With only a few days to go until the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2014, I am pleased to present an interview with Executive Producer Joyce Tang. Joyce plays a vital and demanding role in making each Weekender run smoothly and ensuring the historic event’s survival, and I was keen to find out more about her work…
21st Century Burlesque Magazine Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2014 Coverage is sponsored by Fancy Feather.
Joyce, can you describe your beginnings and background in production and events?
Like most involved with burlesque, if you stick around long enough you’ll be put to work. This works for me because I’m a terrible audience member. I don’t even assign myself a seat for the Weekender; I prefer to watch from the back. And by ‘back’ I mean ‘bar’. So I was put to work as an intern with the World Famous Hubba Hubba Revue in 2008, a monthly variety show in the San Francisco Bay Area. I kept showing up and doing the work, and now I’m the stage manager and co-producer (come visit us!).
When did you first become involved with BHoF and how did you come to take on your current role as Executive Producer?
I was unceremoniously conscripted into the volunteer army in 2009 by Mig Ponce. We met backstage at Hubba Hubba Revue and discovered that we lived in the same town, so we would often walk his two comical doggies around town. That year, he brought me down to the Weekender and I followed Mig’s direction on what needed to be done. As he headed BHoF production, our friendship grew to include the development and collaboration of BHoF. When he decided to move on from that role, I was invited by Dustin Wax and Laura Herbert to replace him.
How has your role changed and developed as the Weekender has grown?
For one thing, I’m answering interviews! Ideally, my role now is to be less hands-on in the minutiae and more focused on communications within the team so that we’re working together in harmony and delivering for our audience.
You now have a larger team of supporting staff. I imagine that makes some things much easier, but has managing a large network of people been a challenge, too?
My team is comprised of movers and shakers in burlesque production; they are motivated to do bigger and better each year. To that end, recruiting team members and helping them develop their contributions to the organisation is exactly the challenge that I signed up for.
Can you describe a typical timeline of key events and decisions as you produce each Weekend, from the end of the last to during the next? How early does production begin, and what are some of the key elements people might not consider?
Producing an event of this size is definitely a year-round pursuit. At about ten months out, the production season begins with a review by the Weekender Production Committee of the feedback we receive from the attendees of the previous year. We discuss with key production team members the best and most realistic method of implementing changes and improvements, and the rest snowballs into grinding out production for the next few months while trying to balance our muggle lives. That’s the gist, but it’s actually not a steady, linear progression of tasks. The production team think and breathe this event ALL. THE. TIME. While we’re planning 2014, we’re already making notes for 2015 because, ultimately, the goal is to contribute lasting best practices to the organisation. Did I also mention I have a day job?
What is your favourite aspect of the production process, and the aspect you find most challenging?
Favourite: The 48 hours of calm before the Weekender officially begins, when ten months of work reap their results. Not-Favourite: Sitting on mountains of emails.
Can you pick out a moment in the history of your involvement that was particularly rewarding, or an incident or obstacle you worked through?
Facilitating Dita von Teese’s surprise appearance to present the Sassy Lassy to Catherine D’Lish last year was a particular treat for me. Given that Catherine is so deserving of this recognition, I was pleased to be involved in something so special.
What do you think some of the biggest misconceptions about BHoF are?
I think a key misconception is the relationship between the Weekender and BHoF. The Weekender is the museum’s major sustainable and annual fundraiser that operates under the umbrella of BHoF, while BHoF is a 501(c)3 non-profit organisation, bound by policies and laws, that struggles like any other non-profit to provide the programming and infrastructure to befit our beloved collection. The Weekender exists to benefit the museum, which means, in my role, I am held accountable for its financial and operational success. This often means I have to approach Weekender production in a responsible and practical manner, which is a concept some find open to interpretation, and remind folks that the Weekender is not synonymous with the museum. Additionally, I think there’s a misconception that we’re hard to reach or not listening. The organisation, in general, operates with an open-door policy; we’re more than happy to receive direct feedback from our supporters, and we’re definitely listening!
