly in a chair. After they’re done, they recieve the little notecards with more constructive criticism given by those not chosen on to speak (ten minute limit for one person’s review, including comments) or was too shy to speak up. It’s wonderful to see the bravery it requires for both newbies and veterans to present a not entirely polished piece of burlesque to their peers. It’s inspiring.
I was thrilled to be in classes with performers that ranged in ages and experience (one month newbies to ten year veterans) who were all there to learn something new, and they all knew that their knowledge could come from someone who had been performing for many years less, to many years more than them. The teachers weren’t chosen simply for their years of performance, but for how they can articulate their skill that they are so good at.
This year, BurlyCon moves to the DoubleTree in SeaTac, a hotel known for being on the convention circuit, and I’m sure that they will be a great new home for us. I look forward to taking the conversations I had with my students and peers from this past weekend and applying them to my life (both personally and professionaly) and seeing how last years experience for me differs from my next year at BurlyCon, which I’m sure will be even more interesting than the last.
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