Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bar Costumes vs. Event Costumes

I officially spent a year working on Mega Costume.  It's the experience of Mega Costume (and all that came with it) and the posts of My Final Reveal that lead me to this subject.  I would classify costumes into two categories: bar costumes and event costumes.  (Sure, there are comedy novelty costumes, glamorous costumes, edible costumes, etc.  These categories will help you determine how to invest your costume dollar based on your intentions for your acts.)

Bar costumes are built for more intimate shows and venues.  In my own experience, some of them are very well planned while others are thrown together at the last minute.  (With the abundance of performers and lack of jobs in the burlesque world, I recommend against throwing things together at the last minute.  It's better for your brand -- unless of course the theme of the show is "thrown together.")  When I was in acting class many years ago, we'd have to assemble costumes and props to prepare scenes that we presented to the class in roughly one week.  We'd cobble bits from our own wardrobe, hit thrift stores, borrow what we could from classmates.  Of course, we weren't in the business of taking off our clothes to entertain an audience; we were presenting a slice of representational, real-life drama.  Also it was acting class, not a paid gig.

Bar costumes aren't necessarily intended to be seen from the back row of a large theater.  Bar costumes are a smart investment for a newer performer, for someone with a weekly show, or for someone who wants to hit the ground running and to perform as frequently as possible.  I've put together some great bar costumes for numbers I've been performing for four years.

This is a Leg Avenue outfit straight out of the package (and onto a very skinny Snapper in 2007).  I wore it for a pole show for one performance, and decided to turn it into a burlesque costume.  By adding some rhinestones to the skirt and ditching the two tops for a hoodie, I made a bar costume.  I still perform this number today, and the costume has held up well.  It's not flashy, but it is stage worthy.

SH Photo (c) 2012

This is a stripper store skirt, polo shirt, handmade beret (because I'm allergic to wool), and my original scout sash.  I wear a beaded bra beneath.  I was in a monthly show in 2008 and this number just fell into place.  It's not flashy, and it's not nearly as expensive as other costumes I've made.  It's a fun and entertaining number, but it's not designed for a huge audience to be able to see.

Dan Hendricks (c) 2008

This is my monkey wrench costume.  I glued (yes, glued) embellishments on the bra, panties, shoes and coveralls, and I stitched fringe on the bra, panties and socks.  I knew I'd have gigs in bars when I created this costume, so I didn't worry so much about making sure that more than 150 people could see the important parts of the costume from afar.  I had no designs on putting this on a large stage.

Dan Hendricks (c) 2009

Here's my sperm costume.  I paid too much for a "vintage" dress at a shop on Hollywood Boulevard for the outer costume.  I used glue (again) and some hand sewing for the underthings.  I put the number together for one gig at a bar/restaurant, and I've been performing it in bars since.  The costume and props aren't really designed for a large stage.

Event costumes are those you intend to sparkle and shine on a big stage.  They need a bit more "wow" than a bar costume because they need to be seen from the back of the house.  Event costumes can be a bit more spendy.  If you create a costume for an event (large theater, convention, festival, film), it needs to be sturdy because it's likely you'll be asked to perform that number in other places as an out-of-town guest.  It's also likely that you'll perform in that costume for several years.

Flash Adams (c) 2010

My Stepford Wife costume was the first costume I intended for a larger audience.  I made the dress from scratch.  I combined stitching and gluing for the trim (bad girl), but this time I used beaded trim that reflected more light.  I put rhinestones on the dress, underthings and gloves.  This number has been performed in theaters, bars, and at festivals across the country since 2008.  Very sparkly, very easy to pack, and it can be seen from the back row.

SH Photo (c) 2009

I made a fan dance costume for a play I did.  To be accurate, a costume designer bought some stuff for my costume and did a little bit of placement of that stuff, then I modified and completed it so it was useful.  There were bead strands and rhinestones and appliques.  It was intended for theaters, and I performed the number at a festival.  The costume also made an appearance in the 2010 LA Burlesque calendar.  I revamped the costume and took the fan dance (same song, better costume and fans) on tour in theaters and bars.

