Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Slinking Back with my Tail Between my Legs

Dearests,
like a wayward tomcat I return to you, slinking back, somewhat guiltily, with my tail between my legs after being away for so long. Where have I been for three months? What have I been doing with myself? Sadly, the Real World (yuk!) has been holding me hostage and making me devote all my time to inept landlords, day-job related dramas, keeping my finances in check (a full time job on its own!), a long weekend in Norfolk and more day-job related dramas.
On the more positive side though, burlesque has still been a huge part of my life during my period in blogospheric limbo.

Firstly the most exciting thing I have to report is my adventures performing three big, exciting shows over the months of September and October. Firstly, there was Enchanted Burlesque's 'Sirens and Scoundrels' event in Birmingham. This show is held at the Old Rep (kindly corrected by James - where is my mind!) Theatre and is the first real proscenium, theatrical venue I have performed in since I began burlesque. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and found it a thrill to be on such a big stage in such lovely surroundings.
This was my first outing of my re-tooled Jackalope act and my slightly re-tooled Emotional Strip act. In my last blog I mentioned that I might add an extra funny bit to my Emotional Strip and I have to say, I'm glad I did. It caused such a reaction! The second I saw how the audience responded, I knew it was the right decision. With the Jackalope I had made some more structural changes. When I debuted the act I had felt it had a bit of an element of 'fannying around onstage' to it. By fannying around, I mean that it had parts that seemed not to add anything narrative or mood-wise, despite my best efforts. I knew what I was trying to say, but I didn't feel I was saying it effectively. This was mainly in the opening part of the act, before I start putting my costume on. So I looked at the act and tried to nail down what I was trying to convey, and how to say it more clearly. What I was going for was 'at home in the forest' and also, I wanted to show the character's shyness and timid curiosity. In the original version of the act I do this by moving around the stage in character but I never felt neat and clear enough. It just looked like fannying around. So I ended up adding in some fan work with fans made to look like autumn tree branches. The idea was, to show that the character was in the forest and also to show her shyly at play in her world. Peeking out from between branches and shrubs. I made the fans myself using regular fan staves, artificial leafy twigs and a LOT of hot glue. I'm quite pleased with the result and feel that it's a real improvement on the original version which, if you read my earlier entries, you will know I was not entirely happy with. Have a look at the video (if you haven't seen it already) and let me know what you think! I have also made a few tweaks to the costume since this video was made - what you don't see in the video is that the fastening on my skirt is not strong enough - right after the lights came down, so did my skirt! Nobody saw it, but imagine if it had happened part way throught the act!


A photo of my Jackalope at Enchanted Burlesque in September
(copyright James Thorpe - www.photoburlesque.com)


After performing at Enchanted Burlesque I also had the pleasure of bringing the Jackalope out again that weekend at Darkteaser's Leamington Spa extravaganza 'The Garter Lounge Grand Show'. The venue, the Assembly Rooms, is a 1920s Art Deco building that has been restored to its heyday's glamorous decadence and it was one of the lovliest places I have performed in to date. I also had the pleasure of being able to watch the majority of the show from the wings and, an extra special treat in a sea of fabulous performers, I finally got to see Vicky Butterly's rocking moon performance in the flesh. I make no secret of the fact that I stood at the side of the stage with tears in my eyes (and I was not the only one!). I felt so inspired watching that act and it was a privilege to get to see it up so close.

In other exciting performance news last month the Ministry of Burlesque came to my home town of Nottingham and I brought my Jackalope out as a 'Battle of Burlesque' guest performer. I felt very privileged indeed to be on the bill with MoB Mother Kittie Klaw and her very talented team of super burlesque and cabaret bods and I found everyone to be immensely friendly, inclusive and fun. The show, by all accounts, went down very well indeed and it looks like MoB will be coming back to Nottingham in December. I am going to try and organise to come and watch this time as the show was so much fun but I was so nervous that it went by in a bit of a blur!

So, with the Jackalope and the Emotional Strip now firmly placed in my repertoire I can start turning my thoughts to new and exciting acts for the future. I tend to always have a handfull of ideas bubbling around in my brain but usually only a couple of those at any one time are in a position to leave the brain and begin work on. A bit like the Jackalope and the Emotional Strip, I have ideas for one funny act and one straight one. It's weird, despite how hard the Jackalope was to produce, something about the way I feel performing it, and something about the way audiences have reacted has made me feel a strong yearning to do more performance in a similar vein. Not exactly burlesque acts per se, but more acts that are lonely and strange and slightly other-worldly. In my mind I picture a dusky forest in which all these oddities live, a kind of Grimms fairytale kind of world where peculiar people live tiny lives. But, when I perform the Emotional Strip I feel like I am getting closer to the heart of British burlesque that makes people laugh and is so much fun to watch and perform. The two aren't really the most obvious fit for eachother but I don't think I could step away from either at this point. So part of me has been wondering about whether I should market the two sides more separately. Perhaps, when I have more performances like the Jackalope under my belt I should group them off under another label, so that I offer people burlesque acts OR these other things, that aren't quite burlesque, but fit in that sort of lineup.
Either way, I am hoping that in the New Year I should be coming out with a new one that comes from a similar place to the Jackalope, and after that I hope to begin work on another funny one. At this stage that's all I'm going to say about my ideas but be assured, dear reader, that you will hear about it here first when I decide to say more.

So, that leaves me with just one more exciting bit of news: I am putting on my own show! It will be my first time doing this and I'm very excited indeed. The event will be called ODDBALL BURLESQUE: More Fruitcake than Cheesecake (click the link to join the Facebook Group) and it will be showcasing the oddest, weirdest and funniest burlesque in the UK. The idea was, that often a funny act or an unusual performance will be just one point in a night of very traditional and classic acts. With this show I wanted to put funny, silly and weird burlesque centre stage and hopefully people will come and enjoy something a little different.
The show will be on February 18th as part of Nottingham Light Night and wil be held at The Central on Huntington Street, Nottingham. Keep your eye on this blog, my website or the ODDBALL BURLESQUE Facebook group for lineup information, ticket prices and other tidbits.

On that happy note, I am going to shuttle off to get on with a few show related bits and bobs!

'Til next time!
x
Emerald

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Delicious and a New Act

Dearests,
Like a fair-weather friend I am back again after promising my blogs would get more regular and then getting distracted as life got in the way. Over the last few weeks many occasions have arisen where I have found myself exclaiming – ‘I must blog about this!’ but between issues with internet access and busy times at home and at work it just hasn’t happened. Now I have so much stuff to blog about that I figured I had better get my act together and make a start – even if I don’t get it all down. So – here goes!

So, the first thing of note worth mentioning is that I have now completed the new act I was working on in the last-but-one blog (and it’s available to book – hint hint!). Incase you can’t be bothered to go back and read the past post, the idea for this act (or at least its working process) was to rest all the areas that had been stretched (almost to breaking) when I worked on the Jackalope and stretch different areas instead. The focuses of this act were: using music to convey emotion; physical performance and comedy; conveying mood through mime/clowning techniques; and in the costuming area – improving my grasp of colour theory and working quickly and simply without getting too bogged down. It was always meant to be a quick project and the goal was to finish it (once I got into the actual working stage) in a month. In reality I probably took a little longer than that but not much!

The outcome of this little experiment is my new act ‘The Emotional Strip’. I trialled it out at an event about a week and a half ago and I can safely say that it looks like it is going to be one of my favourites to perform. I didn’t allow myself to get bogged down or stressed out by it and I really feel that shows in the final product. It’s not the deepest or most complicated narrative or character work but it still feels like it fits within my repertoire and has an essential me-ness that I wouldn’t have expected with something that came together so quickly. Also, although I did not in any way want to be slapdash with the costume, I tried just to make it look fun and pretty but not to be too precious, it seemed that I didn’t make too bad a job as more than one person complimented me on it. I was most flattered that my friend and fellow performer (and photographer, and costumier, and all round busy boots!) Cherryfox said she felt that my costuming skills are showing improvement! Coming from someone who makes all their own costumes that made me feel quite chuffed!
I imagine that over time the act will probably need the odd tweak here and there, and I already have a good idea for another joke I can add to a certain part of it but over all I am really pleasantly surpised by how quickly and easily it has happened. I think in future I may try and reuse this quick and simple technique from time to time, especially if I find myself coming to the end of another act with a heavy workload and feel I need a break but still want to keep working.

In other news – I was going to blog about a very peculiar gig that I had recently but I think that it might tie in better with some other general stuff I planned to write about when I had the time so I think I will save that for my next entry. In the meantime, if you see me ask me about my interesting gig!

