Friday, May 11, 2018

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Interview with Bethany Starr

Emceeing DIY Burleskiwi in 2017 Photo by Roxy Paradox
I had the great good fortune to be interviewed by the sassy Bethany Starr recently. Miss Starr is a Star indeed in our New Zealand Burlesque Scene, and her interviews with various performers and participants in our scene are most interesting. The interviews are recorded live and then transcribed, giving them a great vibe. Clearly I don't always finish my sentences!

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Art of Emceeing Part 5 - Logistics!

I've waffled on about the wibbly wobbly stuff so far, but this last post is about the GUBBINS! The stuff that makes a show work.

Intros: Most producers ask performers for intros, or bios. I generally read them, then ignore them.  Instead, I do this:
  • Turn up early enough to watch the tech rehearsals. After, have a chat with the performer about their act and their character. Find out if they are wedded to their bio or hate it (most of us would rather be branded than write a bio!) Agree on a wording. Generally, especially if a performer is on more than once in an evening, I focus on introducing the act, not the performer. This is what the audience cares about. And I use a form of words that suits me and comes naturally out of my mouth. If you can't own it, change it but make sure the performer is OK with it. Nothing stinks more than an Emcee using the performer's bio or provided intro to throw them under a bus, and I see this fairly often.
  • Notes - I have a terrible memory, so I take notes on with me. I have a lot of A5 sparkly cards which are handy as if the order of the show changes, I can just take on the one I need. For competitions which have all that complicated stuff, I generally take a clipboard. I always have a black Sharpie with me so I can print notes nice and big and clear as with big eyelashes and without decent light I can hardly see a thing!
 ...sparkly cards
...or an attractive clip board...
Audience warm up:  People have paid money to come see a show. It pays to warm them up as they need your permission to be responsive. But it needs to be a fun warm up, and the whole thing of making sides compete, or saying, I can't hear you, louder! is frankly lazy and hackneyed. Unless you can put a really funny spin on it which could be a huge triumph!
However you do it though, it needs doing. Different art forms have different conventions for audience behaviour and being loud and raucous is a rare requirement. A loud and happy audience really feeds the performers and that inspires them to do their best. 

Hecklers: At all times, it is important that you are the one in charge! I've Emceed over 50 shows and never had any trouble with hecklers. I've HAD hecklers, but they've never given me trouble!
First things first: get to know your venue staff. Find out what they consider acceptable behaviour and let them know what you do. Make sure you've got each others' backs. Another thing I found out by accident is to go out and talk to people. One out of town gig I did, I ended up having to put my face on in the ladies' loos. This led to meeting all the women in the audience and having a great chat with them, them warning me who was going to get plastered and give me trouble. So when I was on stage and the woman in question began to play up, I threatened by name to put her over my knee and spank her. It was hilarious and she calmed down and everyone enjoyed it. Noone lost face, and I find that this is an important thing. I throw shade but it's always pink not black if you know what I mean.
If you turn on an audience member, you run the risk of losing the rest of them as they cannot help but think that it could have been them. Antagonising an audience member can result in a boring exchange that derails the show. 

Audience Interaction: Do it, it's fun! Just make sure that it's not just the VIP tables at the front who get included, and that if you have an exchange with someone, make sure you convey their side of the conversation to the rest of the room so everyone is involved. It's usually pretty hard to hear what people yell from the audience or where it came from. So shoot your answers right to the back. Give everyone a little love.

Bits and bobs:  
  • Talk to the performers back stage, but make sure you have a spot you can go to have quiet time if you need it. I find that I am in a unique position to build trust with them and that can really help a performer about to get their kit off! Even seasoned pros like to know you have their back.
  • Respect a performer's character. Don't bring up their day job, or their cat. That is not a part of their stage presence, unless agreed and for a specific reason. It's not your job to out people on stage. No surprises. I've been introduced as owning a craft shop, when Constance is a life coach!! I had to point out that the Emcee had mistaken me for my dressmaker!
  • NEVER stick a mic under a performer's nose without getting their permission before either of you goes near the stage. 
  • NEVER touch a performer on stage. EVER, unless it is prearranged. I confess I did swipe my finger through the chocolate sauce on a performer's chest once when they had left the stage so I could lick it off as I walked on stage, but I did ask!
  • NEVER make comments about their body or what you'd like to do to it unless it is a banter prearranged with the performer that will be genuinely funny. 
  • NEVER get drunk. If you are not sure you can have that glass of wine and keep totally on your game, save it until after the show. We are there to entertain the audience not to be entertained ourselves.
  • ALWAYS remember, pretty much any mistake will be forgotten within minutes. If we don't get to make mistakes we never learn. I have done and said some truly, nervewrackingly STUPID things onstage. It's one of the reasons I can share this with you, by experiencing what not to do.
Make it fun for everyone and they will love you and have you back, the audiences will come back, and everyone wins.

Thank you for reading my little series about being a good Emcee. I am very honoured to be nominated for Favourite Emcee again this year at the Golden Garters, having won it last year. the other nominees, Lily Loca and Miss La Vida, are absolutely fantastic Emcees whose work I respect enormously! And how cool to have an all female line up of nominations this year!!

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)