Apr 24, 2012

"Even Rich People Have to Shit"

The title of this post is inspired by something my friend and fellow performer and producer of "Coup De Grace Burlesque" at the uptown Triad Theater Grace Gotham said one night after my Thursday night show at Nurse Bettie. I was complaining about some of the challenges as a MC (for me at least) one of which that annoys me the most is how different the audiences are in varying neighborhoods.

In my experience which range from working in venues in downtown Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, TriBeCa, to the Meatpacking District, I have found that the "downtown" crowd is rowdier, more vocally expressive about their excitement, less hesitant about interacting with the MC and/or performers, puts in $1 bills and coins (ggggrrrr!) in the tip bucket, and tends to be already informed about "Burl-etiquette 101". The "uptown" crowd is a lot more reserved, do not like to "talk back" to the MC, puts in $10 and $20 bills in the tip bucket, and is generally hesitant to vocally express excitement during a burlesque striptease. Often while performing to an uptown crowd in a non-downtown venue I feel like the tree in the forest. If I fell, would anyone notice? As an MC, ice breaker questions at the beginning of the show such as "Who has seen burlesque before?" or "How is everyone doing tonight?" (Miss Astrid recommends against the last question but I think it's okay once but no more than twice through the entire show) fall on deaf ears and you are greeted with a sea of still-sober faces looking slightly skeptical and...constipated.

Like I always say at the beginning of my shows, "There's nothing sadder than a stripper stripping to silence." This, along with a couple of other "Calamity Chang Guidelines", help a bit in making the uptown crowd less tense and more comfortable about seeing nudity outside of a strip club. It feels like I am giving them permission. I also intro the show by way of example by asking the audience to "channel their inner most construction worker" and make a lot of appreciative noise when a performer is taking off her clothes - not a kosher comment but at least I'm being class-ist and not racist. People always laugh when they hear this. And they always laugh when I warn them about having "porn face." That is the face you make when someone catches you looking at porn, well, you'll have to come to one of my shows to see my impersonation of that look. To prevent having that stupefied, stunned look on one's face during a burlesque show, I advise the audience to sit back, loosen their ties and unbutton the top of their collared shirts, simply enjoy the view and the drink in their hand, and make a lot of noise - because rich people have to shit too. 
At my monthly show "Drunken Dragon Nights" at Macao Trading Company in Tribeca. The audience here RULES! Never quiet. Always fun. But that's because Macao attracts a great crowd that knows how to have fun without being douchey.
A photo by an anonymous fan from my old show Beatles Burlesque in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
But at the end of all this, as long as the audience is appreciating the show and paying attention as opposed to texting on their phones all night, I don't care if they are making noise or not. It's more fun if they are excited and it certainly helps build the overall energy of the event and my energy as well, but it's showbiz and you can't control everything. I do think it is worth noting  that sometimes the most uptight crowd is the most inappropriate after a few (and then plus) drinks. They have propositioned performers for "private shows", asked for our phone numbers as if we were escorts fronting as burlesque performers, try to dance on the stage WITH us DURING our acts, and the list goes on. When they shit, they don't care where!

I have long suspected the difference between the crowds have everything to do with socio-economic background, then I stumbled across an interesting op-ed article on The Daily. It is about why burlesque is seen as "acceptable" by the middle class, which in this case, includes me and the majority of burlesque performers and burlesque appreciators.

The piece is called "Barely tolerated: Why the bourgeoisie accepts burlesque and disdains stripping" by a who saw me perform at last year's benefit function for Planned Parenthood NY.
Here's me performing & hosting the burlesque portion of PPNY's benefit party in 2011. Read Bust.com's coverage >
She posits that although burlesque has become tremendously popular in mainstream culture and acceptable as a form of entertainment appealing to couples/bachelorettes/bachelor parties going to a strip club has not caught up with the times. The stigma and societal disapproval of going to strip clubs remain strong as ever whereas burlesque, hell, there's even a Hollywood movie made about it. I personally have found that in the last couple of years, EVERY restaurant and bar wants burlesque on New Year's Eve or other major holidays. The writer argues that there are two crucial differences that make burlesque acceptable and stripping not. She writes:
The first is aesthetic. People from middle-class backgrounds favor the burlesque show over the strip club as a matter of taste, the same way they favor Restoration Hardware over Target. Burlesque costumes display fine stitching and retro glamour; they are visibly part of a historical spectrum. They are time-consuming to create and maintain, like teak furniture and craft beer. Stripper gear, on the other hand, is shiny and cheap. It’s tacky. Trashy. Low class.

