I am not sure how to effectively use words to describe what I want to say. The fear of failing to achieve an understandable pattern of non-offensive, supportive, and loving letter combinations has woken me at 4am with a nightmare. Within this mad dream, a faceless burlesque performer beats me black and blue by twirling her gigantic diamond tipped tassels right up in my face. I mean, this may be some people’s before-sleep fantasy, but for me it is alarming.
My fear is not just that my words won’t make sense, but that what I am about to write, no matter how I craft it, is going to be taken the wrong way by at least one person. I fear it might push a button for them, or they might think that I am directly pointing the finger at them. Then they may go and talk to their friends, possibly within the burlesque community and say:
“OMG, did you see what THAT Constance Maehem had the audacity to write? Who does she think she is? I mean, what?! She has only being doing burlesque for a year. I had a look at her Facebook page and there is this photo where she looks like she is dead. Like, I mean seriously, that picture is better than what she looks like in real life. And she thinks she has any right to be performing, let alone writing her thoughts about like, what did she call it… Horizontal Hostility? I mean seriously. Who is she to comment on how WE behave?”
MisRed Delicious, Rachel Rouge and Sugar Spanx
with Amourous Ava
Few things warm the cockles of a feminist’s heart more than seeing women pursuing their goals, running successful businesses and being rad bosses. The following is a conversation with performer/producers MisRed Delicious, Rachel Rouge and Sugar Spanx concerning the art of being a producer and the production of burlesque and variety shows in New Zealand. May or may not involve feminist themes.
AA: How did you all individually get into producing? What pushed you to take that step from performer to producer? (or vice versa?)
MD: I got into producing so I could perform. At the time there were very few shows in New Zealand and only one regular show, which had just started in Wellington. I knew if I wanted more stage time I would have to produce. This also gave me the opportunity to start networking and meet other performers.
SS: I got into producing burlesque events for a few reasons. Firstly, I was tired of dealing with musicians (having been managing bands), but really enjoyed the event management side and saw a gap in the market with burlesque. Secondly, there were a few shows around in the area, but not a lot of opportunities for new performers. The idea behind The Rock n Roll Circus was to give new performers stage time and networking opportunities, which is still upheld today. Along with seasoned performers we always welcome rising talent to our shows.
RR: I started Dr. Sketchy Wellington because I wanted to draw performers while in a bar, while listening to great music and drinking... and there was no Dr. Sketchy in Wellington at the time. Producing Dr. Sketchy got me back into performing again (I had been in Africa for two years and hadn’t performed while there). I really enjoy producing. I think I may even enjoy it more than performing. When I decided to move to Christchurch I also decided to start up The Menagerie as 50% burlesque and 50% variety. But I ended up moving to Wellington where there already are several good burlesque/cabaret nights, so decided to create a variety show. I love variety shows, and I really love creating my own.
For me, burlesque is a humorous and generally harmless pastime. I suppose I am lucky that I have encountered nothing but support from people who know about my interesting hobby. Which is why I was hesitant to write this piece. But sometimes the support I am shown by my friends makes me uncomfortable.
Perhaps I should be more precise. It is not their unwavering support that irks me. Rather it is the way they talk about burlesque and, more importantly, the way in which the ‘Supportive Friend’ uses my craft to define me through a sexual and fetishistic lens.
Welcome to the second issue of Pastie Politics, a zine and trade journal about burlesque and feminism. In this issue we look at ideas of community and issues that affect our burlesque network, as seen through a feminist lens.
Featuring perspectives from new and established performers, we explore ideas of support, from both within the community and from our friends and audiences. From the vulnerabilities that affect new performers, to the politics of pay, to the schism between our Neo and Classic forms of performance—this issue is packed with critique designed to open up discussion.
Being part of a community does not mean necessarily sharing the same ideas and values about what is important in burlesque, or even what burlesque necessarily is. However it is important that as a community we have these discussions in order to move forward and develop so we don’t continually fall back on the status quo.
One of the attractions of burlesque lies in how it allows us as performers to show female sexual agency on our own terms, when the public display of an unclothed female body is still somewhat controversial, and displays of female flesh on or off stage are often criticised as either ‘sluttish’ or un-feminist. At the same time, burlesque is somewhat unique in the performance arts, in that it does not insist that performers adhere to mainstream forms of beauty. The engagement between the burlesque performer and the audience becomes less about being looked at, and more about the performer communicating power, control, desire and autonomy.
Burlesque allows us to play with tropes of what is considered ‘feminine’ (qualities that are traditionally ascribed to women), and what is considered ‘sexy’. Finding what being sexy means for us personally, and how we manifest that aspect of ourselves in our performance is part of finding our individual style as a performer. In terms of my own performance practice, this entails creating characters that are very strong, very humourous, very weird, and often have a tremendously wiggly butt.
A female lecturer once asked my class, consisting of both men and women: “As women, who do we wear make up for? Who’s attention do we want, if any, when we wear nice clothing or sexy shoes? Do we make our selves up for the male gaze, ourselves, or members of the same sex?”
The lecturer then proceeded to ask each of us our thoughts on this, many of the women who were above the age of forty seemed to all have the general consensus that as women we dressed to impress men, they believed that their generations values included dressing and making yourself up in order to attract a male suitor and subsequently a husband. The men in the class, regardless of their age, were tentative when asked for their opinions, and the majority mumbled incoherently and passed the somewhat loaded question to the person sitting next to them. The women under the age of thirty were quick to passionately assert that they did not base any of their appearance on anyone but them, and not one of them said that they valued an outsiders judgement.
When it was my turn to give my opinions on the matter, I tried to explain that I too agreed with what many others had said–we dress solely for our own self worth. Before I could elaborate the woman next to me abruptly, and loudly stated that I was a burlesque dancer, so obviously the way in which I present myself is so that men will find me attractive; the tone in her voice was somewhat facetious. Before I could finish my answer, someone from across the room asked a question I have been asked many times in the past year,
“Are you a stripper?”
Upon the burlesque stage we are both entitled and actively encouraged to express ourselves. We are celebrated for being unique and bringing a little taste of our quirkiness to the audience. Now, bearing this in mind, let me bring to you my thoughts on ‘bush whacking’.
The reveal, the applause, the curtain call,
the stuck on smiles, she’s done them all.
Her acts entertain, yet inside there is pain,
often she wonders if she can step out there again.
Things unseen behind that pizzazz and smile
let’s take off these eyelashes and sit awhile.
Wait while she clears the grit of glitter from her face,
watch as the lipstick smears, do you still want a taste?