Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to Give Feedback

Photo (c) John Nelson 2009
Let's say you see an act and you have an opinion that you want to share with the performer. These guidelines have developed over my three plus decades as a performer, two decades as a director and performance coach, and seven years in burlesque. They should help you give feedback.

  1. First ask yourself if your feedback will help improve the performance. Be sure you don't just want to tell the artist how you would portray it because it was done all wrong and you would do a way better job. That's not feedback; it's "you beat me to the concept and I'm upset because I would've been better than you and your idea sucks."
  2. At least 12 to 24 hours after the performance, ask the performer if he/she is open to feedback. Don't be offended if you are told no. Some people work with choreographers, performance coaches, and legends to develop an act a certain way. Some people feel like the act is already as good as it could possibly be. Some people take feedback too personally and don't want to expose themselves to potential negativity. Some people will feel that you don't have enough experience/street cred/understanding of live performance/education to be the one giving feedback. Ask lightly and politely if the performer is open to feedback. Don't include your feedback in that initial exchange.
  3. If the performer wants your feedback, be sure it is based on your perceptions of the act and make it specific. Here are some examples: "You pulled sandwiches out of your clothes twice. I feel like a third sandwich could really send the comedy over the top. Rule of Three." "You have such a beautiful smile, and I think that if you smiled more in the act then the audience would be bowled over with your glamour." "It was unclear to me what the stuffed fish had to do with the rest of the act. I don't know if there was something else that I didn't see that would've helped me understand that better." All of these have to do with how I feel, what I saw, what I didn't understand. Notice none of them said that the act sucked and the performer did something all wrong. All of these give room for a conversation.
  4. Be open to the conversation. You might hear from the performer that there was a malfunction, an ex was in the audience and threw off the entire night, or that you didn't see the part where the tiny third sandwich was pulled out and immediately stuffed in the performer's mouth. You also might have thought they were doing one character but they were doing another.
  5. Clarify as necessary, but do so gently. You're still dealing with an artist, and artists tend to be sensitive. Make sure your end goal is the better understanding and appreciation by the audience. Examples: "I didn't see that third sandwich. Maybe if the sandwich was bigger, or maybe if you showcased that third sandwich a bit longer before you put it in your mouth. That way the audience can see it and process how funny it is that you have a third sandwich and this is the one you finally eat." "I wonder if there is a way to make sure the audience gets that the stuffed fish is the reason you have to strip. Is there something you can do that would communicate that more clearly?" "I didn't realize you were doing Floyd - Dick's Roommate from True Romance. I thought it was The Dude. The intro didn't really give me the info I needed, and I know both characters wear bathrobes."
  6. If you're giving feedback as a peer, a general audience member, or a classmate, give feedback on one thing. If you saw five things that could use work, pick the most important and give feedback on that. You don't want to overwhelm the person, and you don't want the person to feel attacked. (You make yourself vulnerable when you open yourself up to receiving feedback. You don't want to feel like you've opened the gates to a Trojan Horse.) You can pile on the validation of what went right to you, but only discuss one aspect that you feel needs to be addressed. If you're giving feedback as a coach, instructor, collaborator, or expert, give no more than three things for the performer to address before the next performance. How many things can you remember without writing them down? Three is a good standard. You want these three things to be considered, corrected, improved, clarified, but you want the performer to still be able to perform while implementing any changes.When those three things are handled, then you can look at three more.
  7. Validate the changes when you see them. Examples: "I really like the big sandwich. I heard the audience laugh so hard when you pulled that out at the end." "All that juggling with the stuffed fish and dropping it in your dress was brilliant. Nobody wants a fish flopping around inside her gown." "I'm glad the emcee said your act was a True Romance tribute. You were channeling Brad Pitt."
Keep in mind that the goal is to make sure the performer gives the best possible performance. When I do private coaching, I ask what the story is and what the audience should get from the number. (What's in your head and what are you hoping I take away from what you're showing me?) Then I can pinpoint where I didn't follow the story and where I didn't get the information as an audience member that would help me understand what's in the performer's head. It doesn't matter that I would do a mermaid differently or that I wouldn't choose the poppiest pop song if I was trying to show the aristocratic struggle during the French Revolution. What matters most is that the audience is entertained and that the performance communicates the intended story to the audience.

