PCB: Behind the Scenes
Tips & Tea from the Parlor City Burlesque Greenroom
Good LORD, the past few months have been a literal WHIRLWIND! After the troupe had their Debut on August 10th I have been simmering on the inspirations that came from our experience. Parlor City Burlesque is Indigo Production Company’s first project and WE ARE LEARNING!! Our team was faced with the expected twists and turns, and luckily, that was became easy for us. As the last few weeks have unfolded, I have been called to share some of the most important aspects. The moments we milked, the moments that moved us and the trials we weighed.
What might help is if you have a brief background on the who, what, when & where.
So here ya go: In 2011, I took on my first contract as the Lead Choreographer for a youth theater program. After a few successful shows, I was asked to take on more with the program and have been Assistant Directing since 2017. My experience lays in directing large scale musical theater productions, and am involved in every creative aspect of the production from selecting the show, casting, creative aesthetics, character development, bodywork, scene direction and other aspects of theater education.
My co-producer and Parlor City Burlesque‘s lead consultant is Andrea, better known as the Lulu La Femme--my Burley Godmother. She is an incredible lifelong dancer and professional Burlesque dancer since 2018. The past 2 months and we have made some serious MAGIC together. Early in July, Lulu and I got to sit down and meet with Alice—the owner of the speakeasy/restaurant 205 Dry, in Binghamton NY. Alise basically BLEW US OUT OF THE WATER with her enthusiasm, and we decided that we would work towards offering MONTHLY shows, rather than the 1 production we anticipated.
A dream come true. An official residency for Binghamton’s FIRST Burlesque troupe. And it’s black owned. Look at God.
A consistent team became incredibly important. For Lulu and I—this was the most logical next step. We didn’t expect everyone around us would be just as eager to perform every month. We were ready to rock a single production and see where that would lead—but now we had to produce a show AND start building a full on professional troupe! Queue the birth of PARLOR CITY BURLESQUE!!! Fuck. Also, queue the death of my social life lmfao.
Well...it happened. And it was FUCKING AMAZING. After our first performance--I found myself on a complete high, wildly inspired & not able to shut up about everything that has transpired. I may eventually evolve this into a podcast--but to start, I wanted to the experience and some important things we learned throughout this particular production process.
I've gained quite a bit of knowledge over the last 10 years, working as a Creative Director, and even more from the amazing artists I get to work with and observe in the industry. So here's what I was reminded after Parlor City Burlesque's Debut Revue (and Debut Revue, too):
1) Better to over prepare & expect the unexcepted
When this project first started, both Lulu & I had some solid visions in our head and some aesthetics we were firm on for the show itself. For me, it was crucial to feature home grown talent without over-booking acts from performers too far from the Binghamton home base--I also really wanted to perform a full act, while juggling the role of MC. For Lulu, she knew that hiring a sound engineer to operate music and help master the music vibes was worth every penny.
What I didn't expect, was how much my expectations would shift, evolve and transform over the months leading up to the performance. We had changes coming at us up until the moment the first song started the night of our Debut Revue. One performer over booked and had to back out, another got an injury that affected their performance and we had ANOTHER performer, who after they agreed to fill that last minute opening, got stuck in traffic on their way into town! There were so many moments when Lulu and I would connect to be sure that neither would panic and then we would both jump into solution-mode, instead of panic-mode.
Shifting expectations can sometimes feel like settling--but I'll tell you what--every detail was nearly perfect on opening night and nothing was sacrificed. The audience had no idea of the line-up changes, of the last minute music changes, or rushed costume changes. These particular kinds of hiccups reminded us what it meant to be professional role models "on set". These kinds of hiccups could easily derail a director who is lacking flexibility, who isn't able to receive professional feedback or make last minute decisions for the best of the company.
My advice: Over prepare your performers, communicate frequently throughout the pre-production phase with your team & your artists, designate "under studies" or "filler/fill in acts" for emergencies, establish protocols for contracted artists who are unable to fulfill their contract, don't bite off more than you can chew while performing, producing or directing & trust those who have more "rank".
2) Don't shit where you eat
Lulu and I both have a number of relationships within the performing arts world that are held sacred. Mentor/Mentee, Director/Assistant, Creative Director/Managers, Artist/Muse... When building your team, it's natural to want to include those you respect, work well with or know have great vision and potential they bring to the team overall.
We quickly learned that not everyone had the same amount of enthusiasm about the troupe, maybe weren't as eager about the opportunities it created, simply not ready to perform up the the level we had expected or wasn't able to commit the way the team needed at this time. After our Debut Revue, we experienced what I call our first "refinement"--where those who had their initial taste could decide if they could handle the pressure of performing with the troupe.
It is better for your inter-personal relationships to drop the expectation that our inner circle will be the ones to support our bigger dreams. As an entrepreneur, you will learn quickly that the most support you will ever get comes from your client base and those who believe in your bran--it's not always your family and close friends. Our troupe has gotten the most love from our audience, from sister troupes and from the performers who have connected with us first hand, in our play space. Some of the people who were with us one day 1 are not with us, and it's only day, like...30 something.
My advice: Lower expectations for your inner circle--but not for your troupe or team, look to those who buy tickets to your shows instead of expect free entry, fill roles for the team--don't just rely on your relationships for growth, reciprocate efforts within the troupe and don't cut corners, play favorites or lower the bar--this will create entitlement, lack of dedication & will allow you to discern who has the time & energy to invest long term, not just for payouts.
3) Post-Show is just as important as Pre-Show
2 words: Glitter. Crash.
A new term, taught to me by my Burley Godmother, Lulu. A word that describes the intense low that comes after a performance peak, or any big personal event. I had heard Lulu mention the post-production blues, but experiencing it firsthand was something completely different. Our entire troupe felt the "glitter crash", but it definitely seemed worse after our Debut, Revue, too...when the dust was truly settling and the refinement set in.
I found myself obsessively routinizing my "pre-show" time in the days before the show: nail appointment, skin grooming, day off from work, good music vibes, outfit picked out, at the venue early, safely medicated for my anxiety...the whole 9. This left my "post-show" wind down as a second thought--or not even a thought at all, until I was driving home, alone, on a complete high, finally aware of the imminent crash coming my way.
Luckily, I had acquired a foot spa while I was pregnant and was reluctant to rid myself of the luxury. As soon as I got home, I made myself a plate of fruit & veggies, poured a cup of tea, stuck my feet in some bubbly Epsom-salted water, and smoked a hefty joint while I processed the performance with my partner over FaceTime (we're long distance--and I can tell you WHAT...things would've been way different if my man was home waiting for me. That is FOR DAMN SURE lol).
I couldn't sleep for quite some time--which was ok, because at least I reserved a few hours of personal time for my morning after recovery. Reality was, that performance recovery would take longer than "just a few hours of PT" from work. Reality was, I needed to take some time and space away from the production itself and the creative process to feel my feels. We evaluated, self-critiqued, mused and reveled in the glow that August brought us.
My advice: Ritualize pre and post show time for yourself, include your support system in the processing when you can, talk to your troupe members in the days following performance and give your team a few days to recover before processing through and production night feedback, offer gratitude to anyone who helped you get through the experience and set healthy boundaries for your art.
We are more eager than ever to have our audience join us for another performance. At this point, we will postpone shows scheduled during September--as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. We are responsible for the safety of our troupe, guest performers and community and we look forward to hosting in performances, when risks can be mitigated. We have loved every bit of support we have received throughout the last few months and you can guarantee that there will be more
Tips & Tea from the Parlor City Burlesque Greenroom