Next thing I couldn’t blog without giving a mention to is the adventure for the senses that was Delicious Burlesque in Derby. For anyone (or at least anyone who likes burlesque enough to bother with my blog) who has been living under a stone for the past couple of months, Delicious Burlesque is an absolutely huge burlesque all dayer with market stalls, workshops, a newcomer’s competition and a big evening show. It was held on Saturday 31st July and word on the grapevine is that it may well be becoming an annual event. Well, with an event this exciting practically on my doorstep I just had to go so my sister and I made plans to attend (and she event generously shelled out the extra tenner for VIP tickets so that we’d have a great view of the show!).
We went and we were not disappointed! The market had loads of exciting things to buy from the many talented makers and charming purveyors of glamorous goodies. My wallet forbade me from partaking but my sister bought a very fetching hat. I think we both could have easily spent a small fortune on all the lovely things. After perusing the market and popping out to one of the local pubs for a spot of lunch we went back to the hotel to get gussied up for the evening section of the event. I went for a silent Movie Era starlet, meets black and white Minnie Mouse, in black hotpants and braces, a white wife beater, a huge black hair bow and heavy black eye makeup and black lipstick with a pronounced cupid’s bow. Sis also went for a 20s inspired look including a gorgeous finger-wave hairstyle.
When we got back to the venue I went to a workshop I had pre-booked (more on that in a moment) and Alex went and got her portrait drawn by one of the talented bods representing Dr Sketchy’s Nottingham (it wasn’t Charlotte, not sure of the chap’s name!).
After that it was time for the seated entertainment. First came the newcomer’s competition. I have to say, I was amazed that the performers being showcased had only been performing a year. The costumes were gorgeous and clever, the dancing was incredibly accomplished (mind you, all dancing looks accomplished to me, but these were particularly good!) and the concepts were sophisticated. I don’t know how the judges came to a decision as there were so many acts that charmed me! I particularly enjoyed the quirky fun dance moves in Elle Amour’s cupcake act, the hilarious facial expressions in Jeu Jeu la Foille’s Mary Poppins, Peski DeVille’s innovative magic flowers and skilful fan throwing and Nix Le Noir’s gorgeous costume (especially the headdress!). All the performers were super and I don’t feel I could have competed with most of them despite having been on the scene somewhat longer.

The main show was nothing short of spectacular, and jam-packed with fantastic performances. Not that I’m a critic by my personal faves are as follows: Joe Black’s cabaret set had me laughing throughout and clapping, stamping my feet and generally behaving like a burlesque lager-lout and his Defying Gravity act was a treat. I have seen Joe on Youtube so much that I almost felt I had seen him live already but it turned out I had seen nothing yet. As much as I enjoy Joe’s videos it is no patch on seeing him live – his energy, inventiveness and charisma cannot be matched.
Vicky Butterfly performed two acts I had never seen before and reaffirmed her place in my heart as one of my absolute favourites. I was mesmerised by her graceful movements, innovative costuming techniques (I can’t really describe what she did costume wise as I don’t have the technical knowledge, suffice to say that it was really amazing!) and beautifully odd music selection. Vicky’s performances inspire me so much and make me wish I was more dancerly in my acts. Kittie Klaw from Ministry of Burlesque did a fantastic Rule Britannia performance that had me laughing one moment and feeling a little lump in my throat and a patriotic tear in my eye (and I never get patriotic, ever) the next. Finally, my other fave of the night was Beatrix von Bourbon. I have been a fan of hers for some time and watching her performances I was genuinely moved. I love the way her performances register emotion so clearly and really admire the fluidity and economy of movement she uses. Her Winter act I especially enjoyed and the audience was delighted at the finale of the act when it began to snow onstage!

I also had the pleasure of taking a workshop with Beatrix von Bourbon. On the subject of Burlesque Branding. I enjoyed the workshop very much found it left me with lots to mull on and also some practical goals to start tackling. I would recommend the workshop highly to any performer but especially if you feel you need a little help pinpointing where you are or where you or your acts fit. Beatrix was warm and friendly and allayed a lot of the worries I had about talking frankly about burlesque with someone I admire, and the whole experience left me with a different perspective on what I do and renewed enthusiasm to do it better.

So what am I up to now? Well, in the wake of my consultation with Beatrix I have decided to bite the bullet and do something I have wanted to do for a while. I am going to retire my Rubber Ducky act for re-working. I have always been very pleased with the costume for that act but less happy about the act itself. I always felt it had neither a strong narrative nor a strong sense of character, and those are the parts of an act I enjoy most. The plan is to take the act off and work on completely re-writing it, but I wouldn’t like to say how long that will take as I am not sure yet which direction I want to take it in.
The other thing I am working on is making the first initial changes to my Jackalope. In light of its debut performances there were some things about the costume and choreography that I wanted to change. I have finally got my perfect trunk (thank you Colwick car boot sale!) and I now just need to get the rest of the tweaks and small changes finished. I have a couple of fairly big engagements coming up over the next few months and I hope that the act will be ready in it’s 1.1 version by then.

If you have read this far to the bottom, I commend you! It’s been another long blog. Hopefully, when I get my netbook back from the shop the blogs will get closer together and not quite as long!

‘Til next time,
X
Emerald

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Emerald the (hammy) actress

Dearests,
this is not a real long blog like the previous couple have been but I couldn't resist posting up this video of me flexing my dubious (and pretty hammy, despite my best efforts not to be) acting talent.

The sketch stars comedians Steve McNeil and Sam Pamphilon and is to promote their show at the Edinburgh Fringe. It's filmed by Loonatik and Drinks and also features, Emma Rain, Scarlett Daggers, Glorian Gray, Jody Capuano, Lily Valentine and Betty Jane. We had a really fun time filming it!

After watching this though, I'm sure it will be clear why I am a burlesquer rather than an actress!

Pop Ups Video

'Til next time
x
Emerald

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Bright New Ideas - Literally!

Dearests,
Apparently my blogs are like busses, you wait around for ages and then two come at once! Seriously though, my reason for blogging twice in two days is that alongside the emotional rollercoaster that has been the Jackalope saga I have also had a couple of other interesting burlesque-y developments going on, but by the time I had blogged all the Jackalope stuff I felt shattered and thought I would leave the rest for anyther time.

To counteract all the serious stressing, thinking, difficult costuming and huge amounts of 'am I a hack?' type soul searching, I started working on another act. The idea was to pick something that would be the antithesis of the Jackalope. Something with a simple narrative, or even none at all. Something where the costume was not restricted to having to look like a particular thing, so that the chips could fall where they may a little more. Something fun and upbeat so that, whilst really breaking out of my comfort zone with the Jackalope, I could also have the pleasure of working on an area I am more familiar with in this new act. It was my other half's suggestion and working on this really did help in these last few weeks when the work on the Jackalope was making me feel really grim. The hope being that because the costume and concept were more simple, the execution could be better and more refined. I could take more time to focus on the performance and less on complicated costuming, shoehorning a difficult narrative into something complex and generally tying myself into knots over non-performance related things.

So, the idea I came up with was (very) loosely inspired by a a performance by a stand up comedian called Kevin James. If you don't watch a lot of stand up you may also have seen him on the sitcom 'King of Queens'. My partner showed me one of his stand up acts and the act finished with a performance that was essentially mime to music on the theme of a woman buying a greeting card (here's the link if you want to watch it). When watching this I got one of those 'I wish I had thought of that' moments. The mime work is simple but really perfectly matched to the music. Compared to burlesque it is very pared down. He doesn't use costume or big production values, just his own skills of conveying emotion and a suitable (probably custome made soundtrack).

I decided to use this idea of conveying emotions in a humorous way, using appropriate music as my starting point for this act. Obviously, I am neither a mime nor a stand-up, so doing it in the pared down way that he works is not for me. I still wanted to include more burlesque-y elements like striptease and a ritzy costume but for the main focus to be a funny act where I play out some sort of emotional transition, hopefully honing my skills of physical and facial mime and humour in the process.

This idea evolved into the concept for my new act. I don't want to say too much and give away the element of suprise but suffice to say it has now moved sufficiently far from my original starting point that I don't have to worry that they are in any way similar, but it still retains the spirit of what I really liked about that act. So while I beavered away working on my Jackalope costume I was also researching tracks for this new act which I have named 'The Emotional Strip'. Usually track searching is a long and laboured process for me but I had promised myself that I would try to not obsess or nit pick on none-performance related stuff for this act. Not that I wanted to be slapdash about it, but I wanted to keep my eye on the main focus - the performance skills - and not allow myself to be overly sidetracked with the other pieces of the puzzle. I had a few sticky points searching but all in all I found the music came together quite comfortably.

After I had edited my music I found that mapping out the simplest blocking and basic choreography (not that it's a particularly dancey piece, so I do use that term loosely) came relatively easily. Because I knew my goal was, rather than performing abstract dance moves, to try and perform literal emotional mimes it seemed to make the whole process a lot easier.

So, flash forward a couple of weeks and devising and rehearsing stages are going well and I have also started working on my costume. Because it is not me playing a particular thing (a cat, a badger, a can of coke ect) or a particular person (Michael Jackson, Captain Kirk, Marie Antoinette) there is a lot less pressure for the costume to 'look like' anything. I can just make it look good (or at least my interpretation of 'good'). I have set myself a target of trying to improve my grasp of colour theory (which I am awful at, but which is a particular passion of my abstract artist other half) while making the costume and hopefully this will be something I can improve upon over time and transfer any skills I might gain to future acts. As the title of this blog suggests though, the costume is going to be bright and fun!

So apart from this, just one more development to mention. I now have my own website.
It's pretty simple but on there you can see my list of current acts (with performance pics), upcoming show dates, acts in the works, modelling photos and all sorts of other tidbits. Please take a moment to have a visit there and please feel free to give me any feedback on it/how it could be improved.

