Martina Naccari – aka Tina Topago – who has worked with Italian burlesque agency Voodoo De Luxe since 2013, shares her tips for becoming a sought after stage kitten…
I wasn’t born a stage kitten and no one ever taught me how to do it, but in my experience of ‘kittening’ I’ve seen the weirdest things (you really couldn’t imagine) and learned how to do it right. So I hope this short guide will give you some good advice, because kittening can be as fun as it is hard work!
1. Be a great observer. Objects can go missing backstage and onstage… and amongst the public. Costumes are expensive; it’s your job to take care of them. Also, always mind out for the microphone wire or other things that are obstructing the stage; you don’t want dancers to trip over on the stage YOU are taking care of.
2. Be ready for everything. Always have your survival kit with you. I had to develop mine over time and out of necessity. Scissors: a stuck corset is not funny. Torch: I keep a very small one in my bra – it’s dark behind the curtains and I am sure you don’t want to stumble either. Needle and thread and glue.
Many performers use fire. Do you know how to use the fire extinguisher?
3. Be quick. Be quick in mopping or sweeping away confetti and do it beautifully. The public will see you and recognise you in these moments. If you need more time don’t be anxious – maybe you can ask the audience for some help. You will also develop a special skill in recognising the right person in the audience to ask for help – not the idiot that blew all the glitter in my eyes.
4. Unless you’re already a native English speaker, improve your English. It’s your duty to understand performers and their requests. Can you pronounce ‘scissors’? I wasn’t able to. So when, backstage, I screamed “Scissors please!” to help a performer who was stuck in her costume onstage, no one seemed to understand me. Running back and forth screaming unintelligible things won’t give you glory (my survival kit didn’t have the scissors at that time).
5. Have fun. Having fun in your role makes you more engaging. I remember tripping over in the dark behind the curtains (my survival kit didn’t have the torch at that time). I laughed the whole time I was on stage. People from the public were telling me how much they loved my smile.
6. Be curious. You have the opportunity to meet performers and wonderful people from all over the world. Ask them questions, share experiences, make treasures of their tips.
7. Some people will try to approach you to get closer to a performer or the producer: you’re professional and not born yesterday. It’s frustrating they want to use you and that’s why this is the only case when you can be a snob and refuse them.
8. You are necessary: performers need you and trust you. Don’t waste your time and mess around with selfies!
9. Never think you’re the best stage kitten you’ve ever met. It was exactly the moment when I thought “I’m quite good at kittening” that my mind started to wander and I forgot to bring Polly Rae her champagne bottle at the end of her act. I had a desperate, tragicomic, last moment run on to the stage at the end of the music, but luckily still in time for the applause!
Right now, I’m not ready for tip number 10… There’s always something new we can learn.
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.