Probably the Most Random Pedicure Story You Will Ever Read

If you've spent any time getting to know me, dear reader, you know that I'm not much of a glamour girl in real life. I'm rough and tumble, practical (perhaps to a fault), and I try very hard to to be wasteful. I only go for manicures and pedicures when I have a photo shoot, when I'm about to travel, and when I'm getting rewed. I work with needles and pins and glues and paints when I'm involved in projects, and fancy nails just aren't that practical when you're always messing with things that will damage the polish. I can't do gel manicures because my nails become frighteningly thin and take several months to grow back, and I can't do acrylics either. I just go bare unless I have to have my nails done.

I zipped to a new place near my day job over my lunch break one day before I headed to Arkansas. I had just under an hour to get my nails and eyebrows done. There was one other customer in the salon, but there were four or five technicians so it should have taken no time. I was tag teamed by three people, all working on my nails. One tech slipped away for lunch, so it was down to two. The gal who was working on my toes clipped too far into one of my cuticles, and it hurt like a son of a bitch. To stop the bleeding, she dabbed at it with nail polish remover. (Cupcake, it wasn't nail polish. It was blood.) That also hurt like a son of a bitch.I was bleeding and wincing and watching muted daytime television. I was out of there an hour and ten minutes after I arrived because they all took a break for lunch my nails needed to dry for a good 30 minutes before they could do my brows.

My cuticle was throbbing on the hurried walk back to my office. I thought the pain would go away by the end of the day since it was just a cuticle. Nope. My entire big toe hurt for a couple days, and I started developing a painful bruise and tight scab on the cuticle just in time for my Friday show. It hurt like hell but the show must go on. The next morning I got some ointment and bandaged up the toe until my Sunday morning photo shoot, and I kept the toe bandaged for almost two weeks. The bruise came and went, the scab opened on its own and the swelling went down. It still hurt to the touch and part of the toe was discolored for six weeks. It hurt to wear dancing shoes for several weeks. Just last week the last chunk of healing skin sloughed off the wounded cuticle area. The pain is totally gone and my toe looks normal.

I decided against Yelping about this new business and the pained toe. Why? Because they gave me an ear of corn at the end of my appointment. Yes, an ear of corn. An ear of fucking corn. I didn't ask for the corn. They were having a corn klatch as my nails were drying. They were still having their corn klatch as my eyebrows were being waxed. When I was finally free to go, I darted toward the door to pay and they offered me an ear of corn. (I missed my lunch, but I like my corn with butter and salt. I also don't eat random corn. I'm particular. I also don't eat microwaved foods.) I politely declined. They offered again, I said, "No, thank you." Then they forced a hot ear of plastic-wrapped and freshly microwaved corn into my hand along with a napkin because it was hot. I juggled the corn as I paid with plastic, and shuffled back to my job with the hot corn. My co-worker was puzzled when I entered with hot corn that I promptly dropped in the trash. "I just got my nails done. They cut my cuticle and gave me corn."

That unwanted corn kept me from giving their business a bad review and posting pictures of my healing toe. I wonder if that's a business tactic. "I'm sorry you were offended/hurt/displeased. Take this corn."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wham Bam Thank You, Glam!

Any excuse to wear a tiara.
Dear reader, by now I'm sure you know that I prefer the comfort of a pair of broken-in blue jeans and nothing else to most garments out there. Yes, I make my own costumes, but I take them off to entertain people. I'm freckled and I have windblown, sun streaked hair. I'll roll into the same "not leaving the house" clothes for several days in a row. I'm not a glamour puss. I hate buying shoes.

The big problem is that my wardrobe is lacking in the glam department, and part of my job is being fancy (i.e., looking fancy before and after some fancy shows, going to events as a Person Who Must Look Fancy). Another problem is that I have to look fancy out of a suitcase. Merch and costumes are more important to me than fitting in yet another stupid pair of shoes and appropriate foundations for an outfit I'm not taking off to entertain people. I don't want to have to press and hang and dry clean another thing. (Most of my dresses are wash & wear or day dresses that I've made. Low maintenance. That's me.)