Til next time
x
Emerald

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Back From Further Adrift


Image by Paul Wright (paulwrightphoto.co.uk)

Dearests,
It has been a long time since I last blogged and I have been further adrift in the world of burlesque than usual since my last contact.
In the past weeks and months I have attempted to blog on more than one occasion and found that my perspective on all things burlesque related had become so skewed that I didn't know up from down, let alone enough to write a blog worth reading!

Where to pick up? When last I left off, I was convinced that I was approaching the last push on my Jackalope act. That was early April. How wrong I was about that. Now, it is early July - so what happened? Did I take the blue pill and disappear down the rabbit hole for almost three months? Did I run off to Acapulco with a gigolo? Did I go to Paris to live as a penniless blind sitar player? What the hell did happen?

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure myself. Lets just say the final stages of my Jackalope act was much more painful that I had expected. This was probably naive of me, considering how fraught the whole process has been, but it was still a bit of a surpise. The skirt, that I had expected to take some time, ended up taking much, much longer than I had envisaged. I ended up covering the top section of the skirt in raw wool and then the rest in strips of calico, hand dyed with tea, coffee or a mixture of tea and a little red food dye. In the end I used over 20 metres of Calico and I sewed every strip on by hand. As I'm sure you can imagine, that took a while. Whilst making the skirt I kept asking myself 'How do you know if you are having a nervous breakdown?'. I felt as though my day to day life at my day job was getting bleaker and bleaker, my financial situation was not great, and burlesque, the thing that is normally my refuge of creativity and joy had somehow morphed into a behemoth of sewing needles, ravaged fingers and stiff necks that was going to swallow me alive.

It sounds melodramatic, I know. But I really felt that there was no end in sight with this costume and I just couldn't see myself finishing it. But I did, of course, finish it in the end and if I say so myself, it is the part of the costume I am most proud of (aside from the wig and antlers, although the antlers were not my own work). When I had finally finished the skirt, got through the first pair of gloves which were awful, tacky and wouldn't dye, bought a new pair of gloves that would dye and made my pasties I began to feel my spirits lift a little. NOW I was really on the last push. I made my ears from calico that I wired for shape and covered them with the same raw wool I used on my skirt and sewed them into my wig, which was starting to look rather finished as I had also dressed that with some calico for decoration.

Finally, I needed to work on my trunk. Cherryfox, burlesquer and photographer friend of mine, had got hold of a trunk for me but it was khaki green so I had to repaint it. I worked on this and the trunk is now a shabby-chic looking off white. It looks quite cute but as time went on it became clear that it was going to be too small to fit the costume items in (for me to unpack them onstage). I felt a bit disappointed as Cherry had gone to some trouble to get the trunk for me and I had taken the time and effort to paint it up all nice but there was just no getting round the size issue. As yet I still have my feelers out for the right kind of trunk but at the moment I am doing the act without rather than rushing into buying something unsuitable.

So esentially (all bar the trunk) the act was finished, and I decided to debut it at Dixie's Dollhouse in Newcastle. This was on Thursday just gone. (Incase you're interested I was on the bill with Fancy Chance, Missy Malone, Beau Rocks, Constance Peach, Miss Jasmine, Stephy Suicie and Daisy Chainsaw, with absolutely super compere Jez Hunt). The event was a high class, high end show in an opulent venue (with the best dressing room I have had so far in burlesque!).



So it was down to me to bring my Jackalope to life, this character that I had been building and shaping, dreaming of and obsessing over, that was almost more real than myself at times - it was time for me to take the act from a perfect image in my mind to a real stage infront of real people and to try and translate that image into a reality that the audience could experience. And that bloody terrified me!

In general I get excited before a performance but not usually nervous and never to this extent. I could hear my heart racing in my chest and when I got onstage my hands trembled a little involuntarily. There were some sound issues in the first act and the music sounded a little distorted and I had a paranoid moment, just as I came on where I worried that they had played the wrong track. But once I realised it was just a technical issue I focused on trying to convey the character as strongly as I could. I was so nervous about presenting this straight, serious, sad act (especially as I was the first performer of the night - I didn't know what the audience would be expecting).

Every moment felt long and extended and I felt like my movements were more clumsy and fumbled than usual. The audience were quiet, not whooping or cheering like they do for a raunchy, silly or upbeat act. As I came to the most tense point of the performance I heard a woman say quietly "It's all gone a bit emo" to her friend and it was all I could do to stop myself from innappropriately giggling. When the act came to the end the audience applauded and I left the stage (from the wrong side - such was my frazzlement!).

After I came off I had expected to feel this rush of relief and achievement, of finally having culminated the months and months of hard work. In reality, I didn't feel that. I felt a but numb. Unsure whether the performance had been a roaring success, a horrible failure or somewhere in the middle. While working on the act I felt that I had lost all perspective of whether it was good or not, whether I had created something beautiful or just something mundane with a pretty costume. I had thought that performing it onstage for an audience would give me some of that perspective back, but it didn't. I felt just as divorced from what my act looks like from the outside as ever.

At the end of the show, after performing my second act (The Octopus - one of my favourites to perform) I did get a little good feedback but in reality I think maybe I expected too much from this first performance. After seeing some photographs from the night and reflecting on the things I did take in from the feeling of performing it, I can see some things I should modify slightly in both costume and performance to improve the act. My bra was much too fiddly to fasten properly and I need to change the clasp to something simpler and larger. Also, from looking at the photos I can see that it didn't stay up very well and that it needs straps to be added to stop me from ending up with it round my waist! The choregraphy for the first section needs to be tighter and more polished and I need to ask for people's feedback on whether the last section runs on too long (it felt too long for me onstage but my OH watching it says it added to the tension and worked). Also, the wig (which stayed on and didn't wobble - yay!) makes me look pretty double chinned because of the way it hangs in my face so I think I will have to play with the styling a little to reduce that. I also painted on a little rabbit nose but I don't think I will be doing that again - it looked a bit too comical and also like I had a cold!

The more I look back on the performance, which was now almost a week ago, the more I feel I am gaining the perspective I had hoped to gain on the night. I wanted to feel this surge of joy and relief but in a way I think that because of the nature of this act, getting it to a standard I am happy with will be a slower process of trial and error than compared to other acts. My other half pointed out to me that, as your skill level rises, so do your standards. So in a way, although you are making progress - you don't always feel as though you are.

I know I have a long way to go before the Jackalope onstage becomes an acceptable representation of the Jackalope in my imagination, and I know for a fact one will never exactly replicate the other, but I feel as though I have made the first step to realising my concept into something tangible. Hopefully there will come a time when this act feels as natural to me as I want it to, but until then I'll just have to keep trying.

'Til next time
x
Emerald

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Last Push

Dearests,
Well, it has been a busy couple of weeks and between day job dramas, family commitments and extensive watching of King of the Hill I haven’t found a minute to blog until now.

I do however, have plenty to be cheerful about as I am now approaching the last push on my Jackalope act. When last I wrote I had finally faced my fears about dying my corset. Since then, costuming has come on steadily. I have finished my bra, which turned out to be no mean feat. I wanted to exchange the standard back clasp for a front fastening closure (I probably should have done that before I covered the cups of the bra – just incase I botched it up and put my hard work to waste). I began with this just being fastened by ribbon but I soon realised that my mighty bosom was not going to be contained by something as flimsy as a pretty bow. So I ended up adding a small hook and eye closure to the bra and using the ribbon to hide it. I then covered the back strap and I have to say I am delighted with the results. I am still hoping to add a halter strap to the bra for a little extra support but haven’t yet found any ribbon or other material that would be suitable so I am going to wait and see how that pans out.

My music is also now finished and edited. Music selection for me is always a relatively complex process. Unless the music was the original starting point or inspiration for the act I often find I am choosy to the point of being pedantic. Originally, back many, many months ago I had about a week where all I did in my spare time was listen to and compare potential tracks for this act. I probably listened to a couple of hundred easily (no exaggerating) and made shortlists and pared those lists down and re-listened again. Back in November I finally chose a track which I really liked and another track which I cut into a one minute section to precede it. However, I found that, although I liked the track and the overall mood was appropriate, I just couldn’t make the choreography and narrative fit to it. A couple of months ago I resigned myself to search for another track and perhaps cut down my main track and still have a little of it at the end. I found something that worked really nicely but it fit better at the end of the act, much better than my original selection. So this left me in a position of having a little short intro bit that worked and an end bit that worked but no middle! Finally, about six weeks ago I found the perfect track for the middle part of my act. The music describes the action so perfectly that the choreography for that part of the act has almost written itself as the music holds all the cues. So, after running my final line up past a couple of people whose opinion I value I went ahead and edited the three together. What music did I pick? Well, you’ll have to wait ‘til the act is debuted to find that out but lets just say it has been a labour of love choosing!

As well as getting the work done on my bra, on Saturday I also received my finished antlers from Haus of Emerald (aka my sister). Unlike the last pair (the less said about them the better – I’m going to wait till December and then try to ebay them for Christmas purposes) these are light as a cloud and they look superb. I spent some time on Sunday mounting them into my wig (to my delight I didn’t have to cut the wig after all as they just threaded in the gaps between wefts– one less thing to worry about) and then moulded the base inside the wig to hold them steady. They look great although they still need a little tweaking to get the angle right – it’s hard mounting two tall antlers into a wig when you only have two pairs of hands and a limited time before the plastic sets!

