Please allow me to be the first to admit it, I’m lazy. I wish I could just hot glue all the things, instead of painstakingly sew them. I wish my choreography would come to me on the wind, instead of countless hours banging my heel on the floor, so I get it. We’re not often rewarded for taking the high road, for the careful and precise attention we give to our acts, so sometimes we take shortcuts. Sometimes it works, but mostly, even the most forgiving audience member knows it. I’m qualified to write these tips because I’m an expert at being lazy. I’ve made almost all these mistakes in my performing career, so I’m here to help you shrug off those lazy habits, and keep me accountable too.
Literally Choreograph Your Song Lyrics
I get it. Your song is giving life to your movement, so why not use what the song is saying? Here’s why: it’s the laziest choice you could possibly make. It makes the act about the songwriter, not about you, and the audience isn’t there to see the band you’re choreographing to, they’re there to see what you’re bringing to the song. If you can, ignore the lyrics completely the first time you choreograph. Then, as you’re refining, you can take into account phrases and ideas, but for the love of Swarovski, if the song says “take off your coat,” don’t take off your coat at the same time.
Wear Street Clothes Onstage
Costuming is hard. You have to make something unique and interesting while also not going broke. So yes, get your base pieces from whatever chain store you need to, but then, customize the shit out of them. That can mean cutting it up, Frankensteining different pieces together, or using glittery accoutrement to alter the design. Your audience should never look at your costume and think, “I saw that at Target yesterday.”
“Just Wing” Your Acts
I’m not talking about improvisation here, which is anything but lazy. What I’m talking about is not being prepared to deliver a performance. News flash, you’re not going to just “figure out” a great performance if you haven’t put in the work in advance. By all means work in wiggle room and time to improv, but know where you’re going before you get on that stage. Otherwise, if you have no framework and you’re not a practiced improver, you’ll just look sloppy.
Beg for Applause
If you’re doing it right, the audience should be with you. I say should, because that’s not always the case. Sometimes the front table bachelorette party is busy imbibing shots, or those five guys to the right are deeply immersed in a conversation about who-gives-a-fuck, and that sucks. But if you do the hand to the ear trick, or the “gimme” hand, you’re giving up your authority on stage; you’re saying “I’m here at your mercy,” rather than “you’re here to watch me put on an amazing show.” If you’re in a tough audience, give ‘em tough love, get up in their face and make them pay attention, but don’t beg.
Relying on Props
Props are great! They help you tell a story, come up with interesting movement, and are a lot of fun. They become somewhat less fun when you’re relying on your props to be the entire act. The “look what’s in my suitcase/cooking pot/purse” schtick gets really old really quick. There’s a rule of three for a reason. Show us one prop – establish your model, show us a second – reinforce the model, and then show us a third – break the model. If you’ve got more than that, they better be really good jokes. Let your props show how funny/sexy/smart you are, not cover up for a weak act.
One of the things I love about burlesque is the diversity of performers of different artistic backgrounds and the surprise of watching something beautiful, shocking, or unique onstage. There are certainly non-lazy reasons to do any of these tips, but intention and work sets apart a rule-breaker from a lazy performer.
What are your tips for being lazy?