By: Femme Brulée
It can be hard to know how to break into the burlesque scene. Boston has a pretty large and established community of performers, but if you don’t personally know any of them, it can be difficult or intimidating to make a connection with performers and learn how to get involved.
I wanted to do burlesque for a while before I actually got involved. I have a background in dance, and loved the aesthetic of vintage lingerie, so the medium seemed like a perfect combination of those interests. When I was getting started back in 2007, the vibrant Boston burlesque scene that we have now didn’t exist. There were a few troupes in the area, but the community network wasn’t there. In my efforts to get involved, I found Big Moves, a dance, theater, and cabaret troupe for dancers of all sizes. I auditioned and performed with the troupe for one season, but it wasn’t as burlesque-based as I had hoped. However, as a result of being part of Big Moves, I was lucky enough to have an opportunity delivered right to me in my inbox. A performer named Sugar Dish was looking for local performers for a new burlesque and dance show based on the Nutcracker called The Slutcracker. It was a no-brainer. I took a dive into the glittery pool of burlesque, and I haven’t looked back.
I didn’t just join the Slutcracker and magically become a polished performer and producer. Femme Brulée didn’t really exist until the following summer, When Petey Gibson and Karin Webb of Axe to Ice Productions wanted to create a showcase for the community that formed as a result of the Slutcracker. I volunteered to do graphic design and perform in whatever capacity they needed. They didn’t know me very well and took a leap of faith and cast me to do a series of interstitial acts. They loved what I did, and asked me to be a core member of their new monthly show, Bent Wit Cabaret, at a then new venue, OBERON. As I took on more and more responsibility, they asked me to co-produce with them. When Axe to Ice disbanded, Jane Doe and I created Sparkletown Productions, and then later with Lolli Hoops we created Alterna-TEASE: The New England Neo-Burlesque Festival.
At the risk of sounding old, my experience getting started in burlesque is different than what it’s like today. We didn’t have many shows to perform in, so we created them (this is still something you can do with a lot of hard work and love, but I don’t recommend starting there). Below is a list of Do’s and Don’ts written from my perspective mostly as a producer who hires performers from our community, but also as a performer. This list is by no means hard and fast, and other people will have other tips. I could write about this forever, but this list is already too long for our short attention spans in the digital age!
Do attend local burlesque shows, and go to a variety of shows. Boston has a lot of different burlesque styles: sexy, horror, nerdy, comedy, dance-based, and plain old weird. You might find that some producers/'troupes’ work speak to you more than others. If you can, try to chat with a performer or the producer after a show, if they’re available. Let them know you’re just getting started. They’ll probably have some encouraging words, and they’ll probably remember you the next time they see you out.
Don’t expect a producer to put you in their show if you’ve never been to one of their shows, and/or they’ve never seen you perform. If you’re trying to get booked with an out-of-town producer, be sure to send video and photos of your work.
Do take a class. Rogue Burlesque runs some great beginner and intermediate classes. Dale Stones of Sirlesque offers classes specifically in the art of boylesque, for masculine presenting performers. Taking a dance class at the Dance Complex or an improv class at Improv Boston can help you become more comfortable in your skin and on stage. Alterna-TEASE offers master classes from visiting performers and headliners in August during the festival, and periodically as performers come through town. In addition, a group of local performers is currently organizing to offer a broader range of classes to help improve your performance, so stay tuned!
Don’t worry if dance is not your forté. There are many different kinds of burlesque, and you don’t have to be a master dancer to perform. However, taking a class is still helpful for learning stage presence, poise, and general movement.
Do compete in Rogue’s Lucky 13! Lucky 13 is an amateur burlesque competition. Rogue guides you through the process and offers feedback as you prepare for the competition. The night of the competition is super fun, and is judged by the audience and seasoned performers. Producers frequently come to Lucky 13 to scout new talent, so it’s a great way to be seen. Dale Stones’ All Male Yardsale is another great competition focusing on boylesque.
Don’t let your nerves get the best of you at these competitions. Easier said than done, I know. But honestly, if you let yourself have fun, your performance will be 1000% better than if you’re worried about hitting every choreographed step. Also, winning a competition does NOT make or break your burlesque career!
Do reach out to producers about performing, and offer to volunteer to kitten, work the door, stage hand, or flyer for shows. Volunteering will give you a glimpse behind the scenes of how shows run, what is typical back stage, and shows producers that you are dedicated to the community and are willing to work hard (and have fun!).
Approaching producers about performing can be a little nerve-wracking, but we don’t bite! A great place to start is with Punk Rockin’ and Pastie Poppin’, which happens every second Monday at the Midway Café in Jamaica Plain. Started by Dinah DeVille as a venue for punk-style burlesque and acts that might be a little “crusty,” it has sort of morphed into an open-mic of Boston Burlesque. With Dinah now residing in New Orleans, Jane Doe, Honey Pie, and Abby Normal run the show, and everyone is welcome to perform as long as you contact them ahead of time and there’s room in the show. This show is an absolute GIFT — it’s an opportunity to try out new ideas on stage, to show that you’re an easy and respectful person to work with (hint, hint), and it gives you the opportunity to have your work seen by local producers in a super fun and low-pressure environment.
Another way to reach out to producers is good old-fashioned email. Producer and performer extraordinaire Lucifer Christmas (formerly known as Allix Mortis) has created these handy dandy email templates that you can use and alter as you see fit, available HERE .
Don’t expect to get booked in a big show right away. Producing a burlesque show can be a big financial risk. As fabulous as we all know burlesque is, it has a pretty limited audience, especially in Boston. So when a producer books a show, they are booking people they know they can trust to bring a great act, promote the show, and to behave professionally. It takes time to earn that trust from a producer, but that can be done by volunteering, taking advantage of the performance opportunities you have, and putting your heart into your performances.
Do take cues from producers and performers who’ve been doing this a while. The Boston Burlesque community has grown a lot over the last 10 or so years. Through a lot of trial and error, we have figured out what works and what doesn’t. We made mistakes so you don’t have to! It definitely doesn’t mean everything is perfect. If something seems weird to you, absolutely ask about it. But there’s probably a reason for it, so try to reserve judgment until you know the whole story. On that note…
Don’t hesitate to ask for advice, feedback, or just general questions about burlesque and the community in general. Most are willing to share their knowledge within reason. We all want the burlesque community to grow and flourish, and will do what we can to encourage that growth. Like with all things, just be polite and respectful of people’s time.
Do have fun! Burlesque is a lot of hard work for a little bit of money. Very few people make their living off of burlesque, especially in Boston. We mostly do it for the love of the art. Maintaining a consistent burlesque career takes passion. When you put love and passion into your work and have fun with your performance, it shows on stage, and the audience can FEEL it, not just see it.
Don’t forget, we’re living the fantasy life — we get to dress up in sparkly outfits and prance around on stage while people cheer for us — what’s better than that?! Enjoy it!
Femme Brulée has been seen across the country diving into cakes, launching rockets, and leading a chorus line of tap dancing lobsters. She is the founder and choreographer of the Glitter Bombs (Boston’s Premier Strip Hop Troupe) and is a co-producer at Sparkletown Productions, where she masterminds sell-out, off-beat burlesque shows. Ms. Brulée has performed in the holiday burlesque spectacular, The Slutcracker, for 9 years, and has appeared in many burlesque shows and festivals in the U.S. and Canada. This August, Femme is thrilled to be co-producing Alterna-TEASE: The New England Neo-Burlesque Festival for the fifth year in Cambridge, MA.