So… just the last push left to go now. I am waiting on my gloves which are on order and will need tea dying when they arrive. I need to get hold of an old chest or trunk. My local car boot has stuff like this all the time but it would be just my luck that they won’t have one now for ages as now I need one! I still need to work on my choreography but that is getting there steadily. The last real making jobs are making my pasties, doing my ears, which I want to look aged and ratty and not ‘party costume’ looking, and covering my skirt. This one is going to be a pretty big job due to the size of the skirt and the fact that I want to cover at least some of it with home felted raw wool. I’ll let you into a secret: The people who say that felting is a fun hobby are fibbing! Felting is a big pain in the butt and it takes ages and your hands go all pruney in the process. So the skirt is probably going to take a while longer yet, but I am trying to do a bit at a time to make a dent in it.

So I am hoping that my Jackalope might be in the finishing stages sometime in June at which point I hope to get some promo photos done and then start pimping it out. Keep your eyes peeled because no doubt any Jackalope news will be here first!

‘Til next time
X
Emerald

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Corsets, Tea-Dying and More Fetish Thoughts

This week has been a fairly quiet one day job wise so I have managed to get a little more done burlesque-wise than usual.

The biggest achievement for me this week has been facing my fears, biting the bullet and working on my Jackalope corset. I bought a gorgeous ‘Morticia’ underbust corset some time ago now from What Katie Did (see older posts for the fun and games that I had obtaining it!). WKD are my corset people of choice as they make such gorgeous stuff (not to mention their bras, undies and what have you!) at really reasonable prices. The Morticia style is perfect for my figure as it has gored hips – I find when I wear corsets without the goring that there is not much room as I have a 28” waist to 37” hips.

Originally, I had considered getting a custom corset made as I wanted something in a yellowed out white, so that it looked aged, and most of the off the peg corsets I found came in white or ivory. However, I know and trust What Katie Did and know their corsets fit my body shape well so I decided to go with them and if need be dye the corset (NB – Disclaimer – What Katie Did do not recommend dying any of their corsets except for their ‘Music Hall’ range. I dyed mine totally off my own steam and cannot guarantee that the results I had would be the same for anyone else).

When I received the corset it was so beautiful that I didn’t dare risk dying it. I was so worried that I would accidentally shrink it, cause it to rust or do it some other sort of damage. I decided instead to embellish the corset using lace appliqués. I spent hours trawling the web looking for something that would be the right shape, size and colour and come in two symmetrical parts (as the corset is in two parts) but nothing was quite right. Then I had a light bulb moment – why buy pre-made appliqués that aren’t quite right when you can make your own? I found instructions on Google for making appliqués at home and was pleasantly surprised by how simple it was. So I ended up going to the fabric market and buying beautiful beaded bridal lace, in a light tea colour – I bought a half metre, the fabric was £120 for a whole one!!! After I had made the appliqués and sewed them on, a painstaking process that shredded the skin on my thumbs and fingers, I was delighted with the result.

So why didn’t I leave it at that? Well, I’ve never been the kind of girl to leave well enough alone. After a long conversation with my other half, he told me that in his minds eye the costume would not be white at all and that the whole thing would be a yellowish, brownish cream again aged looking but still beautiful. I agreed that that was what I had wanted to do, but that WKD had advised against dying their corset as they couldn’t predict the results. I didn’t dare bugger it up, especially as I had gone to all the work and expense with the appliqués. But the more I thought about it, the more the thought wouldn’t go away. So I decided to take the plunge and risk it in the hope of getting closer to my original vision of what the costume should look like.

I dyed the corset, and also my bloomers and bra in a tea bath. Nothing scary happened during the dying process but I was like a broody bantam fussing and checking and turning the two halves of the corset as it dried. Reputable sources had told me that if you absolutely must dye a corset you should leave it to dry flat and try and get it dry as quickly as possible. Leaving it flat was a bit of an issue because of the goring in the hips – it just isn’t cut to sit in one flat piece, but I did my best. I put it near the radiator on a drying rack and hoped for the best.
In the end I was absolutely delighted with the results for the corset. It has come out a light brownish cream and does look as though it was something that used to be white but is very old. There is a little inconsistency in the colour in a couple of places but it kind of adds to the flawed, aged effect and I don’t regret taking the risk (NB another disclaimer! I am not suggesting anyone else follow my lead and dye their own corset – mine turned out great but I can’t guarantee whether other people’s would.).

The bloomers, being made of cotton, took the colour a little darker and have come out slightly more yellow in tone which gives a nice contrast to the corset but the bra – made from mainly synthetic stuff – didn’t take the colour as strongly. It came out more like a pale brownish peach. This wasn’t a big problem though as I only wanted it dyed as a base so there would be no bright white peeking through when I covered it. I have started covering the cups of the bra with vintage lace fabric bought from my local car boot sale and then trimmed it with a cream and brown lace edging. I still need to work on the side sections and add a little more trimming and then the bra will be done.


Here’s a snapshot of my bra-in-progress and my finished corset – apologies for the rubbish phone photo.

So the Jackalope costume is now coming on in leaps and bounds. There is still lots more work to do before I can put costuming to bed, the skirt alone is going to be a mammoth task, not to mention I still need to get myself my prop and finish music editing and choreography. It looks like I will not meet my self imposed deadline I had hoped for but I think the extra time I have spent on it will pay off in the end.

In other developments – I have been thinking more about my fetish idea (see the previous post) and have decided to produce a simple version of my idea and trial it at a few burlesque events. If people seem to respond to it I’ll keep it and upgrade the costume etc (I have some very exciting – very complex ideas) to bring it in line production-wise with my other acts. If people hate it or don’t get it I’ll retire it knowing I didn’t break my back (or the bank!). It will be good, after working on my Jackalope, to do something with a quicker turnaround time and with less of my heart and soul invested. Not that I plan to just slapdash this idea out, but it would be nice to produce an act that doesn’t involve too much over-thinking, and that can be done as a bit of fun. My other half (who among his many talents, paint beautiful abstract canvasses) talked to me at great length about letting the chips fall where they may, playing, experimenting and not being too precious and trying to control everything so I am going to try and take that approach with this new piece. And apparently the universe or what have you agrees because this Sunday at the car boot (my own personal treasure trove of amazing finds) I stumbled upon something (or should I say two matching somethings?) that were exactly what I needed for a part of this new act’s costume.

I now have a couple of busy weeks vanilla life-wise but hopefully I will still be able to make time to get some burlesquey stuff done. Also, ballet starts again tomorrow after the Easter break – I feel rusty just thinking about it!

‘Til next time

X

Emerald

Monday, 5 April 2010

Fetish Thoughts

Dearests,
It seems an idea has dropped into my lap - and quite neatly formed at that - for a new act. Something a hundred miles from my Jackalope (which is exactly what I will need by the time this is over).
The question is, is it workable? The concept I have in mind is downright fetishistic and fetish is absolutley not my area of expertise.
I have seen quite a few acts over the years that the artiste has described as 'fetish' but which, to me, looked like a straight down the middle burlesque/cabaret or performance art act that simply borrowed from fetish with either leather/latex/bondage clothing or a quite alty soundtrack. But, as fetish is not something I am overly familiar with, it's hard to know whether a fetish audience would view these acts as fetish or not. I'm not sure where the line is. I wouldn't want to go around doing an act that I though was fetishistic but audiences just felt was creepy or worse, crappy.

The other question is, how sexual does a fetish act have to be? By its very nature fetish is related to sexuality in a way that my burlesque performances never are. Yes, I may wear skimpy costumes and show bosoms but sexual thoughts are the last thing I hope to inspire in my audience. Does a fetish act have to be arousing? Or, because it is performed in a burlesque context does it become more about studying and questioning the particular fetish - even burlesquing it? And if it is about burlesquing it, parodying it - is it appropriate for one to perform an act about a fetish one doesn't personally hold?

Finally, in the performances I currently do my body type is not a hinderance. It adds to the humour in a couple of my acts and is often disguised by a corset in the ones where it doesn't. I associate fetish performance with women of a traditionally desirable body type, unless of course the fetish is related to the body directly. Would a non-body related fetish performance be more coherent from someone with a more conventionally attractive body? Would a less conventionally attractive body distract from the theme and mix messages? (NB - I have not mentioned the body part to ask for anyone to validate me or compliment my figure. I am what I am and I only worry [usually] about my body in a burlesque context in relation to whether it would detract from what I am trying to say in my narrative.)

Anyway, these are all things I am wondering as an outsider looking into fetish and wondering whether to dip a toe in the water for the sake of a fun act idea. Any thoughts on the subject would be greatfully received...

'Til next time
x
Emerald

Sunday, 28 March 2010

A Most Peculiar Booking

Dearests,
So after a fun week of photography and what not, yesterday I was booked to perform at a private party in Coventry. It turned out to be a most peculiar booking.

I was booked by the organiser of Dr Sketchy's in Coventry (who had seen me perform at the first Dr Sketchy's in Birmingham) to do a gig for a private birthday party using the Dr Sketchy's format of a performance and then about half an hour of poses for sketching.

I made the journey down and my other half came with me so I would have company on the drive. When we arrived (after taking an accidental detour through a winding, tree covered country path) I was a little unsure that we were at the right place as I saw a little girl in a party dress running into the venue - a nice village hall. However, we assured eachother that it was probably a venue with multiple function rooms and that the girl was from another party. When we got there it turned out that the child was not from another party and that the event was the birthday of the matriarch of a nice Russian family and that she was celebrating with her (grown up) children and also a host of (definately not grown up) grandchildren! Outside, my OH asked me 'Is this what your gigs are usually like?'!

