UK burlesque performer and The Naked Standup star Miss Glory Pearl reports on her experience as a volunteer at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015…
21st Century Burlesque Magazine Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015 Coverage is sponsored by Fancy Feather.
If you consider yourself serious about burlesque, then a trip to the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender should be on your agenda at some point. It’s certainly the highest profile event in the burlesque calendar and it attracts performers, producers and fans alike from across the globe. For my part, every year I’ve sworn to myself that this will be the year I make it to Las Vegas, and every year, something happens that prevents me making that a reality. But not this year; this year I had the time and the means to make it happen.
I can’t remember how I first heard about the volunteer programme, but as I was going alone I thought that volunteering would be a good way to meet people, curtail my natural introvert tendencies and get me out of my hotel room. The application process was very straightforward – an online form completed and submitted – and then it was just a question of waiting to see if I’d been selected.
When the notifications of the shifts I’d been selected to help with started hitting my inbox, my excitement grew. The volunteers programme at BHoF covers all aspects of the enormous task of putting together four days of shows, workshops, and social activities. Volunteers help with tech rehearsals, registrations, monitoring the auditorium during shows, helping backstage, assisting the legends, and every aspect of the event you can think of. One day I was stuffing performer goody bags, the next I was handing out wristbands to attendees, then I was helping at the Legends Panel and kittening at the Icons and All Stars showcase on Sunday evening.
Volunteering certainly gave a focus to my BHoF experience, and it definitely gave me an insight into the enormous feat of organisation and execution the weekend entails. The executive team do a phenomenal job, supported by a huge team committed to delivering a packed weekend of wonderfulness to those who make the pilgrimage to The Orleans casino. Everyone was friendly and thankful for the contribution we volunteers made and I was happy to be useful.
The only real downside was not being able to take part in some of the activities and having to plan around your shifts, so spontaneous trips out for breakfast or shopping were not really an option. I worked hard – being on the registration desk on Thursday when registration opened was pretty intense! But everyone was good-humoured and excited, and being the person to welcome them to BHoF felt like a real privilege.
I was very lucky that the number of hours I volunteered for qualified me for a weekend pass, and sitting at the back of the theatre with my fellow volunteers was great. Many of us were experiencing it for the first time and our view allowed us to observe the audience as much as the performances taking place on stage, and what a warm, generous and noisy audience they were!
I was also lucky enough to see that audience from the other side – the stage – when I was part of the stage kitten team for Sunday night’s showcase. Arriving early I had time to reflect on just how big that stage is. Backstage was littered with enormous props; Michelle L’amour’s cage, Roxi D’Lite’s ravishing, red, padded ‘X’, and Ray Gunn’s cube, to name three. The backstage team were serious and determined; rules and instructions were repeated often and one was left in no doubt that there was no room for error. As ever, the backstage atmosphere was a mixture of nervous tension and relaxed familiarity. This being the Icons and All-Stars showcase, the performers all knew each other, so there was laughter and focus in equal measure.
Producer Naughty Pierre was in good humour and recited a limerick about my home county of Kent that is far too rude to repeat here. His stellar line-up included some of my favourite performers who did not disappoint. LouLou D’vil opened the show with her sexy-as-hell cowboy act and possibly the campest costume I’ve ever seen. We chatted backstage before the show, having met in Stockholm a few years ago, and her wicked sense of humour was fun to enjoy again. Michelle L’amour’s cage act was scorchingly sensual, with us remarking we definitely had the best view backstage of ‘the ass that goes POW!’’. And having helped Dirty Martini into her complicated Leda and the Swan costume, it was a joy to watch the narrative unfold on stage. A chance encounter in Walgreens (the glamour), provided the introduction to conversation with Roxi D’Lite – a performer I had not met or seen live before – and her relaxed, down-to-earth manner backstage transformed effortlessly into raw sexuality onstage as she stripped out of her extraordinary ‘Madam X’ costume and writhed atop her wonderful ‘X’ prop. I’ll be honest, there wasn’t an awful lot to pick up, but it was pretty nerve-wracking walking as quickly as possible across that enormous stage, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible while scooping up everything that was discarded. And it was interesting to witness the process of putting on a BHoF showcase from the wings.
As to the shows themselves, much has already been written about them, but the highlight for me was the Titans of Tease Reunion Showcase, expertly hosted by the delightful World Famous *BOB*. Tell someone you watched women in their sixties to nineties perform striptease and the reaction you’ll get is usually somewhere between horror and disbelief, because once we reach an age when society tells us we’re not attractive any more, we’re supposed to fade away quietly and not make a fuss. The reality of watching the legends perform, however, couldn’t be further from that; they are truly extraordinary. The show was packed with powerful, playful, assured performances that expertly engaged and delighted the audience. It felt a privilege to watch them and I was moved to tears with lachrymose frequency. Meeting and talking to the legends, watching them perform and hearing their stories is something I now passionately believe every neo-burlesque artist should do. Connecting with our history is potent indeed.
My commitment to attending BHoF this year was in part fuelled by a feeling of disconnection and disenfranchisement with burlesque as a genre. Having explored other areas of performance, I asked myself if how I was feeling was a natural progression of my art: had I simply outgrown burlesque or was my sense of disconnection fuelled by something else? I figured if I was going to find the answer to that, four days among 1,500 people passionate about it was probably the way to go. I can’t say I liked every act that appeared on stage over the weekend, but in the legends I found exactly what had initially driven me to burlesque, grabbed me by the heart and crotch and kept me there for the last eight years. And it still made my stomach leap and my heart sing. Tansy and her ferocious lion delivered that on the Thursday too, as did Trixie Little’s winning performance in the Tournament of Tease.
I left Las Vegas feeling that the burlesque I loved was still alive, even if I had lost sight of it for a while. I also made some friends along the way and connected with some of my favourite people in the industry – Catherine D’Lish and Michelle L’amour being two shining examples. And reading at the Naked Girls Reading event on Saturday was the icing on the cake; the sense of solidarity that came from reading with my Naked sisters from Halifax, Edmonton, Toronto and, of course, Chicago had me walking on air for days afterwards. I’d always known that Naked Girls Reading was special but sharing a stage with the founder and seeing that what I had experienced in the London chapter was a universal quality of the format was joyful indeed. Mind you, unexpectedly seeing my name in the weekender programme was pretty good too.
Seasoned BHoF-ers talk about the ‘glitter crash’ that hits you when you get home, and I certainly felt exhausted because the experience was so intense. Would I go again? Yes. Would I volunteer again? Yes. Next year? Let’s see what the bank balance says.
Miss Glory Pearl is a British burlesque artist, producer of the London chapter of Naked Girls Reading and creator of The Naked Stand Up, a full-length stand-up comedy show about body image and self-acceptance. And yes, she really is naked. She also thinks everyone should become a member of The Burlesque Hall of Fame.
View the full list of competition results here and stay tuned for more Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015 coverage – enjoy all the coverage so far HERE!
About Fancy Feather
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.