Thursday, May 28, 2009


Ann Corio. There's a nice dinner theater named for her.I try to never disparage fellow performers.
Unless they are are so wrong-headed that I have to.
My curriculum vitae contains many bullet points: I went to college and studied history, literature, theater, drama, wrote, studied, and performed stand-up comedy, improvisation and sketch comedy; researched kabuki, folk drama, commedia dell'Arte, and vaudeville.
Maybe I have too much information and respect for the traditions and history involved in performance, and I get a little picky about ill-use of traditional forms, but I still enjoy an evening of lazzi or slapstick. Whether I'm watching or performing.
Burlesque is one such specific form of entertainment. It can be traced to the commedia of the past, which requires a certain amount of crudity. But that crudity is not harmful to spectators. It can cause self-conscious squirms and uncomfortable coughs, but should never make the audience so uncomfortable that they leave.

Barbara Stanwyck in 'Lady of Burlesque'(1943)I am all for people developing their self-esteem through performance, as described on SouthCoastToday by "Honey Suckle Duvet" (Amber P. Knight) of tonight's Rhythm & Boobs at Gallery X in New Bedford. She talks about the positive atmosphere in her classes, regard for each other as practitioners, her ban on self-deprecating remarks. Seems like a nice way to spend a hour or two.
But any performer who is willing to take a stage, purposefully blindered, unaware of and unprepared for limitations, is simply reckless. Your "sense of self" is not the animus onstage. The animus is the other, the scene, the scene partner, the prop, the audience, the script. Amateur dabbling, even if effective as ego-gratification and morale-booster, is self-satisfying fraud. Even belly dancing is not merely therapeutic movement, and to deny its geopolitical-historical significance defiles it. Burlesque is not a supportive and enabling medium for shy exhibitionists. If you think that it is, please call it something else.
That said, Southern New England is not an actual home of burlesque. I will always refer to Coney Island whenever I discuss the art form. Miss Exotic World and former Facebook friend Angie Pontani. Don't ask.While hosting a local "talent show," I was surprised at the brusque unpleasant manner of a particular performer and her lack of actual "performance." Several other scheduled performers did not even show up that night, so I may be coloring their more conscientious peers incorrectly, and I do apologize to those who take their "burlesque revival" seriously.
But as a fellow performer, a director, a producer, and a member of an actors union (lapsed), I know that very few professionals have patience for that nonsense.
I went to another performance, and tried to appreciate the "Providence burlesque revival" of overly-serious tattoo twirling and pierced body part parading.
I saw unattributed plagiarism from music videos (that had, in turn, stolen from earlier sources). The performers' stagenames, only marginally like the double-entendres formerly used by performers, evoked unnecessary and disconcerting malevolence. Cheap, thuggish, unstudied: Nothing more than self-impressed children prancing around smugly in their mothers' underwear, so impressed by their own audacity.
Their only ambition was to annoy, not to titillate or to entertain. The alleged "sexual energy" was nothing but lukewarm naughtiness delivered with detached "grrrly" nonchalance, thrusting the audience into an empty void of uncomfortably indifferent distraction, a trick that only works once in Theater of the Absurd if done deliberately, and this was not.
During this pedantry billed as pageantry, I perceived that I was being taught an unnecessary and destructive lesson: that I was a misogynistic chump who had paid for something and I was not entertained. I knew what "burlesque" means; I was not looking for boobies; I was looking for a knowing, sly, rehearsed, clever show. I had been cheated and disgusted and felt dirty.
A friend who had also sat through the display remarked that, "If they don't take money, they're not strippers."
"They aren't supposed to be strippers," I explained.
"Good. Then I'm not supposed to give them my money."
So this Southern New England Burlesque Revival is not for me, like Larry the Cable Guy and Dancing with the Stars are not for me.
The right of a performer to use saucy language or risque body movements is a tradition that goes back to the first campfire and ends at the fourth wall.
But it is not excused by, nor does it excuse, an ignorance of that tradition.

The Flory Dory Girl Dance -


Human Melville said...

Girly acts and fan dancers were in minstrel shows. 'Sociallt-conscious" hiphop artists should think about that.

ThirdMate said...

Human Melville: minstrel shows' raucous sensibility, low humor, and musical numbers directly influenced burlesque. (Although minstrel show audiences were probably more interested in the zany antics of Mistuh Bones and Zip Coon.)

I doubt there'll be any Jump Jim Crow tonight. Unless they try to deliver a history lesson, which bores the Gallery X crowd.

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