A quick story:When I was seven, a girl at my daycare let me play with her Barbie which sported a cocktail dress that transformed into a duffle bag.
When I was eleven I watched a back up dancer in a John Cougar Mellancamp music video sport a vivid shade of deep maroon lipstick.
It is my belief that these three events profoundly altered and influenced my life and continue to do so in subconscious ways...
Today's class literally focused on the surface of Boylesk--as in, how a performer actually looks when he walks on stage. Referring back to the very first day of BOYLESK 101, my goal today was to impress upon my students the need to put plenty of time, energy, and thought into their costume AND make-up choices for their numbers.
Now, of course I didn't in anyway want one of my guys to leave feeling like they had to be some air-brushed, hairless, dancing Ken Doll (*number idea*); I'm a hairy, pale--I prefer "porcelain-skinned"--Boylesk-er myself. BUT, I do fastidiously trim and manicure my chest, back, and ass and also do my best to cover any skin imperfections I have on any given day. At the risk of sounding like a middle school guidance counselor, I strive to make my own personal canvas as neutral as possible. Meaning for instance, zits are zits. Whether they're on your nose or on your right butt cheek, cover them up! Body hair is beautiful, but treat it like the hair on your head and keep it coiffed--a little glitter and an electric trimmer with attachments goes a long way.
My thoughts on costuming are this:
1) Whether you swim in rhinestones and glitter or not, everything that a performer brings onto the stage should ideally have a heightened style. That doesn't mean it has to sparkle, but consider the pracitcal use of a rhinestone or a spotlight sequin. Sure they're pretty, they're colorful, BUT THEY ALSO CATCH LIGHT! In other words, they shine out in what are otherwise dark, dim, and crowded clubs and bars. Incorporating embellishments like these physically distracts an audience member from tweeting about being at a burlesque show and instead, causes him to actually FOCUS on the show in front of him. At least for 30 seconds or so.
I remember a grizzled, "Old Man and the Sea-esque" acting teacher of mine who one day asked me,
"Do you know why women wear lip gloss?"
I froze, slightly petrified not only by the teacher, but also the gender loaded waters he had just embarked in.
"Its simple stupid," he said. "Because it makes their lips glisten! It catches us men's attention!"
|(Consider my attention captured.)|
Which brings me to my next point...
2) A beautiful costume is only as strong as its number. And likewise, a well constructed and choreographed number is incredibly amplified by a beautiful costume. There is a balance to be achieved here, a "stripping Zen state" if you will.
3) Not to tangent too far into queer theory and sexual politics, but as a male performer in a predominantly female art form originated by women, I do feel a certain sense of duty to put as much time, effort, and focus into my appearance and costumes as do the hard working ladies of Burlesque. Granted, there are slips and meek efforts on both sides of the gender wheel, but I am continually inspired and humbled when I get to share a dressing room with my fellow enchanted Burlesque ladies who spend hours setting their hair, curling their eyelashes, and rhinestoneing varoius garment, pasties, and merkins (vajazzling if you will.)
A Final Thought...
I keep encouraging my students to think of their upcoming Boylesk numbers as "stripper monologues." And just like any monologue, the more one practices AND the more one accrues life experience, the more that monologues changes. So too, in my opinion, does a striptease number. For instance one ideally becomes more comfortable with his number's choreography so as to allow for surprise improvisations; or, perhaps he completely re-choreographs certain sections. So too then will his costume probably need to be altered, replaced, or in the very least, expanded upon in some fashion.
For example, below is a visual timeline of the first number I ever created: "Hot 4 Teacher." Originally a one-off for a night club where I was working as a go-go boy, I created this number with very humble means. As I began to become more interested in Boylesk and the Burlesque community, I realized I needed to invest more energy into my costume and props and try to meet the high standards being set by the professionals. You'll see what I mean...
|(On Fire Island, 2010... Pretty much what you see + a sweater vest and a pair of cut-offs)|
|(Fall 2010: added rip away shirt, school boy shorts, and propeller hat)|
|(London, Spring 2011: completely new costume with specific color scheme.)|
(London, Spring 2012: further embellishing.)
(Summer 2012: additional prop.)
(Summer 2012: additional prop.)
I know I feel especially inspired by the male performers featured below whose efforts definitely show in their uniquely styled and crafted costumes pieces (and, to be blunt, cock pieces.) Their attention to detail, both in their choreography and costumes, again inspires me to continue to hone my skills equally both in the rehearsal room and the sewing room.
Enjoy, and may the gem-tac be with you!