On stage you might be the consummate professional but backstage are you? Notwithstanding Jo Boobs’s brilliant Backstage Guidelines here are a few pointers of my own:
Don’t hog the mirror
Let’s face it, not all backstage areas have walls covered with mirrors and light bulbs glowing around them. Everyone needs to get ready, everyone deserves their mirror time, especially when it comes to that last check before you go on stage.
Everyone hates a mirror hog, be considerate; if you know you’re going to need to spend a long time doing speciality make up to transform yourself into a lion/unicorn/Bart Simpson then make others aware or take your own collapsible mirror. This one from the Co-op is £4 and is pretty much the exact one I bought years ago from Lakeland that has stood me in good stead.
Say hello to everyone. You might, like me, be a little shy and quiet around people you don’t know but it shouldn’t stop you from introducing yourself to others. If you don’t do this, at worst it’ll make you look aloof; at best, there’ll be someone else who is feeling the exact same way in the other corner of the room and you’ve made a friend for the evening, even if you can’t muster up the courage to say hello to them. You can’t count of a promoter having the time to introduce you all to each other when they’re running about oiling the wheels.
Likewise don’t just say hello to the people you know/the people you’ve heard of and not others who you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting. It doesn’t come across well. If you’ve snubbed the newer people or those a little further down the bill than you it’s considered pretty rude.
Thank the people who have helped you on the night; the stage manager/stage support/tech crew, the DJ, the promoter, the guys at the bar, the blokes on the door, the fellow cast, the person who let you push to the front of the toilet queue during the interval because after all, burlesque performers need to pee.
All of those people have made the night a success. After you’ve done this, give yourself a little pat on the back and feel a bit smug.
If you don’t need to whiz off to the last train/coach or need to get home to feed the dog/cat/partner/goat and plan to mingle a little then take compliments with good grace. We British are a well-known self-deprecating society and while your first instinct when someone compliments you on a beautiful costume may be to say “this? It’s just glitter, sequins and rhinestones stuck on a bra” think about the time and effort you’ve put into the acts a whole, be chuffed someone likes it, say thanks very much and give them a little squeeze on the arm/peck on the cheek/pat on the bum.
Post-performance? After the gig it would be incredibly nice to email/text/message the promoter and say what a fab time you had and you’d love to be back again, but above all thank them for booking you in the first place.
Something Lost? Don’t accuse!
Let’s set the scene: someone’s make up/mirror/tit tape goes missing. They look through their bag and can’t find it. They ask if anyone has seen it. The reply comes back as a resounding “no”. What comes next?
In most cases (and certainly if I was ever in a room where something had gone missing) people will have a quick shufty through their bag/case just to make sure that in the mayhem of a small dressing room with a mass of performers the missing item hasn’t accidentally been knocked off a side and dropped into someone’s stuff.
In some cases the person who is missing an item demands that performers they don’t know very well empty their case in front of them. I have seen this happen.
When the case is emptied and nothing is found it leaves the accuser in a rather embarrassing situation where they apologise profusely and feel ashamed that they picked on the person they don’t know very well and have thought bad enough about them that they’ve tantamount accused them of being a thief. Well, that’s what is meant to happen but I have seen the accuser not apologise, turn on their heel and flounce off, only to find they hadn’t looked in their stuff properly and find the item, with still no apology.
We’ve all lost stuff backstage. For me, a pair of performing knickers and a massive roll of tit tape. Chalk it up as a loss and just be a little more careful where you put your things if you can.
Don’t take up more room than you have to
A dressing room the size of an under stairs cupboard with 10 performers in it is always going to be a tight squeeze but by packing as small a case as you can manage, getting any large props set up or handed over to the crew when you get there and keeping to a small space, you’ll all fit in, because you have to.
If you get there early don’t take up more room than you need to, be mindful of others arriving and their needs and, if you fancy, play a good old game of sardines and embrace to the fact that your butts might touch from time to time.
Apart from the obvious (costumes, props, jewels, make up etc) things to take with you are: a mirror, scissors, tit tape, thread and a needle, a tube of superglue, eyelash glue, safety pins, spare bobby pins, hairspray. If you have these staples in your case at all times you’ll be fine no matter what might malfunction.
