Last week I got to do a really fun photo shoot with my friend Drew Ritter. Drew is really into photography and was looking for a model to add to his portfolio. I've never said "No" to having my picture taken, so we were well matched.
Speaking of "well matched," Drew is in my life because he's going to be marrying my best friend from childhood, Jessie. We made poor Jessie hike into the woods, NATURE, GUYS! She was fucking awesome; she kept the wine flowing and was a real sport about my flailing around making pouty faces at her fiancé.
About an hour into our shoot the sun went down and the woods got dark. NATURE, GUYS! We were just a bunch of kids hanging out in the middle of the woods by an abandoned water tower, drinking out of solo cups, and listening to country music. Not the setup for a horror movie at all!
I like to be scared but I think Jessie was getting nervous. Which is hilarious, because most of our childhood consisted of me making Jessie scared. (Sorry, Snugs.)
The real fear was the giant field of poison ivy we were standing in. Skin rashes are much worse when you spend a lot of time naked on stage.
I've been part of a few awesome photoshoots since I started doing Burlesque and I find that I really enjoy doing them. I remember being really nervous for my first shoot and I think it's evident in some of the photos. It's hard work being a model.
Yes, really! Standing in weird positions, under lights, in a rashy minefield, yeah, it's hard! Why are you so judgey? You got something against fake red heads? Too bad! I will murder you!
Here are some things I've learned about having my picture taken:
4. I guess I should lightly touch on the subject of money. If you're working for a professional photographer, you should get paid for your work. How you work that out is your choice, but make sure that shit is CLEAR before you go in and that you have some sort of contract. I'm not a professional model (See Example A) so I don't feel qualified to give you precise advice on this. The arrangement I have with Drew is Time for Print. Meaning that I model for him and he gives me license to use the photos he takes. Isn't that nice? Now you get to see the forest mermaid, and the awkward handjob shot!
5. When posing I try to remember these things:
a) Know where your light is. Tilt your face toward it and try to elongate your neck to create some contrast. At this nighttime shoot, I kept putting my face in shadow by holding my arm up over my head. Be aware of the shadows your body creates.
b) Listen to your photographer. If they tell you that when you hold your arm like that it blocks the light from your face, then, you know, don't do that....
c) My body creates a more interesting image when I stick my hips out and create negative space between my limbs and my body, that's kind of an obvious tip...but standing stock straight is something I avoid
d) A lot of model "tips" will advise you on tricks to appear thinner. I'm not interested in appearing thinner. That being said, I try not to squish my arms against my sides because it can create uneven "squishidge" making one arm appear larger than the other. You know when you see a photo of a bunch of girls out at the bars in Faneuil Hall and they all have their arms on their hips- that!
e) I try to be conscious of my hands and how I'm holding them. Sometimes I forget and get this weird fish-hand look, or I twist them around too sharply (see my hand in the forest-mermaid-rock- photo above)
f) Relax, yo. If I'm not relaxed I become mayor of Awkwardtown. I need to let go of those feelings of insecurity and just GO with it.
g) It helps to remind yourself that you're fucking fierce !
I've posted the edited photos from the shoot here. Check them out, and remember: I was listening to Taylor Swift the whole time while they were being taken... no! Don't remember that! That's a very embarrassing secret! Shhhh!
This weekend I headed out to Western, MA to hang out and perform with some of my favorite people.
I grew up in Western, MA and returning to do shows is usually a blast. Not only do I get to visit with family (who all come to the show!) but I get to perform at Bon Appetit Burlesque which is one of my favorite shows to be in.
This weekend was a double whammy because I also posed at Dr. Sketchy Northampton's final show at their usual venue. The venue is being sold and this show was their farewell to The Elevens.
Northampton has a thriving arts scene and is totally worth checking out, either as a patron, or as a performer.
The theme of this weekend's Dr. Sketchy's was murderesses! That's right, ladies who kill.
Guys, this is kind of my thing.
I talked to Kyle & Cora, who run Dr. Sketchy's NoHo, and they were totally on board for making it creepy. For the first half I posed as Lizzie Borden.
Lizzie Borden took an axe
and gave her mother 40 whacks
when she saw what she had done
she gave her father 41
Lizzie's story is particularly interesting because she became one of the first female “celebrity” killers. She lived in Fall River, MA and chose to stay there after her trial despite her tarnished reputation.
