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.