At this point the promotor from Sketchy's had not yet arrived (I was very early for fear of getting lost) and my OH and I were a little concerned that perhaps the party goers did not know what sort of act they had booked and I discussed with the daughter of the birthday girl (who seemed to be in charge) that perhaps it would be better if I did not remove my bra in case little eyes (who in theory aught to be in another room with a bouncy castle - but you know kids!) saw more than they should.

When the promotor arrived and a CD player was located things started to go more smoothly, I felt a lot more calm and I got into costume. I was still a bit worried that my act was not going to be the sort of thing they were expecting but at least the promotor was there to take control of the running of things.

When I got on and did my act the audience were very quiet and applauded politely at the end and I was concerned that they had been confused by my act or thought it was innapropriate but when we got onto the drawing part lots of them gave it a go and they even let the kids (most of whom had been peeking in round the door - good job the bra stayed on!) join in. The atmosphere seemed to warm up and everyone relaxed a bit. For the last turn the lady whose birthday it was asked if she could pose instead and it was really nice to see everyone having so much fun (plus it meant I got to do a bit of drawing). At the end the daughter asked me if I had another performance I could do as people had been asking for me to go up again. I was suprised as I hadn't thought people liked my act that much but sadly I had to decline as I had only brought the music and costume for one act.

In the end what began looking like it was going to be a bit of a nightmare gig ended up being a lot of fun, although still the strangest gig I have done so far. The family dynamic reminded me a lot of my own as my family are Polish on my Dad's side and there seemed to be a lot of similarities and the whole thing was unusual but friendly.

Perhaps I should try and persuade my relatives to get a burlesque performer at our next family party!

'Til next time
x
Emerald

Friday, 26 March 2010

'The Trouble With Tribbles' photoshoot with Cherryfox Fine Photography

After finishing the styling work on my Jackalope wig last week my friend, fellow burlesquer and photographer Cherryfox suggested we do a shoot before I attached the antlers, ears and other Jackalope-ish paraphernalia to it so that it could be used for a different look.

On Wendesday I had a day off to use up and my previously made plans didn’t happen so we ended up having a fun impromptu shoot at her home studio in Stoke-on-Trent. Cherryfox has been working on making some gorgeous hair accessories – lovely feathered birdies and rhinestone embellished butterflies, big and gaudy just the way I like them! So we went for a bright, drag queeny look with as many of these adorable little creatures as possible nestling amongst my gargantuan tresses.


Here’s a little teaser from the shoot - you can see the rest at: Cherryfox's Facebook


I could seriously get used to having that much hair – if only it was real! Hopefully, the next time you will see this wig it will be part of a finished Jackalope costume. I still have lots to do but it is coming along gradually.

Huge thanks and hugs to Cherryfox for the amazing pics and the loan of her lovely bird and butterfly creations, and a tip of the hat to my car Boris for getting me to and from Stoke in on piece despite my fairly punishing driving technique.
As Amanda Lepore says – ‘I don’t know much about clothes but my hair looks fierce’

‘Til next time
X
Emerald

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Adrift in the World of Wig Styling

As promised I have been as good as my word and prepared a little photo blog of my first proper attempt at wig styling – my Jackalope wig.

To begin – here’s a picture of the original wig (I bought mine from the brilliant Annabelle’s Wigs) so you can see what I started with.


Originally (like back when I was still thinking about buying a pre styled drag queen wig) I was going to use a readheaded wig but I gradually came round to a pale blonde as I wanted the whole costume to have a dirty yellowed out white theme running through it.

Here is a picture of my inspiration of what I wanted the wig to look like (the picture is from America’s Next Top Model – the lovely Allison).



As my Jackalope lives in a forest (I think ‘real’ Jackalopes usually live on plains or prairies but I have allowed myself some creative licence!) I wanted the wild, tangled look with twigs, plant matter or feathers twined into it. I had been daydreaming about something in this general area for some time but hadn’t been able to nail down the exact style until I saw the episode of ANTM that this shoot was from. As soon as I saw Allison with her hair styled this way I knew that this was the look I wanted for my wig!

My base wig was from Annabelle’s Wigs. The style is ‘Danielle’ and it has a skin top. For those who are interested a skin top is useful for wig styling if you want to mess about with the parting. Without a skin top wigs normally only part one way and trying to part it any other way will just expose the lace the hair is mounted on. There are ways you can change the part on a wig without a skin top but I haven’t attempted them yet as it looks like a pretty complicated process! As the original wig has a centre part and the style I wanted has no parting at all I thought the skin top would be a good idea (although in reality I might have been able to do it another way if I had got a wig that didn’t have this feature).

So I started off by pinning my wig to my wig head which I have affixed onto a stand made out of an old artificial Christmas tree. I pinned it around the outer edge but I also put extra pins in the lace above each section while I worked on it to avoid putting excess pressure on the wig and ripping or stretching it.

After securely fixing the wig to the head I used a tail comb and a hair elastic fastened loosely to section off the portion of the wig at the front that would make the backward bangs/pompadour/quiff whatever you like to call it.



It stayed pretty firmly parted down the centre but I tried not to worry too much about that as that would be remedied when I styled that part. Then it was time to begin the backcombing process. I started at the bottom back. I figured that way if I had any teething troubles at the start they would be hidden by the rest of the hair when the wig was finished. I used my tail comb to part the hair and clipped the parts I didn’t want up out of the way. Then I took the hair in small sections and started backcombing. After I had done a section I misted it lightly with hairspray. I have been using Tresemme because that’s what I’ve got but supposedly Aquanet is the wig stylist’s spray of choice.

At first my technique was not great and some of the sections began to look a little dready. I used to make synthetic dreads some years ago and the technique for backcombing the wig is in some ways very similar to that and in others the exact opposite. With synthetic dreads the objective is to keep them nice and tight and in a well defined shape, whereas for this backcombed style the idea is to make it loose but still voluminous. When I first started I backcombed the hair sections quite strongly like you would when making dreads and this made them rather tight at the root. This tightness meant they stood up and out giving the hair lots of body but it also made the sections look a little too ratty and separate. As I got more used to what I was doing I found it worked better to backcomb the sections more gently and after every few strokes to pull the hair apart from itself (exactly the opposite of making a dread where you would twist the hair in on itself). This makes the hair less ratty and sectioned and gives it more of the ‘candyfloss’ sort of look that I wanted.

When I had worked my way up to somewhere between half and one third of the head I looked at how much hair I had left and decided to add an extra weft in for thickness. Originally, when I looked at the wig I didn’t think it would need any extra wefts put in but as I worked my way up I thought I would put an extra one in under the philosophy ‘better safe than sorry’.





I had originally planned to buy two wigs and rip wefts from one to put in the other but I ended up buying extra wefts (actually they were clip in extensions) separately and having the second wig more as a spare in case I ballsed up the original! This meant it was quite simple to attach an extra weft, all I had to do was remove the two little clips and then they were ready to go in! To sew in the weft I parted the hair horizontally and clipped the top section up with an alligator clip and then I pinned the weft to the wig and wig head, stretching it as I went so it fit neatly. I used a curved sewing needle to sew it in although I’m still not sure whether that made it easier or not, it was only my first time using one and I bought it as it was the recommended thing to use for this task. I am going to stick at using it for this reason but we’ll see if it makes things easier once I get used to it.
Here is a picture of the wig, from the back, after I sewed the extra weft in (to be honest, it's not a great photo - I should have taken one a bit closer up!):




After I sewed the extra weft I got back to backcombing and the rest of the wig took shape fairly quickly. I was really pleasantly surprised at how big I could get it with only one extra weft. After I had done the body of the wig I just had to do the quiffed back bangs. I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to entirely get rid of the part but it wasn’t a problem. I backcombed them in the same way and almost moulded them backwards into shape. At the moment I haven’t permanently sewn or otherwise attached them backwards (I’m not sure whether it will necessarily need it) just in case the height or shape needs tweaking when it’s on my head.



Now all I need to do is attach my antlers, rabbit ears and the other wig adornments and decorations. As my antlers as the central piece I am going to wait ‘til I receive and attach them before I put anything else on the wig. I have been talking about doing a little fun photoshoot with Cherryfox Fine Photography before I add the extra bits onto my wig so if that ends up happening I will post the results up here!

Hope some of you found my wig styling walk through interesting. If you did and would like to see more of the same or if you want to know anything further about how I styled this wig (it’s pretty simple really as I am just a beginner to wig styling) give me a shout! PS.Apologies for the quality of the pictures, I took them on my phone so they're not amazing - at some point I will winkle out the cable for the proper digital camera!

‘Til next time
X
Emerald

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Gig and The Wig

Dearests,
This week has been taken up with a lot of boring vanilla-life day job tedium, but inbetween the drudge have been two rather pleasant interludes.

