Pre-Performance Rituals: Psyching Up to Strip Down
~ by Crystal Tassels, Contributing Writer
The world of theater is bursting with rite and ritual. Whisper the name of Shakespeare’s Scottish king inside a theater and you will quickly find yourself ejected from the venue, then commanded to spit, swear and stomp three times to protect the production from otherwise certain catastrophe. Whether this is because thespians are naturally superstitious, or because of the unpredictability of live theater, or because there is a pantheon of ruthless theater gods that demand tribute is anybody’s guess.
The burlesque community has some rituals of its own. While some performers may have carried these traditions over from previous stage experience, not all burlesque artists have theater backgrounds. Still, many performers have routines and practices that they MUST undertake to ensure a good show, lest their pasties pop, costumes malfunction, energy suffer, et cetera.
I asked my glittery comrades in arms what rituals they feel compelled to complete before the curtain rises. From 38 respondents, I isolated 82 instances of 45 different activities, which range from the purely practical to the downright goofy. (Flirty Sanchez hopping around and singing, “I’m gonna poop my pants,” stood out as particularly serious.) With the help of my state-of-the-art data analysis tools (a spreadsheet), I developed the following super scientific categorical breakdown of activities.
Most of these responses came from my very own home-sweet-Seattle, but there were also contributions from the sparkle tribes in Texas, Pennsylvania, British Columbia, and California for which I am eternally grateful. Thank you all SO much for contributing to science by responding to this very important survey.
And now, because pie charts mean business, the results.
As you can see, almost a quarter of respondents do something to center themselves mentally before stepping onto the stage. (Producer, performer and Nerdlesque scholar Jo Jo Stiletto’s pre-show pep talk consists of quietly chanting, “I am a motherfucking sorcerer,” to herself.) Many performers take a moment to mentally remove themselves from the clutter and chatter of backstage to still their minds and solidify their intentions.
Approximately 20% of all respondents pee, poop, or consensually grope someone prior to performing, which makes me giggle.
One metric that surprised me was that, of all 38 respondents, only one reported stretching. (Last year at BurlyCon, the incomparable Perle Noire informed our class that she requires two to three hours just to stretch before performances.) Tootsie Spangles, of inter-arts gang The Libertinis, was the only survey respondent that reported stretching at all. Tootsie and her frequent partner Hattie Hellkat “do partner stretching, which looks as dirty as it sounds,” before performing duets together.
To examine the overarching themes behind these exotic sparkle rites, I broke the data down even further:
As you can see, the majority of pre-performance traditions revolve around getting in the zone mentally. Physical movement and awareness came in second, although I have a feeling that many performers do stretch before performing but don’t consider it a rite or ritual.
Many respondents wrote that they shake before going on stage (including paragon-of-fierceness Iva Handfull). Coping strategies for shaking include taking a shot of whiskey*, shaking out the body to loosen up and encourage circulation, and doing pushups. Former Mayor of Seattle Burlesque EmpeRoar Fabulous deals with nerves by doing, “a swirling Stevie Nicks dance,” in which, “[I] let my body just go wherever the hell it wants to.”
The scientific conclusion of all of this analysis seems to reinforce a fact the world has long known: that showgirls and showboys, while exotic, lovely and perpetually covered in glitter, are divinely cerebral creatures that imbue their art with thoughtful purpose. (And they also pee. Often.)
*(Author’s Note: I shake like a leaf while waiting in the wings. While a shot of whiskey would definitely make me feel warm inside, it would also make me wobble right out of my heels.)