I started performing burlesque early in 2010, having been a fan for many years including whilst it was still quite an underground art. In that time the scene has changed immeasurably, something oft discussed on social media and forums.
Some may feel that this is just what every one says when the next generations start coming up through (“in my day…”), but from my point of view there are a lot of truths here. The mainstream popularity of burlesque and the closure of a lot of shows over the last few years has completely changed the industry. Arguably, not for the better, but the generations coming up who don’t realise that the performers who are thinking of quitting now used to make twice maybe three times the amount they are now making, if not more, don’t have that frame of reference.
These aren’t the reasons I’m quitting burlesque (for now – never say never!), these are the reasons I strove so hard with my co-Producer and friend, Tuesday Laveau, to create something wonderful with the Bristol Burlesque Festival. Though I have to admit they have had a knock on effect with me as they have had for all performers. But the main reasons I am stepping back are more personal. This post isn’t about me commenting on burlesque, or justifying myself, it is a personal post, on my personal blog that will lay out why I personally have made the very difficult decisions that I have.
Firstly, let me say this isn’t easy. I’m not a quitter. I will not quit things to the point of damaging my health, so this has been quite a difficult decision for me. And who knows, in a few years time, or maybe in my dotage, I will get those costumes out of the back of the wardrobe and think “yup, today’s the day I do this again”. In some ways I look forward to that time, but that time isn’t right now.
As noted above, the world of burlesque has changed. And yes, although not my reason for stepping back, I can’t deny that each year I have struggled to get gigs that pay a fraction of what I was making the year before. The types of show out there have changed too, and sometimes it’s hard to see where my performances will fit with what is on offer – again another reason the the Bristol Burlesque Festival was born. To quote Ms Laveau – burlesque is a wide genre and it was important to her to “create a show that I would want to dance at”. I honestly believe, as does Tuesday, that you need to be the change you want to see happen – and I will totally continue to support that message in any way I can, even if not as a performer or producer.
Dr Lucky wrote a very good piece about the state of things recently, and though I don’t agree with it all (I love the bar room shows) and it is from the US perspective, parts of it really spoke to me, and Millie Dollar covered some great points here. So whilst these changes aren’t the reason I am bowing out, it does mean that it takes a lot of hard work that sometimes, I personally, cannot give.
This is where I have struggled with things the most. To put it into context, with some short exceptions, for the time I have been performing and producing I have done so whilst holding down full time jobs (sometimes with a lot of pressure and long hours), writing (I’m an author and blogger don’t you know!) and y’know, trying to have a life. There have been months on end where there just haven’t been enough hours in the day! Several times I have struggled with medical exhaustion.
Last year I had to unexpectedly change jobs a couple of times, as a result I had to cancel some of the shows I was producing, which depressed me no end. But once I had cancelled them, I felt such relief. I didn’t realise how much pressure I had been putting on myself as a performer, producer and working a full time day job, etc. My health really suffered and I have been sick in so many different ways in the last year or two that it has been a real struggle. Not least with my mental health. Other personal circumstances happened last year as well, which in its entirety lead me to being diagnosed with severe anxiety and being put on sedatives.
One thing that didn’t help this is that over the last year or so my writing, a main outlet that I require in order to stay sane, has taken a back seat, and outside of posts to CoochieCrunch, pretty much ground to a halt. Many times I thought I should/could make the time to write, even through the exhaustion, but I couldn’t – I was so busy almost all creative impulse was sapped from me. I’d want to write and then realise how much work was needed and just want to cry. It has done so much damage to me and my psyche that I’ve kept putting off working on the half-written sequel to my novel, and is one of the reasons that full marketing never took place when it first came out (do a girl a favour and buy a copy won’t ya?)
Between my health and being so exhausted from always being busy, I started to lose touch with a lot of friends outside of the burlesque world. I was never able to make it out to events – I was either feeling too exhausted, didn’t feel well (I have been plagued by migraines and endometriosis issues), or just had so much anxiety I couldn’t face being around people. And when I did make it to things I was not on form – I spent a friend’s wedding with a migraine all day, and have had to leave early from so many things often due to the bouts of anxiety that I was trying to keep from them. Not many know but since around 2001/2 I have suffered from (mostly mild) agrophobia, which is something that my anxiety has often brought to the fore.
That said, for shows I would try to push myself, even if what I actually wanted to do was hide under a duvet. At first I thought this was the way to get better – at least I was getting out and doing stuff – but then I realised it was making me worse, it was just adding to my exhaustion and anxiety. For the last year, performing and producing has been really hard for me, so I am just so grateful for how awesome it has been to be involved with and supported by my fellow producers and performers.
It was the Festival, in part, that was the turning point for me. It was something I had poured so much of myself into and looked forward to so much that I hoped it would reignite that spark. And although on some level it did, it wasn’t quite enough. I loved what we produced and adored working with my co-Producer and friend Tuesday Laveau, and have to admit that there was much of last year I wouldn’t have got through without her loving support.
