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.

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