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The Art of Burlesque: Elevating Event Production and Empowering Burlesque Producers

This YouTube video, which is simply an audio recording of my thoughts, first began as a Facebook post.  Then I expanded it into an audio recording. While searching for an app to add close captions or subtitles, I used AI to transcribe and summarize my mini-talk that I had just recorded using the voice memo on my phone. Then I became a smidge more thoughtul and turned it into a blog post essay as well. 

Topics Covered: Burlesque Performance, Show Production, Professional Development, Critique and Evaluation

  •  The speaker provides a critique of burlesque producers and performers, emphasizing the need for professional development and audience consideration in their shows. They stress the importance of critiquing and evaluating performances to improve and market them effectively. They discuss how doing so also helps determine success measures that go beyond just selling out a show. They express concern that many burlesque producers are not investing enough in their professional development to understand full production requirements. The speaker criticizes several aspects of common burlesque shows such as disregarding audience comfort, poor attention to scenography, inadequate lighting, and shows starting late. They encourage burlesque producers to invest more time, effort, and professionalism into their shows for advancement from the local amateur standard to a more professional level.
    • (Psst. This is what AI had to say about my audio recording that’s on Youtube and embedded above. There’s also a full transcript if you’d like it. ( Shay Au Lait _ Critiquing Burlesque ), if you’d like it. That audio was them used as inspiration for a more thoughtful essay musing which is below.  – Shay)

Elevating Event Production and Empowering Burlesque Producers

I affirm the undeniable charm of burlesque, a form of theatrical entertainment that genuinely requires mastery in performance art. The dynamic landscape of burlesque is a testament to its rich history and the ability to constantly redefine itself. Every burlesque show is an intimate conversation with the audience and a fantastic spectacle that touches upon raw and fully expressed human emotions. I, therefore, invite burlesque producers and performers to participate in a conversation about growth and professionalism in our niche industry. As we delve deeper into the production side of things, an emphasis on professional growth and audience-centered approaches are often found lacking among burlesque producers and their productions.

As creators and curators of these mesmerizing shows, burlesque producers carry substantial responsibility on their shoulders. Often wearing multiple hats – producer, director, production manager – they are the beating heart that keeps the show alive. Yet, many tend to overlook their duty to not just stage a performance but to ensure it’s a professionally crafted experience that captivates the audience. Managing such a diverse set of tasks is already challenging enough. Without proper professional growth and training, it becomes an industry-wide problem. Unfortunately, many seem to misconstrue the gravity of this role, leading to a lack of awareness of full production requirements. 

Performers and producers alike, do you know how to evaluate your performance art or your productions?  This might seem like an intimidating task, but remember a cardinal rule of any artistic endeavor: critique and self-evaluation are essential for growth. By assessing your performances and productions, you’re allowing yourself to identify weaknesses and turn them into strengths. 

Effective critique and evaluation cannot be underrated in burlesque. It is a dynamic process that allows performers and producers to assess the effectiveness of their shows and ascertain their professional development needs. However, the concept of critique is often misunderstood. A critique doesn’t equate to endless self-deprecation, but rather a structured appraisal to identify areas for improvement.

And then, there’s marketing. Understanding how and what to critique in your performance art not only helps you refine it but also allows you to market it effectively. When you know your strengths, you can showcase them to your audience. When you are aware of your weaknesses, you can work towards turning them around. When you know what makes your show unique, you are one step closer to putting on a successful, mind-blowing sell-out show.

One significant area of interest and arguably the area that requires the most attention is audience consideration. The end goal of every burlesque performance isn’t just about the performers’ vibrant display of art. More importantly, it’s about the captivated gazes from every pair of eyes in the audience, appreciating the performance and the world created on stage. It’s time we prioritized audience comfort, punctuality, and creating a show that truly speaks to burlesque’s core.

Many burlesque shows fall short when it comes to technical aspects. The stage is a story-teller and yet scenography, a key aspect of effective storytelling, is depressingly undervalued. Poor attention to lighting can dim the luster of even the most magnificent performance. Each show, regardless of whether it’s in a 10-person venue or a 50,000-seat auditorium, has the potential to be a grand sell-out event or a dismal failure. The difference lies in the diligence of the producers and performers in understanding event production.

Success in burlesque, as a producer goes beyond show sell-outs. It’s crucial for burlesque producers to set tangible, meaningful measures of success and continuously evaluate their progress. It’s not enough to sell tickets; the show’s quality, audience engagement, and performers’ satisfaction are equally important. In the realm of burlesque, these are qualitative measures of success too. 

In addition, it’s important to note that professional development is a non-negotiable aspect for burlesque producers. Event production is a business that demands continuous learning. It includes attending industry events, expos, and professional development workshops not only in the realm of burlesque but also in broader aspects of the nightlife industry, the art and culture industry, and the event production industry. 

Beyond critiquing ourselves, we also need Professional Industry Critics. Who is our Roger and Ebert? Critics play a vital role in burlesque, their reviews acting as valuable feedback for performers, producers, and the audience at large. We need genuine burlesque critics who are ready to provide constructive reviews beyond mere applause for participation.

Understanding the financials that go into a production, figuring out your brand language, accommodating audience comfort, training your crew, and starting on time may seem like basic elements of event production. However, these ‘basics’ are often overlooked in local shows. To elevate your art to a professional level, you must do more than just participate. You need to critique your work, invest time in learning professional standards, and apply them to your shows. Remember, people appreciate and pay for quality. In the end, marketing a basic burlesque show isn’t enough; branding it as a unique, expressive experience is what catches the audience’s attention.  Don’t just perform—put on a show!

Potential Actions

  • Critique and evaluateyour performances and productions to identify areas of improvement. 

  • Set and review measures of success for performances and productions. 

  • Invest in professional development and education to enhance skills as an event producer. 

  • Consider attending relevant industry events, expos, summits, and workshops for continued learning.

  • Think about building networks or participating in mastermind groups for mutual support and growth in the industry. 

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Do you know how to evaluate, audit, and critique your burlesque performances or productions?

ABOUT SWITCHRESS SHAY AU LAIT: Interdisciplinary EroticNoir Artist, Maya Angelou of Kink, BDSM Educator and Practitioner, and CoCreator of “Sensing Race” embodied intensives. Shay of SpeakEasy Noir (erotic wellness + sensual movement) and Siren Pack Productions (provocative + immersive events) is a producer, director, performer, and instructor specializing in BDSM, burlesque, theatre, pole dance, variety, and corporate event production through immersive & transformative experiences. As an Educator and Keynote Speaker, Shay is known for their creative and poignant philosophical approach that speaks to and facilitates personal development and self-awareness. Shay’s practical, actionable, and sensual techniques have earned them the nicknames of “Vulnerability Doula,” “Intellectual Sensual Shaman,” and “Cultural Provocateur.”

ABOUT SIREN PACK: An immersive & subversive burlesque variety company producing provocative experiences. Created in 2018 by a collective of BIPOC Queer Femme Producers, Siren Pack is known for its theatrical erotic shows, corporate entertainment productions, and immersive event activations. 

ABOUT SPEAKEASY NOIR: SpeakEasy Noir is a mind-body erotic wellness practice and immersive movement experience for intensely sensuous and deeply curious souls. Explore power, pleasure, and play through archetypal exploration, sensual movement, erotic expression, freestyle flow, photography, burlesque, pole dance, enchantments, mind-body rituals, and creative healing arts. Explore shadow play for your shadow work.