First and foremost I performed at Hull's Ringside Review on Saturday night. This was a challenge for me in more ways than I expected! The first big hurdle was getting there - it was my first time driving to a whole other city and my first proper motorway drive (had to go on a tiny bit of motorway when I picked up my car but my Dad supervised me). It was an exhilerating experience (if a little terrifying at times) but I made it there in one piece without incident and even managed to drive back the same night (on empty roads as it was after midnight - bliss!). I made a couple of peppy 80s CDs to keep me alert, energetic and on the ball and it really felt like a bit of an adventure! Definately a hundred times less stressful than taking the coach or train - especially with my huge suitcase!

The second, more unexpected challenge was of a more theatrical nature. I arrived with my music on CD and a spare copy just incase but for some reason the venue's CD player would not accept either of the CDs I had for my Strongwoman act. My Octopus CD played just fine but the others: No way Jose! Anna (Fox - promotor of the night) tried to help me source another copy of my track but it's a fairly unusual one - it's an instrumental recording of "Don't Dilly Dally on the Way" so it was nothing doing. Cut to me sitting in my car rifling through my CD collection looking for something of a similar mood to perform to!

I eventually came up with a nice Charleston with lots of brass. Not a million miles away from my original choice in mood. Unfortunately, by this point the audience were already in and seated so there was no time to try a run through. All I could do was wing it! In the car when I sat and listened I realised that the new track was a little longer than my original choice so I made a mental note to draw the act out a little and also asked Anna to fade the track out if I finished noticeably early. However, when it was time to perform, finishing too early was not a problem. I spent so long hamming it up to fill the extra music that I ended up with the music ending just before I was about to do the final reveal - missing the punchline of the act! Luckily the audience and my fellow performers didn't seem to notice or if they did they didn't mind as the reception I got for it was still very positive. Oddly enough though it did make me consider changing tracks permanently as I really enjoyed doing it to my substitute music!


Me Hamming it up as my Strongwoman (for a little too long!) - photo by Kate Rush


Apart from my minor mishap in the first half, the second half went smoothly and I adored meeting the other performers. Billie Rae was graceful and elegant, Pinny Lace was adorable and natural (and I could not believe how good she was for someone so very new!) and Milan was hilarious and had the most amazing comic timing. All the performers were really friendly and the atmosphere backstage was lovely. Anna herself (along with her maid for the night, Kelly and the compere Neil)ran a really professional night and Anna is one of the most warm and huggable people I have met on the circuit. I am dying to work with the other performers and Anna again - they were all so fun, friendly and talented! Also, on a little aside, Pinny Lace went up for the Delicious Burlesque newcomers competition (heat one was Saturday and the final will be at the show in June) and I know I will be rooting for her from the audience!

The other exciting development has been finally seeing the fruits of my wiggy labours. I received my wigs two weeks ago and since then I have been beavering away with my tailcomb and a can of Tresseme hoping to realise my wig-dreams.


Me in my Jackalope wig - apologies for the lack of makeup and crappy phone photo!


I have not done much in the way of wig styling before – I made an updo hairpiece out of a pony tail one that had got a bit ratty and I put a simple roll into my Octopus wig but I had not attempted to do anything more complicated than that before. However, I have been researching wig styling for months and months – swotting up on tips and technique until I could get my hands on a wig to try it out on.

The style I chose for my Jackalope wig is quite a simple one (especially compared to some of the elaborate, structural styles I have seen people working on on the Cosplay forum) great for a beginner. As it is backcombed and boofy there is less need for precision and accuracy – the messiness of it is pretty forgiving. As a first attempt at proper wig styling I am pretty pleased with it!

If I had to make an estimate I would say I probably spent more than 10 hours backcombing this wig, but what a result! It’s absolutely huge! I had (originally, almost a year ago) wanted to buy a drag queen wig from somewhere like Empress Bianca or Vegas Girl Wigs but I was put off by how expensive they were. Now, having styled my own I can see why the drag wigs cost what they do; it takes a lot of styling time to get a boof that big!

I still have a little to do to the wig, I need to sew in my antlers and rabbit ears (once they are finished) and I want to dress the wig a little more with pine cones, teasels, bulrushes or other similar plant matter. But I will post up another pic when it is done.

At some point I thought about doing a step by step photo blog of how I styled the wig (wig styling resources are few and far between and I thought people might be interested in the process I used to do mine) but as I took the photos on my phone it’s a pain in the bum to upload them so it might have to wait until I have a quiet afternoon with a bit of free time to do it.

Next on the Jackalope list is to carry on felting for my skirt (this is probably going to be the most time consuming part of the costuming process) and to start work customising my bra. Hopefully I will have more to show in a couple of weeks!

‘Til next time
x
Emerald

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Forgiven by the Gods of Burlesque?

Dearests,
although (as usual) my vanilla life is plagued with annoyances and setbacks (I won't bore you with the details - it's not that kind of blog!), in regards to burly it seems as though the gods and godessess of the stage have (at least for the moment) forgiven me.

In all, burlesque wise, it hasn't been a bad few days. The big win was getting my money refunded for those wigs (see the previous posts for the whole story). I requested the refund, unsure what the outcome would be but in the end the seller refunded me and now the whole matter is resolved. It was a stressful and frustrating experience from start to finish but as the saying goes, 'All's well that ends well'. I would like to put that money towards an item I want for my Jackalope costume but in reality I may have to hold onto it to pay for something stressful in my vanilla life. I should know in about a week whether the money is needed for that or not. If not I can start steaming ahead with the next phase of the outfit.

At ballet last night it was a very small class (only about six of us) and this meant there was a lot more scope to go over things that were difficult. Also because three of the girls there were quite advanced dancers just taking the class to keep in practice it meant that the teacher made the lesson a little more complicated to keep them interested but she could help the less able students a little more too as there were less of us (me bringing up the rear as usual!). The class was great and I felt really stretched by the end of it. There are still one or two steps in the routine we are working on that I seem to get tangled up in, and I can't balance when performing an arabesque to save my life but I really feel like some of it is sinking in. At the end of the class the teacher even complimented me, saying she could see an improvement with my technique at the barre. I'm not sure if she was being kind and encouraging me because I am one of the weakest students in the class or if I really have improved but I do feel as though I know more what I am doing at the barre now and I get less fuddled. Either way, it felt nice to be praised and I feel like the classes are doing me some good one way or another.

On the wig styling front I am now about half way through the backcombing process. Every evening this week I have promised myself I would come home from my day job and work on it but work has been so busy that I have come home too tired to do much to it. I am hoping that I might get some done on Friday as I have the afternoon off work, but I will blog with photos (if I can figure out how to do it) just as soon as I have finished it. I still need to order some of the ornaments and trinkets that I want to dress the wig with but that will have to wait until I have some cash!

In other, more practical burlesque news, I am performing at the Ringside Review in Hull on Saturday, ran by Anna Fox and starring Billie Rae, Pinny Lace and Milan (and me!)



I am pretty excited about this gig as I have heard so many nice things about the Ringside Review. I am also excited and nervous as this will be my first proper motorway drive and I will be doing it solo! I am a bit scared about going on the motorway and about undertaking such a long drive but it will be worth it in the long run as negotiating busses, coaches and trains with my huge suitcase and box of props makes me flapped and furious! So wish me luck, and assuming I don't die in a twisted heap of metal by the side of the road I'll let you all know how it goes.

'Til next time
x
Emerald

Friday, 5 March 2010

Up to my Ears in Wigs

Dearests,
This is not a real blog post; more just a mini exclamation! It seems I am living any burlesquer’s dream now as I am soon to be up to my ears in wigs! After ordering two lovely replacement wigs last week from Annabelle’s Wigs the person from whom I ordered my original wigs (two months ago tomorrow) has finally contacted me telling me she has ordered my wigs and expects to receive them shortly(!), conveniently ignoring the fact that my email clearly states that I have given up on her service and want a refund instead (something which she says one is entitled to right up until they are shipped from her).
I am going to send her a message explaining that after two months of non-contact I gave up and bought the wigs elsewhere and hopefully get my money back. Keep your fingers crossed for me – otherwise I will have four long blonde wavy wigs when I only needed one and a spare!

‘Til next time,
X
Emerald

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Dancing Again...

Dearests,
Two blogs in as many days! Either I have a lot to say for myself or I am using my blog to escape from the banal reality that is my working day! Either way though, here I am!

Last night was ballet. I haven't been for two weeks as last week I had a gig (four acts in one evening!) at the Test Match in West Bridgeford; a private party for the managers of the pub chain, and the week before it was half term. My leg is still a bit painful, although this week it has not been quite as bad and although I have been practicing eleves, releves, and ronde de jambes like there is no tomorrow I felt a little rusty about the finer points of the class.

I was feeling rather tired that evening and I almost cried off in favour of a lazy evening of junk food and films but luckily for me I found the energy to get off my behind and into my dancing shoes. On arrival it turned out that the teacher who had been running the class was now on maternity leave (she had been pretty pregnant when I first started and now, I believe, only has about 9 weeks to go) and another girl who had been assisting her in the class would be teaching. The new teacher is young and pretty and very friendly and approachable and, as much as I liked our original teacher, I was pleased to have a go with her substitute.

