Blue Morris Blog - Burlesque
- Category: Burlesque
- Published on Thursday, 17 November 2011 07:50
I have been working in burlesque for nearly four years now. I have played almost every role: musician, producer, burlesque performer... but I realized recently there was one job I still was yet to do: Stage Sweeper.
One cardinal rule of burlesque is this: Never pick up your own clothes. It's just not cool to come back on stage and pick up your own clothes after you spent so much sexy energy and choreography to tear them off so beautifully.
Sometimes known as “stage kitty,” it's the sweeper's job to pick up the stripped-off clothes of the burlesque artists after they exit the stage.
I volunteered to be the sweeper for the “Bra Talent Burlesque Show” at the Sin Bin last weekend for a few reasons: first because I produce shows and hire sweepers and since I hire them I want to know exactly what it is they do. But also, I love burlesque so much I want to experience every aspect of this art form that I can. Besides that, it was a lot of fun!
Twelve Lessons Learned
- Being a stage kitty is a lot like being a stage manager. It's not just your job to pick up afterwards, it's also your job to set the stage before each number. In the Bra Talent show, there were several numbers that required chairs. But not just any chair would suffice! Each performer required a very specific type of chair based on height, colour and style. I realized pretty quick I needed to take notes. There was no way I would be able to remember who wanted the white chair and who wanted the wooden chair without writing it down.
- Some burlesque numbers are quite simple. There's an advantage to this. With fewer props, there are fewer things that can go wrong.
- I am dyslexic and even though I have been performing on stage for more than a dozen years, the terms “stage right” and “stage left” still confuse my brain. To be certain I set the stage correctly, I checked with each performer just before they went on as they stood in the stage wing. I asked them to peek on stage and check the set up to make sure I got it right. It was worth it for the peace of mind. I would never want to be responsible for screwing up someone's number.
- Sometimes you really have to hustle to clear the stage and set it for the next number, especially when the performer has a complicated set up including a shower curtain, chair, housecoat, loofa, razor, and bucket of sparkles. Not only is it difficult to carry a full-size shower curtain on a long coat rack through a crowded club, it also takes quite some time to sweep up all the sparkles and remove the shower curtain from the stage, then set it for the next performer. There is little rest in this job.
- Bring a broom and dustpan of your own, just in case, or check ahead that the venue has one you can use, and that it's a broom that isn't hideous.
- I learned that you really have to pay attention to where each item of clothing lands. You'd be surprised how easy it is to miss something small, like a hair flower, or a glove, especially when they are thrown with vigour to the back of the stage and fall behind the curtain. I'm proud to say, however, that I got them all!
- Occasionally you will get some unique requests from the performers. I was asked to physically carry a performer onto the stage, then tie her arms and legs to a chair (yes, that's you Bunny!). But damn that was fun!
- Not only is it your job to clear and set the stage, it is also your job to perform. Be sexy, or funny, or something entertaining because you are not a janitor, you are a part of the show. I strongly suggest you dress in a costume that suits the theme of the show, and have fun on stage when you're picking things up. Also, the MC is quite likely to have some fun with you, using you for his/her jokes. So smile and play along.
- Related to sexy costumes: I had my bum pinched by more women than I can count.
- I have some advice for burlesque performers with complex set-ups. My musical solo boylesque (the guitar number) has a complicated set up. I needed props set in specific places because I had to use them with only one hand while my other hand continued to play guitar. If any prop was set in the wrong place, I might not be able to reach it properly and continue to play guitar. I didn't want anything to go wrong so I drew a diagram of my stage set up. I highly recommend this to all performers. Why not even draw a diagram if your set-up is fairly simple too? Then so long as the sweeper isn't brain-dead or drunk, they should get it right. It only takes a moment to draw it, and your sweeper will love you forever.
- Because I was usually the last person that the performers saw before they went on stage, they often looked to me for some last-minute help. I was asked if their make-up looked good, if they had lipstick on their teeth, and even if their stocking line was straight. I was happy to help. I also made a point to give them some last-second encouragement as well.
- Here's another big tip I have now for performers: Thank your stage kitty! They work pretty hard. Everyone in the Bra Talent show was lovely and very grateful for my help.
A job well done
I don't claim to be an expert sweeper because that was my first time. So if you disagree with anything or think something should be added to this list, please let me know. But if I may say so, that night I was called a “sweeper superstar,” so I figure I did a fine job for my first time. Either that or they just liked my sailor costume.
The best part of being a sweeper is that you get to see a burlesque show up close and spend time with cool artistic people. And that's really why I'm in this business.
If you are looking for a stage sweeper for your show, please consider contacting me.