Obviously, one reason I need to step back is the sake of my health, mental and physical. But there is another reason and this is what finally pushed it over the edge for me and I knew that now was the time, not some distant way off place in the future so I don’t go letting people down. Now is when it needs to end. And that reason was passion.
Over the course of the last year, my passion for burlesque has left me. That’s not to say that I don’t still love it, love watching the shows and being part of the scene, I’m just not passionate about personally performing or producing any more. And really, I think you have to be to perform, and especially to produce. What good is my input into a show if I’m just going through the motions rather than wholeheartedly throwing myself into it in a way that inspires others around me. I know so many people with such a deep and inspirational passion, and I love them for it, and I don’t ever want to bring them down.
This had started to dawn on me before the Festival, but somehow I made it through because the passion I did have left was completely tied up in the Festival, and if I ever got low all I needed to do was look to Tuesday who continued to be a massive source of strength and inspiration. The week following the Festival I saw a show featuring and took a workshop with, one of my absolute idols – Miss Dirty Martini. It was amazing, and I had told myself before going that if this doesn’t reignite the passion, then nothing will, fully expecting that it would. And as great as it was, and as much as I took away from it on a practical level, the passion didn’t come back. If anything, about half way through the workshop I just knew I was done.
How can I put performers out there on a stage to be passionate about what they do if I am not, let alone perform myself!? I stopped taking bookings at the end of the last year, and after another bout of bad health (an old back injury reared it’s ugly head), I started to turn down and cancel the remaining bookings I had. Basically, quietly, no fuss, I stopped performing before 2014 even began.
My final thought is just something that I realised once I decided I needed to step back. And that is, who am I without burlesque? There are a lot of things that were inherently me before I took up burlesque (crazy hair, nerdy clothes, and always, always a flower in my hair). But as time has marched on they have either been curtailed by or adopted into my burlesque personae. It’s not all the fault of burlesque – partly as a result of my health I gained a lot of weight which put pay to many clothes, and I stopped wearing a flower in my hair the day my uncle died. I just couldn’t bring myself to wear one with such grief, but I continued to wear them for shows and events and so they became just a thing my personae does. Likewise my hair in many ways. When I started burlesque my crazy styles and colours became more geared towards suiting a certain image that would go with my routines. On occasion when I had less bookings or was taking a break I would go crazy and hack at it, but then have to try and work it into something suitable for a show. Totally all in my own head, but somewhere along the way I created an image for Tiger that wasn’t 100% natural to me, and then couldn’t find it in myself to adapt it.
I needed to remember that I could still do crazy things to my hair and start wearing flowers again, and dressing nerdy again, because that was me before burlesque, regardless. Besides, no matter what I may or may not have lost by being Tiger, I cannot deny that Tiger gives me something – I’m a different person now for having been her. And none of that is negative – I’m grateful for the positive things she has brought into my life – strength I never knew I had, and a voice that I sometimes didn’t use. For that I will always treasure the part of me that was born from her.
Don’t get me wrong, no longer performing or producing terrifies me. It hurts to think I can no longer say that is what I am, that it no longer makes up part of my identity. And it is for this reason, and others like it, that I find it so hard to quit things. It also hurts to think about not performing – I love it – and will miss those 3 to 8 minutes of stage time, but it’s not something I can do right now. I already feel sad at the thought of not performing when remembering amazing shows and looking at photos of my time on stage. But its time I start taking care of myself.
As I said, not reasons nor excuses, just my thoughts and feelings somewhere I can get them out. I’m officially no longer performing, and for now I am still helping out in a small way with the shows I have been producing. Making the decision to stop producing was the one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, as was breaking that decision to Tuesday. The Bristol Burlesque Festival was our baby, and I am so proud to have been part of it and of what we have achieved. I know even without me it will continue to go from strength to strength and I’m still excited about it, and glad that I’m going to still be involved as a Production Consultant. I’m even happier that my slot as Co-Producer is being taken on by the fabulous Dis Charge. Dis is one of the production team for PyschoDrama club nights, has been a massive supporter of everything we’ve ever done and has amazing vision and drive for taking Bristol Burlesque Festival even further than we have already! I’m excited to see what happens next!!
So that’s it I guess. I packed away all my costumes a few days ago, and felt both sad and relieved whilst doing so. I’ve enjoyed my time in burlesque, but I have other things I need to concentrate on for now. I’m grateful to have been part of the burlesque world and know I will keep the many amazing friends that I have made along the way (Violet, Ally, Dis especially, but so many many more!).
I will always look back fondly, and stay involved in the scene in some small way, even if just as that one who always grabs the seats at the front of the show! I will miss the back stage banter (“Blue Dis Charge is the best Dis Charge”), I will miss the combined adrenaline and enthusiasm and euphoria that the performers generate. I will look back (a little sadly) on my photos of shows gone by and remember why each and every one of them holds a precious memory. Here are just a selection, and it was hard to cut it down to just these “few”!
I will always be a cheerleader for burlesque, I will always love it and be first in line for tickets to shows. I just can’t do it anymore. Maybe someday (hopefully) that will change, but for now I’m taking my curtain call.