Where there is theatre of any kind, you can often find gamers, Star Wars aficionados, science fiction fans and big imaginations. Burlesque holds an incredible array of fantastically talented people, many of them proud geeks. With GenCon and PAX having burlesque events this year, it’s important to know a little burlesque etiquette before you check out shows where geek, nerd and burlesque intersect. As a stage manager and occasional stunt! host (long story) I’ve seen a lot of audiences. Keep my top five tips in mind, and you’ll not only help make the night incredible for you, but make the night that much happier for the dedicated performers you’ve gone to see.
1. Be patient about technical difficulties.
The most common issue a show can have is sound. Suddenly sound boards will act as if possessed, iPods die, CDs get stuck in the changer, or the actual sound system may decide that tonight is the night it dies. As crew and performer attempt to remedy the issue as soon as possible, the patience of the audience is incredibly appreciated. The show you’ve gone to see will be staffed with professional, capable people. They want to keep a show on track as much if not more than the audience wants to see it go on. That said, some technical difficulties can be unusual and require a shuffle of the performers. Sudden costume malfunctions backstage, last minute injuries, and prop malfunctions can and do happen even to the most organized of shows.
2. Make some noise.
When to make noise is a lot like judging when to clap or laugh during a play or musical performance. If a show host encourages or tells the audience to give an appreciative cheer as the performers shake, shimmy and strip their way into your hearts, it’s okay to cheer. Honest. I’ve seen performers hold their hand to their ear to encourage a “dead” audience to shake off shyness and give a little love with appreciative hollers, foot stamping and clapping. Audiences reacting via sound is sometimes the only way to read an audience in some venues. House lighting vs stage lighting can often render the audience some sort of bizarre, dark void.
An appreciate hoot, laughter, applause, or a fabulous wolf whistle, all good. Not good: yelling “Take it off!,” vulgar invitations, chastising performers, or anything you could picture being said as part of street harassment. Not only is it inappropriate and could get you promptly bounced from the venue, it’s abusing people while they’re working. Not cool.
3. Keep your hands to yourself.
Rare is the performance that a burlesque performer will touch the audience. Even if a performer does something bold or unexpected—drape their feather boa on you for a moment or suddenly sit next to you—it is not an invitation to cop a feel, leer, or make it about you trying to touch them. If a performer comes into a crowd, or stage crew ends up in the audience, invading their personal space is a no.
4. Be considerate about props.
Things will sometimes find their way off stage. A petticoat, a stray shoe, and in a case of costume malfunction, a stray pastie. Do not keep props, or turn their return into a painful experience for a performer. If an item of clothing finds it way into your reach during a routine, you can hand it to stage hands after the performer is done, or politely leave it on the edge of the stage if the performer is responsible for picking up their props after an act. Stage times are often tightly scheduled; this is the most polite and expedient way to help someone out without cutting into their time or being a jerk.
5. Don’t invade a performer’s space post-show.
It is appreciated when audience members tell cast and crew they did a fabulous job, but we’re often in the middle of clearing ourselves out of the back stage after a show. If someone seems curt or cuts their response short, 9 times out of 10 it’s because the venue wants the show out of the green room now. Don’t go backstage, or prevent cast and crew from performing their load out. Asking anyone to hang out, even as a ‘friendly invitation’ after the show is a source of stress and pressure. Don’t be that guy (or gal) who becomes the stressful point of someone’s evening. If you want to get an autograph or picture after the show, ask politely and after it’s clear load out is done. If a performer says no, thank them politely for answering the question. If they say yes, thank them for the time they took to give you an autograph or photo.
Anything you can think of that makes you a polite, fabulous audience member at concerts, movies or live theatre are fantastic additional guidelines for how to behave at a burlesque show. Be cool and considerate to the audience around you, and the folks trying to show you a fabulous time during their show.