Thursday, July 14, 2016

Repair, Rebuild or Retire

Featured in our June issue of the Snapperama Newsletter. Subscribe at

Every act has a shelf life. Costumes get worn down. Bodies get injured. Concepts are no longer part of contemporary pop culture. The time comes when you must ask what to do with each act: repair, rebuild or retire?
Repairing an act means just fixing the things that are wrong with it. You can repair a new act if it's not working out by replacing a costume piece or tweaking the choreography. I frequently repair pieces by replacing rhinestones or closures, making small modifications to the fit of the garments, creating custom pasties for that act, and trying to find more nuances in the number. Can it be fixed in a few hours without tearing everything apart? Will those repairs make it more pleasing for the audience, making it more viable and valuable?
Rebuilding an act means overhauling more than half of the components. A few repairs will not do the trick. My first truly glamorous costume ("mega costume") is showing wear and tear. Beads are coming off, the shoes are uncomfortable, and the bra has always wanted to be a belt. I built this costume with assistance in 2010 and I've taken it so many places. I love the colors and I love the silhouette. I made this costume before I gained a ton of sewing knowledge. I didn't fully recognize what would work best for me. It was a very transitional act in my early burlesque years. I won't sell this costume because I love it, but I can't just repair it. I now have the knowledge and experience to do it better from the beginning. I'm going to rebuild it over the course of the next year. Audience and producer response to the act tells me it's worth the investment.
Retiring an act means putting the baby to bed. Not every act works out. Conceptually it's really interesting but it just doesn't earn its keep when it hits the stage. Technical things go wrong, and they can't be remedied well enough to salvage the number. Reworking the act, revamping the costume, revising the concept don't cut the mustard. It could also be an act that's past its prime. The Hannah Montana act I performed in 2008 and 2009 was a fun act, but it's severely outdated as a cultural reference. You can resell the costume and props or keep them in storage as treasures. Don't consider it a failure if you have to retire an act. Treasure your experiences with that act and take the lessons it gave.
You do have two more options available for an act that needs something: repurposing and recycling.
Repurposing the act gives the components new life. This is where you take large parts of the whole and use them for other things. You add a red nose and now you have a clown act. You wear the gown to a friend's wedding. You turn the prop into a tomato planter.
Recycling the act cuts it into smaller parts to use. Think of repurposing as eating last night's dinner leftovers as today's lunch or throwing them in an omelet for breakfast. Recycling would be taking those leftovers and putting them in soup or grinding them into a paste for pâté. When you recycle the act, you pull the best jokes and use them elsewhere. You cut off the appliqués you can use and pitch what you don't want. It's like the scene in Pretty in Pink where she takes apart two pretty dresses to make one homely prom dress, only your goal is not to make a homely prom dress.
Go through your performer props and wardrobes (and the rest of your life) and use these guidelines to handle your well-loved stuff. Repair, rebuild or retire acts. If you want to keep some of the parts, repurpose or recycle. The decisions may be challenging at first, but the space in your closet is freeing.

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