The structure of the class was a little different than it has been so far. Instead of doing 20 minutes or so of barre work, 20 minutes of dance and a five minute warm down we did a shorter barre session (about 10 mins or so) and then spent the rest of the class working on a beautiful dance in the centre. I approached the idea of less barre and more centre work with some good humoured trepidation - while the barre work is tricky but within my reach, so far the more complicated steps of choreographed dance confuse me. I don't pick these things up easily and I find that once I fumble on one movement that has a knock on effect on the steps that follow.
So I was not expecting what happened next. I don't know if I was having a good day, if it was that I was stood in a good position to see everything or if it was something to do with the new teacher's style of dance or of explaining the movements but I felt like I picked up the movements with a lot less fuss than usual, and I retained them better than I usually do. The teacher broke the dance down into very small parts and once we had tried each part she added on the next, pausing to make sure everyone was still keeping up. I really enjoyed the dance and I felt that because I was able to pick up the movements at the same sort of rate as the rest of the class (all bar one step that was a little too complicated for me involving going up into a pirouette position twice in quick succession)I could even add some expression and emotion to the dance and really try to perform it rather than just stumbling through the motions as I have been doing so far.

Overall I feel really positive about the new format for the class although next week we are trying a faster dance so ask me in a week if I am still feeling so capable! Also, I feel like something from the classes may be starting to pay off in my burlesque work. When I have been improvising and blocking out movement for my Jackalope and another upcoming act I have in mind I have found myself using some of the body shapes and positions I have learned in class and hopefully this will make the dance elements of these acts a little more graceful and their movements more definite. I want so dearly for my Jackalope and the other acts that follow it to be of a noticably higher standard than the things I have produced before but I know I still have a long way to go before they will be anywhere near the sort of standard I would like them to be. I suppose all I can do is try!

'Til next time
x
Emerald

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Getting Back on the Horse (or should that be Jackalope?)

Dearests,
After a very prickly period working on my Jackalope act (see the previous post to see how prickly!) I have dusted myself off and got back on the horse and things seem to be progressing forward, finally.

The big problems I had with this act were the antlers and the wig(s). In the antler situation I did not have the heart in the end to request a refund from the chap who made them – he obviously tried his best. So I went to my sister’s and had a chat with her other half who has a degree in product design. I told him about the prop maker’s idea of moulding some sort of cap to go under the wig which the antlers could be bolted onto. He immediately started Googling and came up with this:

http://www.maplin.co.uk/searchtemplate.asp?criteria=POLYMORPH%20PLASTIC

It’s called Polymorph and if I remember my secondary school DT classes then it’s a low temperature thermoplastic plastic. Meaning it can be moulded when you heat it up in hot water.
The original plan was to make the cap out of this and mould it around my head (!). However, my sister came up with an even smarter idea – to mould a new pair of antlers out of the Polymorph. She kindly went away and knocked me up a small prototype and I was pleasantly surprised. The Polymorph is strong and durable with a tiny bit of flexibility so it isn’t brittle (although it moulds to itself very easily so if an antler did break it would only need heating up a little to repair). It is also unfeasibly light. Sis brought the antler over wrapped in bubble wrap and when she handed it to me I thought she had had a brainstorm and forgot to put the antler inside the wrap! That’s how light it was.

So Sis is now beavering away with her ‘House of Emerald’ project to produce me antlers version 2 (in reality it’s actually version 5, I think, if you count the attempts I made myself with wire and papier mache etc some months ago) and I am optimistic about the results. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

On the wig front there have been mixed results. The woman who I paid to send me the wigs has still not responded to my emails or sent out the wigs so I requested a refund. As I am sure you are not surprised to hear, I have not received that refund and the wigs still have not been sent. At the end of my tether with the whole thing, I decided to open a dispute with Paypal to reclaim my money. Paypal said that because more that 45 days had passed they wouldn’t help me – I was on my own. This was frustrating. For an international service when the seller is a third party middle man between you and another company 45 days is not always going to be long enough to know there is a problem. So I contacted Barclays to ask them to do a Visa Chargeback. They were quite happy to help me until they found out I had paid via Paypal, at which point they said it was not their problem and that Paypal should help me (ha!) but not until they had passed me around and kept me on hold for 25 minutes. I spoke to Trading Standards who said that it was out of their jurisdiction as the site is US based and finally I contacted the Better Business Bureau which is, apparently, the American equivalent of Trading Standards. They are now chasing her up but they may have no luck as one of the posters on the forum who recommended the wig lady told me that since having the baby she has moved and not given a forwarding business address!

So I am a bit stuck with these wigs – people on the forum keep assuring me that she will get round to sending the wigs/refunding me eventually but either way I would never use this seller again. Slow delivery I can just about deal with but neglecting to respond to any correspondence just shows an absolute lack of regard for the customer and makes me fuming!

On a more positive note though, this whole debacle meant I ended up getting the wigs elsewhere and I have been delighted with the product and the service. Even though I had found a couple of US based sites that sold the same wig and would ship to the UK, I decided not to go with them as time has been ticking on while this woman has fannied around. I thought a UK site might speed up the process so I went with www.annabelleswigs.co.uk . I was aware of Annabelle’s from Ministry of Burlesque forum as Claire who runs the site is a poster on MoB so I thought I would give them a try. If nothing else I knew she would be contactable if anything went wrong! I ended up calling the shop as I had a few questions before I bought and I ended up having a lovely chat with Claire and bought two wigs and some weft extensions (the idea being I could use the wefts if I needed to bulk out the wig and I also had a spare that I could use if the original went wrong!). I had them sent to my day job address and, after ordering on Friday, when I came in yesterday they had arrived (I think they came on Monday while I was off).

The wigs are gorgeous quality, they feel so silky and full – I may not even need the extra wefts (though it’s good to have them just in case). So last night I cracked on with styling one for my Jackalope. I have a source photograph of what I want it to look like and a few basic tips I have picked up from trawling Google and Cosplay.com but apart from that I’m on my own. I have wanted to have a go at wig styling for so long now but when I sat with my wig pinned to the stand and my tail comb in hand I have to admit I felt a certain amount of trepidation. It is possible I could be in the process of ruining a perfectly good wig here! On the other hand; nothing ventured, nothing gained, and since I don’t have the opportunity to go on a wig styling course self-taught will have to be the order of the day. The style I have picked for the wig is not something that involves a great deal of advanced technique and as it is a messy style there is plenty of room for mistakes – pinpoint accuracy is not paramount. However, I have been taking it slowly, working on the wig patiently and in very small sections. So far it is taking shape in roughly the way I want it to but I know that the parts at the front on the brow and the sides will be the hardest bit and also the most visible (I started at the bottom-back so that any mistakes I made whilst finding my stroke would be hidden under the rest of the wig!).

So wish me luck with the wig styling! I am taking pictures as I go and I will post them all into the blog with some step by step notes once the piece is finished. I found wig styling tutorials and advice a little thin on the ground so I want to share my experiences and let people know what worked for me and what didn’t. Also, if anyone has any wig styling advice they would like to share with me I will be all ears!

‘Til next time
X
Emerald

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Cursed by the gods of Burlesque

Dearests,
I have meant to blog for a while now, even having a couple of false starts, but I have been feeling so foul that all that came out was a self indulgent, emotional rant. No promises that this one will be any better but I do feel I am over the hump thanks to a weekend of fags, wine, bitching and partaying (yes it needed the 'ay') with brilliant burlesque smokers and all round hot-pockets Cherryfox and Daquiri Dusk.

Apart from some absolute crapola going on in mine and (more importantly) my OH's life (mainly involving vanilla jobs and money - too boring for this blog) I seem to have been cursed by the gods of burlesque and whereas traditionally it was first-born sons who bore the brunt, with me it seems my Jackalope is paying the price.

For those of you who don't know me, my Jackalope act has been a daydream for long over a year but in the past few months I have started work on this act in ernest. The music has been selected and edited, the narrative mapped out, the choreography is still in the most tentative stages as my costume will almost definately have a effect on how I can and can't move, but it has definately transitioned from a daydream into a work in progress.

Unfortunately, costume wise, it seems that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Firstly I ordered my corset (off the peg but to be customised by my own fair hand) and that arrived in the wrong size. A trot to the post office and a quick email and that was resolved. The very next day I was the proud owner of the correct sized garment - phew! crisis averted. Or so I thought. On the following Saturday another, correctly sized corset arrived! Once again (during the busiest working week I have had in ages) I had to potter off to the post office and return it. I am still waiting for the refund on the second round of postage as the fax machine at the corsetieres seems to be broken and I can't work our scanner at home! Oh the joys of modern technology!

So, that's not so bad. A bit of stomping out to our newly re-vamped to be even more annoying than usual Post Office, but nothing I can't handle. Next there is the issue of my wigs. It's wigs plural as I need to rip wefts out of one to bulk out the other, but essentially it's two of the same wig. I ordered these on the 6th of January. The company that sells them does not ship outside the USA but there is a woman (I am not naming names - it's not that kind of blog post) who will buy them for you and ship them and she is of very high repute on one of the forums I visit. I ordered the wigs and on her site it says the minimum processing time is two weeks. That seems reasonable. So time passes and around a month later I start wondering what the progress is on these wigs. They have to be somewhere en route by now, surely? However the tracker tells me they are 'processing' and the little description below says this means she probably hasn't even received them from the original website. It has now been almost six weeks and it still says 'processing'. On her website it says one should avoid emailling her as she gets a lot of spam. This did not exactly inspire me with confidence but I emailled her anyway. At the time of writing I have received no reply (I emailled on Thursday though so there's still time). When I went back to the forum where I first heard of the service a lot of people informed me that she is very slow and other people said that the original website is slow too. So I have no idea who is at fault there but either way it would have been nice to have been warned how long it might take. I have no idea when these wigs are coming and I'm not sure whether to wait it out incase it's just a few more weeks or to cut my losses, cancel the order and start over with another company (of course risking having the same long wait from them too).