Despite all protestations, the casual girl is required to be a Person Who Must Look Fancy from time to time. Instead of making yet another cute day dress that shows too much cleavage to double as day job wear, I made a gown. It was a simple gown, a Very Easy Vogue pattern that I tackled within five hours. I made it out of spandex because I can wash it on the road and it will dry quickly. (If I work in a smoky club and wear it out the door, it can dry in the shower overnight.) It also won't wrinkle. Low maintenance; that's what I want. It's not terribly supportive in the chest department, but it covers everything.

There is one more thing I absolutely love about spandex, and that's the fact you don't have to hand or machine hem it. Glorious heat and bond does the trick.  I used this on my dress for the Pas de Deux and it's still holding strong. Test it on a scrap of your fabric before using it for a hem. It's incredible. I used a little to tack down the lining in the front and the back because I'm so bad at dressing myself I would probably walk around with it pulled slightly out.

I highly recommend this pattern. It's Very Easy Vogue V8358. Suggested fabrics are silk jersey, stretch velvet, and matte jersey. (I'm a renegade with my spandex.) The important thing is that your fabric has some stretch and drapes nicely. It took me about four hours to make this dress, and I added fancy topstitching to make it look commercially produced.

BHOF Weekend Crafting Challenge - Results

For Burlesque Hall of Fame Reunion Weekend this year, I was stuck at home again. I proposed a crafting challenge for the folks who were at home, theoretically twiddling their thumbs: use the weekend to make one dress, one hair flower, and one pair of pasties. I got my dress hemmed in the week after BHOF, but I got everything else done in that Thursday through Sunday period. (I finally got a photo of the completed dress yesterday.)

The hair flowers were cheap flowers I picked up at WalMart in May. I had all the other supplies (including rhinestones in the right colors.)

I bought the fabric months ago, and planned to turn it into either a dress or curtains. I had the pattern on hand from one of those fantastic pattern sales at JoAnn Fabrics a few years ago. I bought the zipper and replenished my coral thread; those were my out-of-pocket expenses.

I went out-of-pocket the most on the pasties. I had to buy the flowers for the pasties because it was for a costume that was due a couple weeks later.

I may do this again next year whether I'm at BHOF or not. It was incredibly productive and not very expensive. I hope some of you got some crafting done for this challenge as well.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

For Your Viewing Pleasure

I focus on the audience when I perform. Without them, I wouldn't have a job. I try not to let on when something goes wrong. (If something goes so wrong they notice, I tend to acknowledge it, smile, and move on.)

When I was in Fresno a couple weeks ago, I did my new California Sunset. The number involves crawling ... in fishnets. If you've worn fishnets, you know how uncomfortable this can be. But I wanted this choreography so I just roll with it. I was fine Friday night.  Saturday night I had a small issue.  I got backstage after my number, a bit winded because I'm working my way through some severe anemia, trying to catch my breath and even out my heart rate. I had a pastie that was about to pop off. I sat down and fished out my bikini top for curtain call so I could avoid any pastie pop issues. I know we're doing group photos and photos with patrons after curtain call, so I put away my costume pieces so it would be easier to roll out when the patrons were gone. As I'm folding and hanging things, I noticed my knee is bleeding. It wasn't dripping with blood and there's no pain, but it's noticeable on my fishnets. The final performer was almost finished and curtain call was next and my knee had a blood spot.

Time to do a quick patch job so I could pose for photos and patrons wouldn't focus on my injury. I carry a container of bandages in my handbag. (I got the container from my doctor's office. I recommend you take advantage of the little promotional freebies that could be useful.) I pulled down a thigh high, sprayed my little wound with some antibacterial spra,y and slapped a bandage over it. I then spit on my thumb and forefinger and massaged the blood stain out of my fishnets. (Your own saliva will remove your own bloodstains.) Rolled the fishnet back in place (with backseam), and made it onto the stage in time for my spot in curtain call. No one noticed, no one commented. I don't think I even mentioned it to the other dancers.

I took the picture when I got home on Sunday. You can see the scrape and some bruising. The important thing is that the audience didn't. :)