I have a Lizzie Borden burlesque routine called "Lizzie Boredom" where I pay tribute to the famed axe-woman. I believe that IF she killed her father and step mother then she did it because her life was horribly hard and tremendously boring. Poor Lizzie! She needed to spice things up!
The second half was a series of poses based off of several murderesses:
Aside from being startled by my own coat backstage (I screamed like a small child), I had such fun creeping out the artists at Dr. Sketchy's Northampton. I hope to be back once they start up at their new venue.
The next night I had the honor of performing with FruitontheBottom, Vivienne LaFlamme, Dolly Would, Victoria Van Layer, and my fellow Slaughterhouse Sweeheart, Allix Mortis, in Bon Appetit Burlesque's Magic Time Machine II.
Bon Appetit is run by my favorite host, Hors D'oeuvres whose burlesque message is simple:
"Bon Appétit Burlesque is a woman-friendly, body-positive neo-burlesque show in Northampton, Massachusetts. From its early days in front of a handful of spectators, Bon Appétit Burlesque has grown into a standing-room-only show at The Deuce that features women (and sometimes men) of different ages, races, gender expressions, sexualities, and body types performing neo-burlesque and boylesque."
And boy does Hors deliver! I've performed in this show a handful of times and it continues to be a highlight in my performance schedule. It's so professionally run, the lineup is always diverse, and Hors's hosting is something to be seen. Many gigs have performers changing in dank basements without a printed lineup in sight- not at Bon Appetit! From Ben working the door, to Captain Elastico (his assless banana costume was the talk of Christmas this year after my aunties came to the show) working the crowd, this show runs like a dream. I've been known to drive 2 hours to see the show even when I'm not in it. I really recommend this show to performers and fans alike because it's a guaranteed fucking BLAST.
If you're a performer and reading this you should consider applying for the Pastie Punch Out. It's a Neo-burlesque competition run and hosted by Hors at Bon Appetite. I applied! Hopefully I'll see you there!
On top of performing my Lizzie Borden number I debuted a re-worked version of a number that I did when I was first starting out. My friends Maggie Maraschino and Porcelain Dalya produced a show in 2013 and asked me to be part of it. It was a week to show time and knowing the theme was time travel I came up with a comedic bit about past life regression therapy and fused it with a Cleopatra number.
Watching video of that number made me cringe a little. I tried to look at that as a learning experience and worked to make it better. I've reworked that number: changed the song, the costume, the choreography, and I'm really happy with the results. I'll be performing it next month in Boston! A big part of the learning process in Burlesque (for me, anyway) is adding, changing, and revamping to create a better piece.
I loved going back to my old stomping grounds and performing and creating art with the talented people there. While at my parents I unearthed this photo of me and a friend at a dance recital. I think I'm around age 11. Do you think much has changed? (Good Lord, I hope I have better hair at least!)
Last week I debuted a new number at Geek Girl Boston Presents: Big In Japan. This is my second show with Geek Girl Boston and, although I'm typically out-geeked, I have a blast performing at these themed shows. Amy Macabre and Fonda Feeling are the creators/producers of the show and they were psyched when I said I would do a number based on Japanese horror films.
I'm not an expert on Japanese horror but I have a real appreciation for some of the movies I've watched over the years. The one that stood out to me the most was the movie Audition. I hadn't see Audition in years and the scene that I could best remember was the horrific torture scene at the end of the movie. Was I supposed to say SPOILER ALERT? I started to do research for my number and in re-watching the movie I was shocked by the change in my take-away from it. The torture scene is super intense. The part I found the most upsetting was the scene where the main character is auditioning women to be his future wife. The women thought they were getting the chance to audition for a movie. It was really disturbing to me that the men in the film were not only tricking these women, but objectifying them on camera. It made my perspective on the ultimate torturing of the main character change a little bit...