The second is financial. With few exceptions, performing fan dances and other burlesque favorites is no more a way to make a living than, say, sculpting. Stripping in a strip club, on the other hand, can pay the bills. And so it’s no great surprise that stripping attracts more poor women, while burlesque attracts more women from the middle class who have the luxury of treating it as a creative pursuit.
I really enjoyed reading her article. It is one of the more erudite and academic analysis of the difference between a burlesque show vs. a strip club show. And I agree with her. It is true that burlesque does not make money compared to stripping in a high-end strip club or in Vegas. It is also true that many burlesque performers I know are on unemployment paychecks yet will not consider taking a full-time job to make more money or to put away for retirement. Let's face it, looks don't last forever and when that goes, one's earning ability goes as well. There is a sense of living in the creative moment, living the bohemian artist lifestyle and with that, believing in the romance of being true to one's artistic self by going against corporate America and denouncing the life of an office drone.

Maybe this is a middle class mentality, a new American bourgeois fantasy of desiring "creative wealth" as opposed to material wealth.

Apr 19, 2012

Hudson Opera House Photo Shoot

I just worked on an amazing photo shoot at the historic Hudson Opera House upstate in Hudson, NY. The photographer is David Bowles who is the director Oddities on Science Channel. As you know, that is my favorite show and I was one of the featured buyers in Season 3 in an episode called "Seeing Scars."

We've been planning this shoot for a few months and finally we synched up this week. We went up to the location bright and early and worked some magic together! The space is incredible, I have to say, I felt like I didn't have to work as hard in a venue like that. The venue did a lot of the work. I just had to stand there, although I am still sore all over the next day like after every photo shoot I do.

The space is simply amazing. It was abandoned and left to disrepair for years before a group of locals got together to save it. It used to be a vaudeville theater among many other things, and the stage is HUGE with three dressing rooms on each side. In one of the upstairs dressing rooms you can see remnants of old show posters on the wall. When I first walked in the space I got a really good feeling. No weird haunted ghostly feelings as in some old historic buildings. This place had a happy feeling... like an inspired sensation as if good things have happened to people here. Since the shoot came out so beautifully, I think the ghosts of the past were happy we created such beautiful pictures there!

See the set at my web site >

Here's one of my favorites - see the rest at my site http://www.calamitychang.com/Gallery.html

This image looks so familiar to me...am I thinking of something from Georges MeliƩs?

You can see the artist's name here.
Some old chairs were scattered around. They looked fantastic.

Two old pianos on the stage.

Apr 14, 2012

LOVE this Pic! - iO Tillett Wright: she's reaching.

iO Tillett Wright: she's reaching.: TT time! Burlesque at Macao.

I love this picture because it's not typical. 

Apr 5, 2012

Your China Collection Is Lovely

This is a traditional Chinese dinner table. A plate for a whole fish is essential!
The other weekend my boyfriend and I finally made our trip to Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn to get some things for the house. We even rented a car because we knew we had to get some big items that would be a pain to lug around on the free Ikea bus. We’ve been planning to go for many weekends but between my freelance day time job in advertising, my night time burlesque show schedule, and his photography travel schedule and long days on set and on location, we have compiled a running list of items to get.

One of the key items high on the list was more plates and bowls to accommodate family members who will be visiting us. When we moved in together two years ago I volunteered to throw away my shabby dishes and utensils because he owned nicer things. Most of my kitchen stuff I had found on the sidewalk in Park Slope where people often threw away boxes of dishes (this was pre-bed bug epidemic). Nothing I owned in the kitchen matched. It was all a mish-mash of things. The only “set” I owned that matched were a set of brown plates and bowls that had strawberries on them. They looked like they were from the 70s, chipped corners and all. This set I held on through college and through all my apartments in NYC (7 in total!) for sentimental reasons. It was the first set my parents bought in the States when we first immigrated here from Bolivia, South America. They bought it at a grungy flea market in Tampa, Florida.

Western style plate collection. Lots and lots of plates.
So I kept it. But I appropriately retired it to the lower shelves in the kitchen where it remained hidden out of sight away from all the nicer, matching things when we finally settled into cohabitation. I honestly do like his set more. I marvel at his dedication to symmetry. There are four of everything. Everything is the same size so they stack together nicely and not at all a twisting spiraling Tower of Pisa like what I’ve grown up accustomed to seeing at home. Everything is also the same color - white. White dinner plates. White serving plates. White bowls. White larger bowls. White smaller plates. White useless oval plate to put a cup on for no reason. By the way I don’t know my china terms for different sizes and things. I marvel at this Western tradition of china collection!

