Innovation: that "wow factor" that so many performers reach for. People love innovation, whether it’s something they’ve never seen on a stage or seeing the newest technology and architecture unfold with time. And for good reason, it’s inspiring to see how others can push the boundaries of our perceptions of the world. I LOVE innovative art and it is something that I try to include in most of my performances in some way. And as time goes on, my definition of “burlesque innovation” keeps changing. Because of this, I often need to remind myself that my definition of various burlesque concepts is not THE definition: innovation looks different to everyone. And before I continue, I am aware that technically the definition of innovation is something that uses new and unique methods for the advancement of a concept, but to me, that can expand to mean so many things.
I consider myself to have seen a lot of burlesque, including both live performances and on video. But I also know that there are many performers who have seen infinitely more of the burlesque world (both with performances and behind the scenes) than I have. Realistically, I am still quite new to burlesque. And there are many performers and audience members who are just beginning their journeys into the world of striptease. As you are probably already aware, much like life, burlesque exists on a scale.
Depending on where I’ve watched burlesque, the audience reactions can vary greatly. There have been times when I’ve seen basically the exact same routine in two different cities but with different performers. Same concept, same or similar music, same costume design, even similar choreography. This is especially common in Nerdlesque, as there are only so many ways one can interpret a specific already existing character. Despite how I may have seen the routine before, it can still get a huge applause from that audience. The act is not any less innovative because it’s been done before (though some may argue this point). And what if those performers have no exposure to burlesque outside of their own local communities? They still came up with that idea on their own, which takes a lot of creativity if it has never been seen within that community or even generation of performers. That performance can be just as innovative to an audience who has never seen it before as something that is completely unique on the larger scale for those who have seen a lot of performances. It is all about the individual audience member and their view of burlesque.
Innovation blows our minds, whether it is because of a music choice, a choreography moment, or a brilliant costume. It can be as complex as seeing an entire step-down performance all about you with every performer friend of yours using their unique talents to portray you, like our 2017 King of burlesque, Lou Henry Hoover. Or it can be as simple as having a clown nose pop out of your mouth at the very end of an already very beautifully visual piece, like with our 2019 King Joshua Dean. Heck, even something as simple as having a performer from a specific community that you’re not used to seeing be represented can be highly innovative: it shouldn't be, but at this point in time, it is. Being able to see yourself or an aspect of your story represented onstage is huge! One act that will forever stick in my mind is the step down of our 2016 Queen Poison Ivory. Her act may not seem “innovative” to some, but to me, seeing the story being told on a stage that size is not something that is seen often, though highly political burlesque has been expanding vastly within the last decade.
What does innovation look like to you? Does it look like a concept that YOU’VE never seen before in an act? What about having on stage tipping at an entire festival? Or does it have to be something that has never been seen by the larger industry? Truly, it can be all of those ideas and more.
To me, innovation is taking an idea and figuring out how you’re going to bring that idea to life in a moment or in a 3-6 minute story. I have two definitions: “this is innovation to me” and “this is innovation to burlesque.” What I have seen and what the general industry have seen are at two vastly different levels. There are many acts that I have seen where I think it’s brilliant and genius, but I can also get a sense that it has been seen other places before. Then there are the performances, I instantly know that the performance (and performer) is on a whole other level above me. I quickly get a sense that the act and performer bring something that is quite unique to the industry. I’m not always correct with my assumptions, clearly, but there are times when I’m not far off. Either way, whether it’s something I have never seen before or something that is a new idea to burlesque, it is a stepping stone to revolutionizing our art, both within smaller scenes and on a global scale. And as many will tell you at some point, often the simplest ideas are the most impactful. For some people, even the idea of creating a performance while removing your clothes is incredibly ingenious. Innovation is an idea... a moment... a visual... a reveal... flipping an expected standard... or a story... It’s all about perspective.
I have included some of my favourite acts with various aspects of innovation, whether it is the whole routine that I find unique or an aspect or moment of it. Each act has its own journey of creation and has me excited to see where it goes. These are only some of my favourite innovative ideas, as there are many MANY acts that I love.
Boo Bess & Jenny C'est Quoi
Calamity Chang - Cup O' Chang
Champagne Sparkles - For the Love of Champagne
Faye Havoc & Donna Boss Rogers - Horsin' Around
House of Hush - Menstrual Tango
Imogen Kelly - Great Barrier Reef Endanger Tribute
INGA - Stocking Strip
Laurie Hagen - Reverse Strip
Nasty Canasta - Car Alarm Fan Dance
Ray Gunn - Fan Dance
Ray Gunn - Cube
Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society
Siomai Moore - Dumpling
St. Stella - Skin
The Vertical Side Show - Habanera
Valentina - Sexy Jellyfish
Yaretza - El Lado Oscuro
Zyra Lee Vanity - Irie Love