Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Art of Emceeing part 4- Working in character

Creating a character for a themed show really helps to support the theme and weave that magic. Sadie and I are lucky in that we take turns emceeing the bi-monthly show Caburlesque, which always has a theme.
I love character work so much sometimes I get carried away and do several. From Caburlesque -The British are Coming - four iconic British characters in one night. It was fun!!! And they have all come in handy over the years so it was worth it!
Characters work well if you feel you need a bit of structure and performance to feel comfortable in front of people. I tend to just busk it myself, but that's how I roll. Sadie is much more structured while also being completely spontaneous when needed. It's quite a a combo let me tell you!

It's also a great way to find out what works. We did a tribute to Tim Burton and my first half character was Mrs Lovett from Sweeney Todd, my second half was The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.
Mrs L and Mad Hatter. It was a busy interval changing this lot up!
Mrs Lovett is a strong character with lots of back bone and easily led the show along. The Mad Hatter however, with his lispy voice and sweet smile, was actually really hard to steer. We did do a fun act at the end which has since become of my most requested acts, but for Emceeing, not so good.
Early on in my "career" as an Emcee I did a masterclass with Dusty Limits, who to me is the last word in awesomeness, and he asserts that only "alpha" characters make good Emcees. There's always an exception, but I can honestly say that an assertive, even stroppy character, provides stronger leadership to the show.
It's still important for the character to respect the energy and space of the show - a character who is a creep is still a creep, you know? Abusing the audience as a character is no more entertaining to the audience than an abusive person NOT in character.
Character is simply not an excuse to behave badly. Misogyny, audience baiting or mocking or abusing or insulting, throwing performers under the bus - is NEVER ok.
Absolutely have fun with the audience, tease them a bit, all in the name of a bit of fun, even a bit barbed and spicey is ok. But you need to read the audience and if it goes too far; come back.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A week of Wellington Drag

It's Pride week and The Wireless has run a daily article on Wellington and New Zealand Drag Artists.
Photo by Ezra Simons
Yours Truly was asked to be spokesperson for drag artists who portray their assigned gender. Baz the journalist likes the term bio queen, but I do not. For a start, the important word is Drag, and all the alt terms offered for ftf or mtm drag replace that word! So, I choose Drag Artist for all, and if anyone is that interested in what is being tucked or taped, they'll have to come to a show ;-)
From our Wednesday article, you can easily find the Monday one on the influence of RuPaul, Tuesday on our darling Drag Kings, Thursday's interview with Trixie Martell, and Friday's photo essay on a big group of local drag artists who were able to make the photo shoot. I did mine at 6pm but the Friday group shots were late on Thursday night, far past my bed time!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Art of Emceeing part 3 - Being vs Doing

In my last post I talked about wrapping the show in fun, focussing on what is happening in the room and the show, and working the audience to create a supportive atmosphere. 
And that it is not what you do, so much as what you bring to what you do, that is the clincher.
I'm going out on a limb to say that what is really needed is YIN energy. The gentler energy that is still fun and full on but there's no competitiveness, the humour is facetious and playful and engaging, not aggressive and oppositional. This is not about the gender of the Emcee, by the way - but about their energy. 
I say this because this energy does not compete with the performances. if I seem to be making this point quite a bit, it's because it is SO important. And yang energy, with its misogynistic jokes and male gaze just channels the audience into seeing the performers as something to ogle at, no magic, no glitter. Objectifying. Centuries of a culture where men look at women and judge them, against 20 or so years of Burlesque where performers have real agency and call the shots* - we NEED to pro-actively work this new space, and it's hard; but it is so worth it. I'd also say that while women get away with saying things that men can't, it's still not gender specific.
Now I am saying this but some people will say, "Oh but X is so FUNNY and audiences love them!" the value of X being an Emcee who relies on the yang energy to get through. 
To them I say this. Go out at the interval or after the show and talk to the audience. You will find that you get two types of responses. The feminists may be seething with frustration as they can see what is going on and they've been trying to hold a different space. Others are often likely to say, "Oh, that X is hilarious!" and if you ask them how they are enjoying the acts, don't be surprised if they are polite but less enthusiastic, unless an act is high energy with a big punchline delivered. The approach and energy of the Emcee casts a glamour over them and if that glamour has the audience looking at the show in a judgy, objectifying way, this is not good!
But enough about X. I've only gone into what I feel does not work in order to help define what DOES work. Next post I will focus on detailing the positives more!
Curtain call of our Caburlesque Weird and Quirky show. It sure was!!