Nicolette Work (c) 2011

Mega Costume was my first glamorous gown and corset number.  I put the number together for the second New Orleans Burlesque Festival, knowing I'd be playing a big venue.  I've taken this number across the country as well.  It plays well in bars (as a very showy costume) and plays well in theaters.  It's been to a few festivals as well.  Hand-crafted, beaded, rhinestoned, and hand-painted, it truly was a labor of love.  (For my event costumes I try to stick with uncommon colors that really flatter my skin and hair.  They stand out from the backdrop better, and they make it easier to remember me.  "Oh, you were the girl in the peach gown!")

SH Photo (c) 2011

My toothpaste costume is for a number I intended to replace the Stepford Wife number on the road, giving the audience glamour in one number and silliness in the other.  The feathers read really well in any setting.  I made the bodice from scratch and used rhinestones in settings so they're much larger than the ones I usually use.  I used floral spray paint on the bustier beneath, painting both the inside and outside so it doesn't look off-the-rack to the audience.  This has made an appearance in theaters and bars.

Leora Saul (c) 2012

My Flower Duet number was built for theaters and large venues.  Big fans, shimmery fabrics, cleverly placed rhinestones, and an adhesive panty.  (I made it for venues that require 1" of buttcrack coverage but don't require side straps on the panties.)  With modifications it's appeared in bars, but it's appeared in more theaters and large venues across the country.

SH Photo (c) 2012

And then we have the last fancy costume I completed for myself, the Butterflies costume.  With all of the rhinestones and hand-painting, I intended for theaters, larger venues and special events.  It's built for touring because people expect the touring performer to have something a little flashy and exciting.  The progress of this costume from start to finish is all over my blog.

You can also have crossover costumes that were initially intended for bars but became event costumes.  These costumes can be fancied up a bit so they read better in larger venues and settings.

Markus Alias (c) 2010
The Twist Contest was designed for one event at Monday Night Tease.  The show became an annual event, and we were privately hired by QT to perform the show.  This number has been to a large venue and was selected for a festival (but we were unable to attend).  I rebuilt parts of my costume after the first year, and Mr. Snapper made some modifications over the four years we've been performing the number.  What makes these bar costumes translate to the big stage is the appeal of the concept.  Of course people want to see what happens next in the Twist Contest that led to them winning the prize.

SH Photo (c) 2010
Crocodile Rock was also designed for one event at Monday Night Tease.  Spare feathers attached to a bustier, a store-bought shimmy belt, leftover go-go boots, and whatever sparkly undies and pasties I can find.  After the first year I rebuilt the bustier and embellished it with cheap, plastic rhinestones.  Last year I redid the sleeves, and Mr. Snapper embellished the master croc.  We performed the number at a festival earlier this year, in many bars, theaters, and at a private party.  The costume was still pretty inexpensive (even with my modifications). 

What helps this number translate to events is the audience participation.  We slap together little snappers for some of the audience to participate in the sing-along.  Every show costs us a little extra cash and time to put together unique snappers for that audience.

When you create a costume (or an act), it helps to have an intended audience in mind before you start building.  It will help you wisely invest your money and time.  If you're just performing once in a bar to say that you did, you can get away with gluing your fringe to your bra or using a Leg Avenue costume with little to no modification.  You can shop at Goodwill for your pieces and spend some time turning them into stripper wear.  If you're thinking about a career, touring, or applying for festivals, spend the extra time and money to make something unique and easy to see from anywhere in the audience.  Don't skimp on making sure everything is stitched correctly the first time, finishing the edges of your costumes, and embellishing appropriately.  (If you're cash poor, you can embellish over time.  Start with the elements the audience will notice first, like appliques and fringe.  Then add rhinestones, sequins, and beading as you can afford.  Fabric paint goes a long way as well.)

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