Music wise, take two copies of your music on CD. One track on each CD, labelled with your name, the act name for that CD, directions of whether you start on stage or not and a note of anything special (e.g. if your music cuts out but is meant to as part of the act). When you get your CDs back, make sure they’re in the case. This has happened to me twice before and I didn’t check, just threw them in the case ready for the next show and I was thanking my lucky stars that I had an extra copy with me. The 2 CD rule for each act is a great one to live by!
Also bring your music on a USB stick if you can and have it on your phone too, but ensure the tracks are titled properly to avoid confusion if they need to be used.
Keep your act introduction short, sweet and simple
No act should need a long winded five minute introduction. If you can’t convey what you’re trying to get across through the act itself maybe it’s time to re-think it. The compare will need something to work with but handing over a long introduction will stifle their artistic flair and won’t keep the audience engaged. Keep it to a few simple points or lines to hand over; eg my Genie act “Say something smutty about rubbing my lamp, anything Carry On style will do” was generally my request.
If you don’t have anything specific you’d like to use think of tag line for yourself and ask the compare to use it when you’re introduced; eg For me: “the flame haired beauty with the red hot bootie”
If you have a surprise in the act such as whipping a ferret out of your pants half way through (I hope to God someone is actually out there doing this, Last of the Summer Wine act anyone?) then ask the compare to keep schtum about that part of it, if they’ve seen it before they might let it slip if not told.
Don’t be the backstage bitch
You might have moans and groans about someone and something but backstage in front of people you don’t know isn’t the best place to do it, wait until you’re in the car, out of the venue and with people you know well before you start to offload.
Don’t act like a princess either, in my first few months of performing in 2008 I saw someone happily pose away for a photographer out front only to come backstage and say “he’s really pissing me off, he should be paying me to model if he wants to take photos of me”, and with that said person made themselves look like a complete knob to everyone in the room, a few of whom (myself included) who had never met them before but will certainly remember, form an opinion of you from it and may someday be blogging about it.
Similar act/same music as another performer
This shouldn’t really happen and doesn’t very often but it if does there are a few things you can do to keep it professional.
I only found myself in this situation once, having been booked for a specific new act that I had just finished I arrived at the venue to be told that another performer had been booked and had been told to do whichever acts they liked.
I knew they had similar themed act and there was a great chance of them doing it. Not wanting to tread on performer X’s toes I went to run through my act with music and lighting queues and asked them to let X go first with hers and I would follow with mine in the second half if X did turn up with the similar act.
X did turn up with the act. X then proceeded to act in a rather unprofessional manner when X saw my themed costume. I explained the situation and we went through the music we were both using (not the same) and other act variations. I was quite confident that mine was in fact nothing like Xs (as I’d done my research) but this didn’t stop X from being so nasty to me that 20 minutes later I found myself outside, in the rain crying to my husband on the phone because I was made to feel so uncomfortable and bullied.
If you are me in this situation; you’ve done everything you can. If you’re X in this situation; you’ve turned up at a show and the first thing you’ve found out is that someone is doing a similar themed act to you. You might be a bit pissed off but bear in mind that that other performer has just done what they’ve been booked to do, and if you need to get annoyed, get annoyed at the promoter for not forewarning you of the likely clash.
The only real way to avoid situations like this is to ensure you tell the promoter what acts you plan on doing well in advance even if they say it’s your choice to bring what you like (which again doesn’t happen very often – you usually are booked for specific acts).
Get there on time
Reasons for delay; train/bus/coach is delayed, crash on the motorway so you’re stuck in traffic, baby/dog/tortoise sitter hasn’t shown up on time – all reasonable excuses for lateness.
There are those shows where you know you’ve been asked to show up early and you are aware you may be hanging around for some time but if you’ve been told to get there for a specific time have the good faith to know that there is a reason for this, whether that’s to run through, music checks, lighting cues or anything else they might want you to do before the show starts. Worse things happen than being ready early and having plenty of time to catch up with other performers or get to know some new ones.
