I just hit my 8 year mark as a burlesque performer- my burly birthday is Oct 13th! For the majority of my performance career, I have done comedic and nerd based work. Recently I decided to conquer my fears and perform a "classic" number. For those not in the know, if a burlesque performer (or aficionado) refers to a number as classic, they mean an act that would have been performed during the golden era of burlesque (early 1900's-1950's). So: sequin gowns, boa work, and fan dances. Obviously this is a VERY short definition, but basically that is it. Personally, I find classic is super scary. You have to be good. You have nothing to fall back on. No gimmicks and no nerd references. You just have to be present on stage and good at engaging an audience. And trust me, that only sounds easy.
I am quite lucky, in that I have many friends who produce shows that were willing to give me a chance at trying something new. I debuted this number (with a slightly different version of the costume) at Peepshow Menagerie's tribute night to Depeche Mode. Shortly after I was booked for that show, I pitched and was accepted into Madeline Sinclaire's all classic BEAUTEASE show.
But on to the costume! I had gotten a beautiful copper sequined dress from my darling friend (and co-producer of Saintly Bomb Productions) Miss Greta Grenade at a clothing swap about a year back. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but I had never seen sequins that color, and I knew that I just had to have it. It had been sitting on my dress form just wait for inspiration to strike! For the first version of the costume, I just made a purple mermaid tail (using about 40 yards of tulle) and connected it to the dress using snap tape. While I was happy with how it looked, as I wore it, I noticed that the tulle was just heavy, and was pulling and changing the silhouette of the dress. By the end of the night it just wasn't quite right. Having 2 weeks until I needed to use it again, I went back to the drawing board. I knew that I needed to line the dress to give it more structure, and I also knew that I wanted to double the amount of tulle on the tail. I just happened to have left over purple sequin fabric from a previous costume. Using mine (and Greta's, we share a lot of patterns!) beloved McCALL'S #6838, I started from scratch and remade the entire costume! It took 30 hours, tears, seam rippers, hand dyed snap tape, wine, and the help of fellow costumer and friend Mae Lust. I still want to add about 40 yards of tulle, adjust the straps, and rhinestone her, but I am just pleased as punch with how she turned out!
I am forever grateful that these producers trusted my ability to create this number, and gave me the space to perform it. Remember y'all, no matter what your art form is, if its high or low brow, its important to make yourself uncomfortable. Step out of the safe zone. It may not always work out, but trust me- you will be glad that you did it!
Photos by the sweet & rad Markus Alias, taken at Peepshow Menageries Burlesque Marches on show!