Also - am I being unreasonable to be peeved at this (?): One woman said I should cut the buying service lady some slack as she is a new mother. Now, those who know me know that I view parenthood as a lifestyle choice, ie other people's kids are not my problem, especially if you are running a business. But, lets assume that I didn't view parenthood that way and that I felt that motherhood was the most important thing a woman can do with their life or whatever and trumped anything else one might be up to - I still didn't know that was a factor. Nowhere on this woman's website did it say, 'delivery may be a bit slow because I have not long had a baby'. If it did, and I still went ahead with the order then on my own head be it. Even if she felt it was nobody else's business that she had just had a kid she could have still put a note saying 'due to personal circumstances'. I'm not saying the woman is a sheister or a dodgy dealer I just feel disappointed that it seems to be common knowledge to those that have already used it that the service is slow but she doesn't think to warn new customers of that before they pay their money. So, I am wigless until further notice.

Finally, at the same time I ordered the wigs I commissioned my antlers. I always knew the antler situation was going to be tricky. I found the perfect website that makes costumes for business and sports mascots and they made a whole range of lightweight cold foam latex antlers for costumes. The antlers themselves were not cheap but I could stretch but the shipping was so insanely high as the company are based in Canada and the box would have to be so large. So I shopped around and eventually found a UK based firm that could make them for me. They said that rather than foam latex they had a better material to make them from so, because they are the pros, I went with their recommendation. Their communication was great and I went into great detail about what they were for and how I planned to attach them and I felt really excited to see the finished product. They sent me an email to say they had been shipped last week and I emailled to find out which shipping address they had taken from my Paypal - home or work. Either would be fine but work is easier as there's someone there in the day. It seemed though, that Paypal had other ideas. They gave him, as my preferred delivery address, my old flat that I moved out of in September. Despite the fact that I deleted that address from Paypal when I moved. I went back on to check and it was nowhere on my profile (my other two, work and home were still there). When I emailled Paypal to express my displeasure (putting it politely) they had the cheek to blame Ebay, saying it must be my default there! I found that rather curious considering the antlers weren't purchased through Ebay and every other private OR Ebay transaction I have made through paypal has come to my home or work address!

Ahem. Paypal rant over. So after a lot of chasing around and going to my old flat three times (finding nobody in on each occasion)and an incredibly kind and helpful member of Royal Mail staff (yes, they do exist!) I finally intercepted the package at the sorting office at 8.30am on Saturday morning (after going to bed at 4ish). When I go the antlers home, I was a bit concerned. They look great. The shape is great, they need painting but that's no biggie but they are a lot thicker than I expected and heavy. Too heavy to sew into a wig. Bugger. I have emailled to the chap who made them (actually, I think I may have hurt his feelings - I didn't mean to, he has obviously done his best)to tell him that I don't think they will hold standing still let alone when I am dancing. He has kindly offered to put a support cap made of perspex inside the wig to take their weight.

I am not sure how confident I am that this will work though. Also, it can't be done until the wig comes as it has to be constucted together, and I am nervous about sending the wig away after spending so much time and money on it. The other options are to try and fashion a support myself at home, or to just pony up and buy the Candadian ones (not any time soon, the way my finances are looking), or to go on ebay and buy some real anlters (they are notoriously light) attatched to the skull plate and do it that way. I'm not sure what to try at the moment. I have a bit of thinking time as I can't do anything 'til my wigs come but the whole week of rigmarole has made me seriously consider giving up on this act. I don't really want to shelve it as I have put so much of myself into it and I really feel as though I have to get past it before my mind will let it go and let me work on something else.

So I will press on, and hopefully the end result will be worth the money, time, faff and heartache that has gone into it. Fingers are firmly crossed at this end.

In other news my painful leg is still not right but the ballet is helping and I'm off to the doctors on Thursday so hopefully they can shed some light on it.

'Til next time. TTFN

Monday, 1 February 2010

A pain in the leg

Dearests,

After a fairly shaky start to my endeavours at ballet I decided to put in a little practice at home (using the book I mentioned in my last missive). Boy, did that backfire! Cut to Emerald walking like the Hunchback of Notre Damme, walking around dragging one overly turned out foot because it hurt too much to turn it back in! I was fairly sure that I had been turning out wrong as the part of the leg that hurt was the front of my calf, just by the bone.

By Wednesday (the day of the class) my leg was still very painful and I was considering staying home and licking my wounds. Luckily I plucked up the courage to go to class, planning to sit out anything that hurt too much and it paid off! The stretching at the barre seemed to ease things off a little and by the end of the class my leg felt better than it did before. Not great but definitely better. I also had a quiet word with one of my more experienced classmates. She explained that I had been over ambitious with my turnout. I had started turning correctly from the hips but had then tried to force myself to turn out further from the ankle which had aggrivated the muscle in the front of my calf. Clearly I am just too keen!

The class itself however, sore leg and all, felt so much better than last week. I felt more relaxed at the barre - less focused of my own embarrassment and more in tune with the movements and my body. The floor work, which I had been dreading, felt a hundred times better that night than it had the week before. While I did not float and glide across the floor like some of the more experienced dancers seem to do I felt like I managed to keep up with what I was supposed to be doing and if I made a mistake (which I did. Repeatedly) it was more to do with using the wrong foot or just falling out of step rather than because I hadn't a clue what I was supposed to be doing.

I left the lesson beaming with confidence and exhiliration. I could have happily stayed and danced for another hour. I felt too excited to go to bed when I got home! Of course, a lot of this probably has to do with the endorphins of exercise and so on but it still felt good! I felt as though, perhaps I CAN do this after all. Obviously, I am still one of the weakest (if not THE weakest) in the class and the improvement I noticed in the lesson is more likely a fluke or the result of feeling a little less nervous but if I can do something better once (even if only by fluke), I can do it again.

I am excited for the next class and determined to do better!

'Til the next one,

Emerald
x

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Reading and research... and trying not to look dodgy in the process.

Dear Heart,
As well as my less than graceful first foray into ballet lessons I decided a book might help me. As my day job is in a library, I was already in the right place! Scouring the shelves for something that would help me with my practice at home, I found 'The Ballet Book - A Young Dancer's Guide' by Andrew Ptak.

Now, I am clearly not a 'young' dancer (especially by ballet's standards) but it was the only one with pictures of the different positions and techniques so I snapped it up. It did however, make me feel a little odd looking at it in public places. This highly visual tome was published in 1984, long before we, as a country, were all hysterical that even our own grandmother could be a paedophile waiting to lure sweet faced little tykes off to 'look at some puppies'. I have to say, it felt very strange to be openly looking at photo after photo of a little girl in a leotard demonstrating her flexibility. Still, it can't be as strange as some of the instructions I saw online where the model was a male dancer (perhaps in his twenties) with a tight leotard and a huge, shall we say, 'talent'.

Whether renting this book and risking my colleagues thinking I am interested in funny business with children will pay off and improve my dancing is yet to be seen but at least it means I can study the positions in my own time instead of desperately scrabbling to pick them up at class. Knowledge is power. Hopefully.

Earlier in the week I also had the pleasure of expanding my mind vis a vis burlesque by reading an enthralling MA thesis:

"The Fantasy of Real Women"
New Burlesque & The Female Spectator

by Emily Lane Fargo.

This article came to my attention through the MoB forum and a link posted by talented burlesque performer and all-round clever clogs Glorian Gray (to download a PDF of the thesis - and you should! - go here:
http://www.ministryofburlesque.com/burlesque-chat/10948-bit-burlesque-reading.html )

I was so enthralled by this paper that I flew throught the nigh-on one hundred pages in no time. It discusses burlesque in the context of gender in a totally accessible way and reading a lot of what the author's sources said about burlesque and gender identity played out through performance really struck a chord with me. I felt so validated reading this that it has actually made me consider resurrecting an idea for an act that I had previously put to one side as I thought there would not be an audience for it.
I felt this thesis pinpointed for me a few thoughts that I had kind of been on the cusp of but had not quite been able to completely access, especially with regard to the concept of the burlesque aesthetic being about obvious artifice, creating beauty while at the same time drawing attention to the fact that it is not real.

As a teen and a younger woman I always felt that there was something fundamentally different between people like me and the 'beautiful people', it never occurred to me that the difference might just be powder and paint (and photoshop, and hair extensions, and shapewear and...). Burlesque shows you something beautiful but makes it blindingly obvious that the beautiful thing is not really real - reminding us that no beautiful thing is ever really what it seems. And I think that's a good thing. It doesn't devalue beauty in the world, it just makes the process more evident and reminds people that beauty is not solely the privledge of the born-beautiful.

In short, I think this essay is a must for anyone who is interested in how burlesque has come to be what it is in terms of gender and what this means for performers and their audiences. It also has an interesting section on alt-porn giants the Suicide Girls which I found quite enlightening.

So after all this exercise of the old grey matter I am going to go and do something mind-coddling (probably work on my patchwork quilt and watch some catch up TV).

'Til next time!
x
Emerald