I haven’t thought about my brown strawberry plates from the 70’s until that weekend at Ikea when we stood amidst the Houseware section trying to decide about plates. He had very specific ideas, and he was also very adamant that everything had to be a set of four in the same color. I suppose it gives dudes a sense of order to have these domestic design rules. I didn’t care what plates he got or whether they matched or in a complete set. I wanted to go eat some meat balls! I just didn’t see why it was so important to have matching sets of things like this. Left to my own I would have gotten whatever struck my fancy. A couple of the gorgeous rich plum-colored plates, maybe two of the Tiffany Blue colored-bowls, and just for the hell of it, some fun plastic ones. But I didn’t. Part of me think it’s not very grown-up to have mismatched plates in your house. Another part of me think it’s very Chinese (and thus VERY charming) to have a potpourri style of plates and bowls.

This table doesn't look fun to eat at to me.
I am reminded of the time when my older brother got married ten years ago. It was a big to do because he was marrying a non-Chinese. In the Chinese tradition the bride’s family pays for the wedding, and since she’s not Chinese, my parents had to follow the Western tradition of paying for the wedding and the rehearsal dinner. All I remember was the arguing and fighting over CHINA! My mom being the one who likes to play nice more than my dad felt that we had to buy new sets of everything from crystal to china.  There were many trips made to both high end homeware stores to Wal-Mart looking at the variety. We would need at least two sets of everything if we were going to entertain our side of the family and hers for the rehearsal dinner. The plan was to host it at our home and have the food catered by one of the many Chinese friends of my parents who owned amazing restaurants nearby. Then I mentioned that for the kind of food we wanted to serve, we would only need the big plates and bowls. We wouldn’t need the other size plate, the bowls, certainly not the butter container nor the gravy boat. The total amount was climbing at an alarming rate. Also I don’t know where the hell my parents were going to store all this “fine china” and crystals because no Chinese homes I’ve ever been to have fancy plates or a “china cabinet” to store and display one’s collection.

A fancy china cabinet. I hope I never have to own one of these...
 My mom argued that it was critical for us to make this humongous purchase to show the other family that we could...hang (so to speak) with the Western ways. My dad disagreed fervently. He said we shouldn’t to change the way we were just to “blend in” even if it was as mundane as having sets of matching china to serve dinner guests. I absolutely agreed with him as usual. I hated the idea of playing someone else, or as I imagined it, sitting around all prim and proper with napkins folded over on our laps, drinking tea (not even Green Tea but Earl Grey!) with our pinkies up or saying “ching, ching daaaahlin” to each other. I hated the idea of pretending to be “white” for their sake. So what if our cupboard isn’t an immaculate sea of matching china? So what if our cutlery is a mish mash of things that don’t match? Who cares? The food - and its DAMN delicious Chinese food that my Mom spend days in advance to prepare and hours to cook means way more than what it’s served out of.

We left the matching sets at the store that day, and my parents decided to have the rehearsal dinner at a friend’s Chinese restaurant where everything does match - in a Chinese way. As for our kitchen there is now four plum-colored plates nestled among the white ones in alternating colors, of course, so it looks intentional.

Apr 4, 2012

Birthday - Dress Form!

My birthday is this month on April 21, and look what I found when I came home late one night from a show!

A red dress form from Michael! I've been wanting one for a long time but never spend the time to research it. I sew and construct simple costume pieces all the time, and I never realized how useful this is until now! I was sewing elastic one day and had to hold one end of the piece with my teeth and the other end with my toes so the fabric stayed stretched out, and sew with one hand. Now that I have this baby to drape and hang everything on, I won't need to be so acrobatic when I make my pieces.

This form is by Singer Model 150. It is adjustable in the bust, waist, hip, and neck area. I noticed that when I used my actual measurements on it, some of the dresses won't fit on it. That is because the dress form is stiff and does not have any give the way real bodies (ie: boobs) are.

The first thing I've been using it for is altering the straps for this Jovani dress that many of you have probably seen me wear.

The straps are quite thin and they've always bugged me. Then I saw this same dress worn on GCB and they've altered Amanda's straps with a big applique! So I hussled over to B&Q and got myself a yard. This will be one of the fabulous dresses I'm taking with me to Vegas at the end of May for Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend!
By Francine Daveta at Beatles Burlesque