We’ve all been there – we’ve seen someone up on stage and thought they were just the best thing ever. “Look at the way they move, look at their costume, look at the way they’ve removed that item of clothing…I’d love to do that.” It’s so hard when you get into burlesque not to be inspired by someone you adore but to replicate someone else’s work is folly.
It’s often talked about on social media– what do you do if someone copies your act? Short answer: you contact them and ask them nicely to cease and desist. There will, of course, be times when others have a thought to do the same act as you (I was never the only Poison Ivy on the block) but to make it different I chose to show how Pamela Lilian Isley became Poison Ivy – something no one else did or has done (and if you try, I’ll fight you for it – joking of course). When I created my genie act I had another performer contact me saying they were in the process of doing a genie act – would I be upset if they carried on? My response was of course no, because as long as it’s different it doesn’t matter.
So that’s that dealt, with but here’s the elephant in the room: it’s not just acts that others like to emulate.
I see post after post asking where people get their props from and three in the last month asking where others get their giant glasses from, then people tagging those who have them in their post. It may be all well and good trying to help a gal out but the UK is a small place and when another giant glass comes into play it splits the market for that type of specific act all over again.
If the new person is charging less than a more established act it essentially undercuts them and impacts on their bookings, ergo they’re not going to tell you where they got theirs from, and after the amount of research, time and work they put into sourcing a company to make theirs why would they?
I’m not saying don’t go for the girl in a glass gimmick, I’m just saying don’t ask a prop maker to make something again that they may have made for someone else, and don’t assume the more established glass acts will give you their contacts. Its bad business, bad manners and guaranteed to put someone’s nose out of joint.
When I first debuted Poison Ivy (version 2) with the light up costume I got several emails asking where I’d got my costume made, or how I made it and where they could go to get something similar. I replied to all in a positive manner and said I’d made my own. Light up costumes were not my original idea (no outlandish claim there from me!) but did I really want an influx of them in the UK burlesque scene? Nope, and the same goes for a lot of other performers too.
I’ve seen a lot of posts over the last year of performers in their costumes and others asking “where can I get this only in blue?” or “do you know who made this costume?” or “I’d like it to look exactly like this”.
Performers are rightly very guarded about where they get their new pieces from, sometimes working with costumiers for months, or even years, before they debut a new act. The genius idea they had for a breakaway costume piece may be pivotal to why that performer gets booked again if it’s executed in a stunningly original way. If someone else comes along and claims that as their own, they’re presumably going to be annoyed.
You may argue there’s no such as an original idea but I remember a time when burlesque performers in the UK all had their own look, they made their own costumes, they sourced their own pieces and it wasn’t a stream of girls at ‘X event’ wearing a bra by ‘X costumier’ but in a different colour. The showgirl thing is booming business, but I get bored seeing act after act of the same thing, in the same costume essentially doing the same act – thinking to myself if you changed the music what would be the difference? Make yourself stand out, it’ll be what gets you booked.
Where do we go from here?
Now I know there are trends in burlesque – remember the big frilly knickers of 2008 that everyone seemed to wear? The great Isis wing revolution of 2009? Or the silk fan fad of 2010?
Sure, there will be times when something comes along that takes the scene by storm but it saddens me to think that performers think they need to look a certain way or have a certain costume piece to be truly part of the wonderful glitz and glamour of burlesque. I have seen new performers, not comfortable in their own skin performing in a style that doesn’t suit them because they’ve been sold a vision of burlesque and feel that’s what they have to do and it comes across as awkward.
Are we doing the UK industry any good by perpetuating the myth that burlesque is all about the showgirl part of the scene? Resulting in a “if that’s what gets booked that’s what I need to be” mentality – ultimately leading to burlesque by numbers and the newer performers who don’t conform to a look or style feeling that they won’t get booked? I speak to a lot of performers at the society and socially and some of them do feel that way.
I love the bump n grind style of burlesque, I love the showgirl side too but it’s not something that’s suited to everyone. Look at the UKs top 20 – they’re not all showgirls and they all have edge – they stand out because they’re unique.
As for my feelings? I crave the variety of a few years ago, of standout acts with original ideas. Bam Bam Blue dragging her butt across the floor in her dog face girl act, Cherry scorn’s voiceover librarian, Fanny Divine’s Fanny Potter.
Character driven burlesque is out there, as is burlesque with a political message but a lot of it never sees the light of day. I hope there’s a rumbling of the underground again, and new performers come out fighting with less showgirl glitz and more grit and tits.