Plan travel ahead: mainly how you’re getting to the venue and how you’re getting home. The promoter will let you know venue and access details and what time you need to be there, the rest is up to you and they probably have a million emails to answer from various other people leading up to the show; how you get to and from a venue really isn’t up to them, it’s up to you.
People often ask me if I miss performing and the honest answer is what I really miss is the backstage antics, the travel time in the car catching up with friends and a legitimate reason to hear such sentences as “my Mum will spank your bum with that fly swatter”.
Some of the best times you have will be off stage, so make the most of them and do it in a professional manner.
I sat down to shoot the shit with Havana Hurricane, UK burlesque starlet, a tour de force sweeping across the world with a bump n grind burlesque style that would make your mamma blush.
If you haven’t seen Havana perform yet I would describe her like this:
She’s a pretty, pint sized, Disney-esque princess until she whips off her dress and all hell breaks loose. She’s a formidable force and is ridiculously well suited to her name; a whirlwind of raunch, sass and sauce wrapped up in a neat, perfect little package.
She’s also one of the friendliest, most professional and lovely people in the business and she made a little time for me in her busy schedule to meet up for a good old chinwag, so without further ado I give you Miss Havana Hurricane:
Photo © My Boudoir
IW: Could you tell me a little about how you got into burlesque?
HH: I don’t know 100% how I heard of burlesque. I went through a period where I really liked Rockabilly and Marilyn Monroe which lead into finding out more about Bettie Page and it just went from there really.
IW: Do you feel like it’s always been on your periphery a bit? With me I’d seen Gypsy when I was younger as I was obsessed with musicals when I was a kid. I’d heard the name Gypsy Rose Lee and I’d heard of Lily St Cyr, because of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, so I knew a little bit about what it was so from a young age and I feel it had always been in my mind somewhere.
HH: Yes definitely, I think you’ve got an idea even if you’ve not seen the striptease element of it, from people like Marilyn, that Hollywood starlet look which you end up looking into a little more and discovering what burlesque is and how people fit into it.
IW: So what drew you to the classic American bump n’ grind style that you’re well known for?
HH: When I first started performing I loved people like Marnie Scarlett and Vivid Angel and they were two performers in particular that I watched and was inspired by. So originally I thought “I’m going to be this really neo, alternative performer” then when I tried it I didn’t really cut the mould, I think I’ve always been too smiley! I love dancing and the drag scene. I love Cher, Dolly Parton and Joan Rivers and the sparkles and craziness of those type of people really appealed to me and I felt I could identify more with them.
I love the over the top, exaggerated looks and personalities of larger than life women. The big hair, tonnes of makeup, ridiculous plastic surgery – it’s all just amazing. I always said if I was a man I’d be spending most of my time as a drag queen, but just because I don’t have the tackle doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t be a drag queen. When I created Havana I wanted to be this little cartoon type person come to life, with the big hair and eyebrows and make-up, something unnaturally natural.
IW: Do you find that helps to separate your everyday life from your burlesque life or do you find it crosses over into one? Does the hair and makeup help you become Havana or is she always you?
HH: Havana is inside me every day, just smaller that she is when she’s on stage. I feel that my costume and styling brings out the little Havana and makes her this much bigger person, super confident, super fun, bubbly, someone who can achieve anything. As soon as I have my makeup on I feel like I can take over the world.
Photo © Shane Gilliver
IW: How do you start putting a new act together; do you have a starting point such as music, or is it different every time?
HH: It’s completely different. Sometimes I hear a track that I need to dance to, then I create the act around the track, with the colour scheme and costume following and then I pull it all together. Sometimes I get ideas that are based around something else. For one of my acts, I have a gypsy wedding and Disney fusion, with my Gold act Shirley Bassey and Wanda Jackson were my diva inspirations. It depends on what I see and what I like, there’s no structure to me putting an act together really, it’s an organic process.
I’m not the most organised person so I can’t sit down and think, for example, “I’m going to make a Christmas themed act” I just can’t do it, I can’t get inspired! Whereas if I’m driving and hear a track on the radio and hear a beat and can feel the movement I just have to make an act to it.