You have worked with some of the leading members of the production team for many years, and in recent times a new Executive Director has joined you. Is it essential that the leading members of the team liaise and agree on everything, or are you able to work with authority in your individual areas and give each other a certain degree of space and trust?
It is not necessary to agree on everything, but it is important to communicate. For the most part, there is no one right way to produce this event, so we’re pretty open to suggestions as long as it’s followed by 1) a proactive attitude, 2) execution, and 3) practicality. If a member has those three items, then trust naturally follows. When we don’t communicate, that’s when efforts are duplicated, or worse, tasks are overlooked.
As a group of people who volunteer so much of their time, energy and passion to make each Weekend happen, there must inevitably be moments of exhaustion, strong emotion and conflict. What have you found is the key to longevity as a team of volunteers with different personalities and temperaments, and do you feel it’s important that no single individual presumes any sort of ownership or control over BHoF, even after many years of personal investment?
One of the tenets in our volunteer code of ethics states: ‘Say yes only when it truly works for you to do what is requested and agree to participate 100% in whatever assignment you undertake.’ I firmly believe that shaping the team according to that mantra is the key to team members returning in a volunteer-run organisation. I’m not concerned that any single individual would presume ownership over BHoF; it is literally not possible to run this beast by yourself and it would be silly to try.
Can you describe any new elements or key developments for BHoF 2014, be they behind the scenes or noticeable to attendees?
It’s an ongoing process but communications is something that we’ve been working hard to improve, whether it’s gathering feedback after each Weekender or creating official channels for our attendees to get in direct contact with us or providing ticketing updates. In this regard, some of our successes this year include:
● Introducing a blog dedicated to the applications process.
● Increasing our Facebook page ‘likes’ by about 1500 since last year and providing regular posts to keep our supporters engaged.
● Publishing a staff directory to give our team credit where credit is due.
● Launching our own Guidebook app to provide a more personal Weekender experience.
● Taking direct control over our ticketing with our new partner GlitterTix, which gives us the ability to directly communicate with our attendees and provide real time data on our ticket availability.
This year will also see the introduction of two new events to the schedule: ‘Let’s Have A Kiki!’ and ‘Meet & Greet with Danielle Colby’. We’re always looking for new events to add to the Weekender so we welcome the community to send us event proposals during the summer.
What is your personal view of the pageant process at BHoF? How significant and relevant do you feel it is in the wider international burlesque community today, and with an ever-increasing number of titles and awards being created and awarded, why do you think the BHoF pageant has managed to remain so prominent and aspirational?
It’s a part of our history that also makes history. This year marks the 24th Tournament of Tease; no other burlesque event has that longevity. We’re the biggest fundraiser for the only museum of its kind; no other burlesque event has that pedigree. But most importantly, we don’t rest on those laurels. We created the first online performer application and we use the information to maintain communication with entrants throughout the process, which builds confidence. The selection process is completed with the utmost integrity and we make sure the public has access to information on that process. It remains aspirational because the team itself aspires to continual improvement.
BHoF obviously plays a significant role in your life. What does BHoF mean to you beyond your role as Executive Producer? What are your hopes for its future?
I am fortunate that different parts of my life have fuelled the progress of each other. Hubba Hubba Revue opened the opportunity to experience behind-the-scenes production which led to further responsibilities with BHoF. In turn, leading the production for BHoF gave me the background to secure a position in professional events management. For the future, my hopes are to continue to promote burlesque and to advance burlesque event production.
About Fancy Feather
Burlesque Hall of Fame / Miss Exotic World Judge, 2011 Holli Mae Johnson is the founder and editor of 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, a pioneering publication created twelve years ago to unite, document and celebrate the global burlesque community. Holli is actively involved in the burlesque community on a day to day basis and is privately consulted by performers and producers at every level for promotion, critique, recommendations and encouragement. As a documenter and critic, she has seen countless burlesque and variety performances from across the world and provides an intimate perspective and insight into the lives and careers of burlesque’s greatest pioneers, performers and personalities.