After watching the movie I thought a lot about what a tribute should look like in terms of a burlesque number. Since beginning burlesque, I've made a point to see every show I can and immerse myself in the scene. I've seen some amazing performances by some of the most respected performers around. I've had many teachers and mentors who have inspired me and let me pick their brains. A lot of burlesque numbers are tribute numbers, whether it be Nerdlesque or not. I wanted to come up with something that makes a tribute number engage and I mean really engage an audience. Sometimes when you're so passionate about something you get really wrapped up in showing what you know about it instead of bringing the audience in to teach them about it. It's really important to separate yourself and your knowledge of the subject and try to look at it from an outside perspective. Here's what I came up with:
The number needs to work even if the audience has never seen/heard/fucked/read whatever it is you're making a tribute to: Meaning that- if you strip away (stripppp) the story you already know, will the audience still have an emotional reaction to your piece? If the answer is "yes" then your number is versatile enough to straddle both the group of people who know what you're honoring and the group of people who don't. When you don't acknowledge that people might have no idea what you're trying to do then you risk alienating them. This absolutely does not mean that you can't do a super plot heavy number filled with layers of detail. It simply means that the number needs to be entertaining in its own right.
The number has to appeal to people who love the thing more than you do: This is an obvious one. There are people out there who can recite entire scenes from the movie Audition. People who have written about it a lot more than "Gee, that audition scene in Audition was really fucked up." Those are the people who are going to revel in the special details you add to your piece. They are going to be the people who get it. These are your people! The details you add are a nod to them and their appreciation.
I thought a lot about these two things and how I had seen them executed in different ways. I thought about what worked for me as an audience member and what didn't. I thought about the way I could take what I learned from those experiences and start using it as a skill to craft better performance pieces.
For my tribute to Audition I started out the number inside a cloth bag.
The "thing" in the bag is one of the creepiest things ever....besides what's in the bag.
In listening to my own rules I was nervous about the choice to start the number this way. (Also, fuck that GIF that keeps creeping me out over and over) I could not rehearse the number in my apartment without a) someone laughing at me b) dogs attacking me c) giggling at myself.
(Are you all picturing me giggling inside of a bag? Good! Now look up at that GIF! DO IT! AHHH!)
I had to deal with the possible outcome that the lights would come up and people would laugh at me. Then I remembered this modern dance class I took as a teenager. We did a bunch of dance routines from inside these body sized pillow cases. Mostly they looked strange and alarming and not funny despite how worried I was that they would be. The movement inside the bag would decide the mood. I also decided that I could deal with people thinking it was funny initially because I promised myself that I would cater to the people who had seen the movie and the people who hadn't.
I decided to use the song Heartbreak Hotel as it suited the plot of the movie and I had two really great versions. One by Hanni El Khatib and one off of the VIVA Elvis album. Choosing how to splice them was tough and something I might continue to work on.
I choreographed the number to have a classic burlesque feel mixed with some edge. I tried to contrast sweet and slow emotions with harder more violent ones. I felt like this illustrated the energy in the movie. It also works to provide contrast in the number in general. For props I used a large syringe and a spool of wire. Both of these are heavily featured in the torture scene of the movie but I made sure make them work for me in my number too. I did suggestive things with that syringe, I'm not going to lie, and I used the wire as a sort of fucked up feather boa and used it to tease audience members. I added some scarring to my leg, to pay homage to the movie, but didn't stress about explaining it because it was such a minute detail.
For my costume I paired a classic style rhinestone and fringed bra and sequin panties (that I made!) with a black corset and rubber apron. I worked to fuse the dark of the horror with the glam of burlesque and I think things came together nicely.
The apron is a good example of using a prop that was part of the movie and making it work for the whole audience. The female lead in Audition wears a rubber apron during the torture scene and the image is on the cover of the movie and movie posters. So anyone who has seen Audition will get the reference.
A slick, black, rubber, apron when tied the right way actually looks pretty sexy (I swear) and has lots of ties that need to be undone. I was able to add a slow and fast remove using the apron that added to the piece without needing a complicated story line.
When I got to Oberon to for Tech rehearsal the crew was fantastic. They were able to do some great lighting that added to the "bag entrance" and made it seem at least more abstract than funny.
The number went over really well with the audience. Of course there were things that I felt were off. After seeing it on video, I have choreography changes in mind, but for a debut of what could have been a really weird number, I feel like I have added another will-be-solid piece to my repertoire.
I'd love to have more discussions about what makes a good tribute number. I've seen some AMAZING Nerdlesque about subjects I know nothing about and it really boils down to a really well-crafted number. It's awesome to have so many examples of good work to learn from.
That's all for now! Here's another selfie from Sunday night- only it's not of my butt or of me in a bag:
Here are some more photos of the Number taken by Jonathan Beckley:
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