IW: I always think it’s weird with Christmas acts, I’ve heard people say “oh I really need a Christmas act this year” but the reason for my Christmas tree wasn’t as simple as that.
As weird as this sounds when I was a kid I used to sit with my head under the Christmas tree and pretend I was the tree all dressed up in lights and sparkles or I used to pretend I was a fairy living in the tree. So for all of my life I have always just really wanted to be a Christmas tree. Which ended up being a double edged sword because Christmas is my favourite time of the year and I spent most of it performing rather than enjoying the festivities.
I think the reason it was successful was because I’d had that idea in my head for years and it really was like a dream come true, whereas putting together a seasonal act on the basis of wanting to get booked at a certain time of year is the wrong way to go about it, in my opinion.
HH: I tried to put together a Christmas act once, picked a song but because my heart wasn’t it in it I just couldn’t bring it together successfully. I think if an idea doesn’t inspire you then don’t push it. You need to really enjoy what you’re doing when you’re doing it and if you’re not feeling it it’s not going to be great.
Photo © My Boudoir
IW: What advice have you been given and what would you give to people that are just starting out?
HH: The best piece of advice I think I’ve ever been given is “be yourself” from Julie Atlas Muz. I attended her workshop and I was talking to her about how I didn’t want to go for the more natural style that a lot of the UK girls go for and she said “don’t do it, be who you want” and as soon as I took that on board and did want I wanted to I could feel the difference. I think it says it all really. Stay true to yourself, be what you are and not what people want you to be, or what you think you need to be.
If you don’t feel like you want to wear heels or you don’t feel like you should do your make up in a certain way or style then don’t do it, and I think it resonates with me as I tried early on to be something that I wasn’t, then when I started doing what I wanted, and what I loved, I was much more successful at it.
IW: Who do you love watching perform and who have you been most influenced by?
HH: Go-Go Harder, Perle Noire is a massive inspiration and I love people like World Famous BOB, Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz – people who have that larger than life personality who do burlesque on their own terms, doing what they want to do.
IW: Before you were performing, who were the people that made you want to get up on stage?
HH: When I first started I really loved watching the more alternative people but as I got more involved in the scene and as I’ve been dancing, I’ve moved more away from the comedy and alternative and have a really passion and enthusiasm for strip tease.
IW: That’s probably because you’re doing it yourself so you can probably appreciate more how much effort and training goes into something which a lot of people make look effortless.
HH: I just think there’s something really raw about performers such as Perle Noire, Luna Rosa, Gal Friday and all of these women that are doing traditional striptease in their own way. There’s something about watching them dance and being able to see the love and pure passion for it, whether it’s choreographed or not. The commitment to every single movement, there’s just something I relate to and feed off.
IW: I think it’s bearing your soul because it’s just you up there, no theme or props or characterisation. You’re not playing out a role such as I did with Poison Ivy and telling her story, it’s Havana up there being Havana.
HH: I think that’s what I love about it. I had a moment at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival when I competed in the Queen category when they announced my name; I walked out on stage to silence and I had a moment to take it all in and really experience it. I put my arms up and the band struck up, and I felt empowered like “now it’s my turn”. I really felt a lot of emotion, I could have cried!
I had this moment that I am going to remember for the rest of my life, it was just amazing. I just looked around and thought I’m in this huge casino in New Orleans and I’m just stood here like “this is brilliant!” I just couldn’t quite believe that it was happening. It was a real highlight of last year, the whole festival was amazing and I felt so honoured to be there.
IW: The improv video I saw of you from NOBF was totally hot!
HH: There’s been 27,000 view of that, it’s crazy! (actually just over of 45,000 at time of going to press)
Photo © Shane Gilliver
IW: How important do you think social media has become for performers?
HH: I think social media is a pretty important. It’s about exposure to performers, who you see and how you see them. Access to you as a performer, on twitter, Instagram, facebook is a great way of keeping people updated especially in times where people can’t afford to get out to every show.