*I say the last 20 years knowing that the 20th Century has so many heroines and legends of Burlesque that were claiming the stage well before the 90s. But in the last 20 years the audiences for Burlesque have become predominantly women.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Art of Emceeing part 2 - Weaving the Glamour

Did you know that the word "glamour" originally meant a magic spell, like shape shifting? Glamour as we now understand it, IS a magic spell - it is about creating an illusion, about getting people to see what we want them to see.
Me, I am an old, fat, grumpy. lady - three things that are about as glamorous as cold spaghetti. But I can also be this:

An old, fat, grumpy, funny and sparkly lady! 
Glamour in both of its meanings is what makes or breaks a Burlesque show. It doesn't have to be sparkly though - Sadie von Scrumptious absolutely nailed emceeing the Nerdlesque show as "Immortan Hoe" a parody of the villain from the most recent Mad Max movie
More on the fun of character work in a later post! 
Absolutely we can give 'em both barrels of rhinestones and sequins, but the glamour goes far beyond the costume.
Please bear with me as I lay out a bit of context.
Burlesque is entertainment - obviously. The object of that entertainment - the Entertained as it were, is the Audience. They buy the tickets and the drinks and they keep us in business.
The "Muggle" audience i.e. the audience who are not performers themselves, come with a range of expectations. They may expect fans and boas and Dita von Teese, or the cast of that awful movie Burlesque*. What they actually get is a range of abilities and levels of experience, delivered by a range of body types and age groups, often in a way that is VERY different from the sexy male gaze thing they expected! Our Neo scene here is pretty off the wall!
To me, the real "Glamour" and the first and foremost job of an Emcee is to make sure the audience is in the zone to appreciate the show they will be getting, and not to miss any one they thought they were going to get! Scoop 'em up and take 'em along for the ride!
And the way to do that is to wrap the show in fun, focus on what is happening in the room and the show, and work the audience to create a supportive atmosphere. Then EVERYONE has a blast.
This extends way beyond the obvious but important things like warm ups and spot prizes. It's such a big thing, I'll try and split it into future, focussed posts.
Bye for now - thanks for reading!

*I don't mind the movie, it's quite fun but it is NOT any Burlesque I've ever seen! I do sing the Welcome to Burlesque song but with a heavy lyrical rewrite to be funny and warm and not basically procurement of the performers (EEEW)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The art of being an Emcee - part 1

Darlings, I know I am far from perfect, but I have been doing this Emcee business for a long time and have been mentored by far more experienced Emcees than myself.
I am very keen to see good Emcees come out of our community, because an Emcee can make or break a show.
If you are phased or intimidated by this thought, it's quite likely you will make a much better Emcee than someone who never thinks about it all!
So I thought I would put together a series of posts that go into what works and what doesn't work. This hopefully will inform:

  • anyone who has been toying with trying it out - hopefully it will give you some courage to try!
  • emerging Emcees - you may have given it a go and you're not sure what worked and didn't work, making it hard to replicate and improve.
  • producers - how do you know what to look for in an Emcee? It's your reputation on the line after all.
  • performers - sometimes knowing how Emcees operate can help you work better with them.
Why does it matter though. Surely the Acts are more important? 
Well, that's the paradox.
The Acts ARE more important. Being a successful Emcee is as much about knowing how to balance being entertaining and funny with framing the real stars of the show instead of upstaging them.

A non-performer friend of mine has been to some shows I have Emceed and gotten really inspired by the performers into trying burlesque classes herself. The last show she went to however was without me, and I know it would have been at least as good as the others. Her feedback however was that the acts did not seem as good. She is insightful enough to observe that this was probably down to the male comedian Emcee who did nothing to weave an air of mystique or glamour around the performances. The result was that they didn't show up as well as he did. This is so wrong, and it has consequences. Who is going to keep going to burlesque shows if they think the acts aren't that good? There's a huge difference between being inspired and being bored. Inspired comes back for more; bored doesn't.
As performers, we see what is on stage differently than the audience does- the magic is almost always there for us no matter what. The trouble is, we need to make sure the audience experiences that magic too, which is the Emcee's job. We need them to come back and bring their friends, otherwise we're just watching each other and that is an ever decreasing circle, not an expanding one. 
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Welcome to Constance Craving Central

My darling dear ones, welcome to you all! I am just carving out a teeny corner of the interweb to call my own. A place where I can share with you my triumphs and successes, show off my work so far, and from where you may contact me.