Monday, August 16, 2010

How'd a Girl Like You End Up in a Job Like This?

It occurred to me after my last (slightly ranty) post that not all of the readers of this blog might be familiar with my experiences as a performer and why I got into burlesque over more traditional drag shows. So I think this is as good a time as any to get into a little bit of background to give some context to what I do and why I do it (at least as far as performing goes, I may tackle the bigger "why do you dress as a woman at all?" question at a later date.)

Photo by Banafsheh Ehtemam

Without getting into an overly detailed history of how I ended up on stage in a dress in the first place, I started performing in drag shows when I was living in Boston. I actually had a rather easy time getting on stage because I happened to be working (in drag) at a gay bar called Machine that had a weekly drag night. I had an easy way into doing shows and the performers I met at the bar got me into Boston's only drag bar, Jacques Caberet. I did several very fun shows there but it wasn't long before Laura and I moved to New York City, which turned out to be a whole different beast.

Once in NYC I realized how easy I had it in Boston because I got to know people at the bar and that functioned as my foot getting in the door as far as performing went. In New York I didn't know anybody and I had switched from late night bar work to full time day job. The thing about New York is nobody really cares what you've done anywhere else, they only care if you've made it in NYC yet. And until you do "make it" getting any kind of venue to perform is quite a tricky proposition. That is unless you know somebody who'll vouche for you, and I didn't know any one. I got a few sporatic gigs such as the "Ultimate Drag Off" competition and a little modeling but these were very few and far between. Drag performance seemed doomed to slowly slip away from me in the big city.

Photo by Efrain Gonzalez

Then a revelation. I had a friend that I knew through MySpace who was graduating from a burlesque workshop, and the graduation was getting to perform on stage. To show support I went to my first ever burlesque show. Now aside from the teacher of the workshop (Dottie Lux) all the performers were amatures, and of varying levels of skill and talent. However what I saw there was eye opening. In that one night I realized that the type of performance that I did was much closer to burlesque than traditional drag. Most drag queens do one of two things: they either stand and lip sync in over the top hair and make-up and glamorous dresses (just not my thing,) or they are amazing dancers who happen to be men dressed as women (I dance alright but I'm not in this league.) What I did right from the start was try to tell stories with the pieces that I would do, which (along with a certain amount of clothing removal) is what is at the very heart of burlesque performance.

After seeing those amatures I started looking into burlesque shows and immediately found burlesque to be far more accessible and welcoming to newcomers than drag. In the drag world you need a connection, a friend or a drag mother who will get you in with the people who will book you for performances. That just isn't the case with burlesque. As unusual as I was (to date I've met some transgendered burlesque performers but not another drag burlesque performer) I was welcomed with open arms and open minds. The beauty of burlesque is that it really will take any and all comers, as long as they have an idea and the guts to get on the stage and show a little skin. Drag queens feel like they're always competing with each other, whereas I've always gotten more of a family vibe from fellow burlesque performers. There is a certain amount of backstage politics as with any performance art but they are nowhere near as cut throat as I've seen in other art forms. That is something I cherrish deeply.

Photo by Millie Acosta

And there you have it. That's I refined my particular approach to performance at burlesque shows and to burlesque audience. By the time I moved out of New York I hadn't done an actual traditional drag show in years and had been performing exclusively at burlesque shows or LBGT themed events. Thus I'm a drag queen with barely anything in my repertoire that is what most people think of when they imagine a drag queen. And I love it that way. I'd rather be unique and confuse people than fade into a sea of other people doing the same thing. But what continues to amaze me is how few people are confused and instead get what I'm doing. That is something I would not have expected but I'm grateful for it every day.

2 comments:

  1. It's always fun reading a personal story like this one. Thanks for sharing with us!

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  2. Thank you Kyla, it helps to know people not only read this thing but enjoy it.

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