As a performer in the neo-burlesque revival, I’ve performed in some interesting venues. I’ve prepared for my performance in even more interesting prep areas. You may have noticed that I didn’t write the word backstage. That’s because a closet or a bathroom is not a proper back stage dressing area. As a performer, I crave/need a proper prep area. The main reason for that is to have a safe space for deep concentration.
The first time that I want any audience member to see me in costume is when I take a step out onto stage. Being stopped by a stranger to marvel at my costume before I perform when I’m prepping for the stage is a huge distraction. (So, if you are that stranger, just be cool and keep walking.) Without a secluded area to prepare, there’s no opportunity for me (or the dozens of women) to be naked and patiently prepare.
Recently, at a venue in Oakland, our backstage area shared pedestrian traffic with audience members en route to the restroom. As I paced the hall, wearing a silk robe and headphones, rehearsing my lines, a gentleman passed on his way to the restroom. My inner monologue begged, “Don’t talk to me, keep walking. Don’t say anything to me, just keep walking!” Just then, he blurted out, “ARE YOU PERFORMING TONIGHT!” I barked back at him, “I’M BUSY!” I was pissed and I don’t apologize for it. If you ever see someone pacing the hall in the basement of a club while barefoot, wearing a silk robe, wearing headphones, and reciting lines, think before you speak. It’s a safe bet that they’re in deep concentration and a really safe bet that they are performing that night. Don’t be a dumb ass.
Producers: I know that you didn’t design the venue, but do what you can to secure backstage space with a volunteer to guide muggle traffic away from/around the performer’s naked space. Let the performers know if the backstage area is open to foot traffic. (Mention it in your pre-show form letter.)
Performers: Read social cues from the people around you. If you’re backstage with someone that is focused on prepping for their number and they’re wearing headphones, leave them be. Whether you call it method acting, show mode, or deep concentration. Give your fellow performers their space to prepare.