Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Burlesque, Creativity and 100 things to do with a Paperclip

Dear all,

Today is the day I will begin teaching my own burlesque class (clue obligatory plug) Drama Queens Burlesque and so I present to you the final blog I had planned for my series written for newcomer burlesque performers, to get my brain in gear for teaching. The blog got finished a little later than I planned but I figured I would still post it up. In this blog I will be looking at creativity and inspiration in burlesque. In particular I will be looking at how we can generate more ideas as burlesque creatives.

A few years ago I went back to college full time to study an art and design foundation course and during that time the tutors drummed into us how important it was never to just launch straight away into your first idea. I found that really hard. You get an idea that looks like it might work, you don't want to procrastinate, you want to get started, and who knows when that next thunderbolt of inspiration might strike. So I found I would often do exactly what the tutors advised against. I would pick the first idea that seemed workable and run with it. I found the 'sketchbooking' phase of creativity scary and uncertain.

In a lot of ways, creating new ideas is scary and uncertain. If you think of inspiration as something that comes to you, fickle and capricious, it's a daunting thought. We all want to have a good idea. A workable idea. Something original, something that excites and provides a strong foundation for the piece we will create. It can get very disheartening if a useful idea won't come, or if we only have ideas that don't seem strong enough to work with. By hoping and waiting for the bolt of burlesque inspiration, the neatly formed idea, we can end up making creativity more uncontrollable than it needs to be.

When I was doing my teacher training, one of my tutors showed the class a wonderful animated video about creativity and learning styles. If you're interested in education, creativity or animation I've embedded it below for you to enjoy!

In the video there was an exercise that I now use for all my creative endeavours. It removes the need to have a idea come to you and it removes the need for all your ideas to be good ones. And it is so simple, all you need is a pen and a piece of paper. This exercise is '100 uses for a paperclip' and what you do is you sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and think of 100 uses for a paperclip. There are no other rules. If you ask 'Can the paperclip be made of cheese' the answer is yes, it can. If you ask 'Can the paperclip be 20 foot tall' the answer is yes, it can. If you ask 'Can the paperclip be just a metaphor for some particularly complex human emotion' the answer is yes, yes, it can. There are no restrictions except for what you can imagine and there are no wrong answers.

In the video we watched they talked about how the concept of 'wrong answers' kills creativity. At school, as children, we are all taught that there is one correct answer to any problem or question and usually only one correct way to work it out, and most of us get used to thinking in this way. However, in creative pursuits such as burlesque, there are infinite ways to answer a question or respond to a stimulus. In the paperclip exercise, no right or wrong answers frees you to just include anything, no matter how unlikely, or silly, or unfeasible and because you know you have to generate 100 ideas, no one idea has to be perfect; they're just ideas, there'll be another one along in a minute!

In burlesque, where creativity and originality are key to every aspect, from starting concept, to costuming, to gags, jokes and reveals, I have found variations on the theme of this exercise can help you get through the barrier of having to have that 'lightbulb' idea first time. For me, I always get stuck with having to have a 'good' idea. If I have a good enough idea, it will make the whole performance good (in my mind, at least), so I put pressure on myself that all my ideas have to be clever, original and workable. By using this exercise this pressure is removed because you throw good ideas, boring ideas, workable ideas, totally impractical ideas and plain weird ideas all into the pot. You don't worry about whether they are all usable, because they don't all have to be. It's only later on, when you begin selecting from what you've created, that you need to start thinking about the logistics

So, the next time you begin to create a burlesque act, try turning your stimulus point into a paperclip exercise. It will help you work past the obvious and cliche and help you stimulate ideas that are out of your comfort zone. If you want to create an animal based act you could try '100 animals to perform as a burlesque act about'. Or, if you know you want to do an act about pirates you could figure out '50 music tracks to perform a pirate act to'. You could even use it for choreography or gags; how about '20 ways to remove a stocking' or '30 jokes involving a pair of juggling balls'?

When I started my little project, creating some blogs sharing my thoughts with burlesque beginners I even made the list '18 Burlesque Blog Topics' (it was 18 because that's how many lines were on the page). Some of the ideas were rubbish, some I liked reasonably well and the rest became this series of blogs.

I find I work best by sitting down and thinking first before I begin to devise my performances. If you work well this way too you might find the paperclip exercise works well for you.

Until next time

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