I also think from a research point of view, social media is important too, it can often be the gateway to finding out more about a performer I might never have come across otherwise, or seeing a performance video of someone can link you to finding more about the burlesque scene they’re involved in and you find other things you adore through that process. I made it my mission this year to spread love in the community, I have chosen to spread more news about performers, posting videos of acts that I love and why I love them.
IW: I think contact and promotion of new acts is great for audiences, who are getting a better experience for feeling more connected to performers that they ever would have done previously.
HH: I think you’re right. In burlesque you see people perform and put them on a pedestal, but social media really helps audiences feel they’re a part of the community. I have seen performers grow through their online presence and I love the fact that you’re there along the way with them, and it’s nice to have people joining me on that journey too. I love it when audience members come and chat to me and when they contact me online, for me it’s very important to have that contact.
IW: It wasn’t that long ago that performers were complaining about others posting new bits of costume, the secrecy element of it used to be quite a big thing, performers wanting to unveil a new act without anyone knowing what they were up to but now it seems to have swung the opposite way. I think now the more successful performers are definitely the ones who are more accessible and easier to relate to.
HH: Definitely, it shows that they’re real people; the backstage photos, the teaser clips of new acts, the glimpses of costumes. Of course that doesn’t mean I share everything, I don’t think people are remotely interested in what I had for dinner, if I’m waiting for a bus or if my washing machine is broken! I think if people feel they can relate to you it makes it more of a personal connection when you’re on stage and definitely makes you more approachable. Also I’m really nosey so I like to know what’s going on with people!
IW: Me too, that’s why I love Instagram so much!
HH: Yeah, me too. I recently got a new leotard and I thought “well, my housemate’s not interested but I’m sure Instagram will be”. I just needed someone to get excited with me. I really do love it!
I think without social media it would be hard to spread the word of burlesque to others . I know some people would like to keep it underground but I don’t think that’s good for the community.
IW: I think that ship sailed a really long time ago. When I started performing in 2008 it was already gaining popularity and it’s exploded since then, I think it should be given more exposure, it’s a great art form that should be celebrated. I think everyone knows what burlesque is now. Five years ago you’d tell people you performed and they’d look at you like “what is that?” but now they wouldn’t even be surprised, I think it’s a good thing that’s it’s being accepted.
HH: Definitely, and you wouldn’t have that without social media. I think it helps build community and bring everyone together, I have friends that I made in America that I would never have been able to keep up to date with if it wasn’t for facebook, it’s a great way to keep in touch with those I’ve met from all over the world.
IW: And things like the BHoF film, if the kick-starter project wasn’t as shared on facebook or promoted as much through social media it would never have been able to be distributed so widely.
Definitely, I donated to a Tempest Storm film kick-starter project and I wouldn’t have known anything about it if it wasn’t for social media. I think it’s incredibly important to keep burlesque alive through an online presence.
Photo © My Boudoir
IW: This year you were voted 12 on the top 20 UK performers in 21st Century Burlesque poll, congratulations
HH: I was very excited! It was so nice and thanks to everyone who voted for me. I work so hard on putting everything together and it’s great to have that recognised by people enjoying what I do.
IW: What have you got planned for the rest of 2014?
HH: Well obviously we’re planning on taking BHoF by storm! (myself, Havana, Daisy Cutter, Trixie Passion are roomies for BHoF this year). I’d like to do more International Festivals, I’d like to go over to America later in the year too, perform more in Europe and I’m working on adding some extra sparkle to some of my current acts.
IW: Finally, when you’re not performing what do you do?
I am a Latin and Ballroom dancer, which I love, is very fun and takes up a lot of my time. I love watching films but I don’t stick with a particular genre. Oh, and at the moment I’m watching the Spartacus series, I’m watching so much of it! To be fair, I’ll watch anything with half naked men with swords and six packs.
IW: Have you seen the trailer for Pompeii? Do you watch Game of Thrones? Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) is the male lead and he’s super ripped and in tiny pants.
HH: Totally going to add it to my watch list!
And then we descended into talk about telly, films and ripped guys for far too long!
If you’d like to find out more above Havana please visit her at: