My First Time

Dear Constant Reader,

A discussion elsewhere reminded me of my first burlesque performance on a professional stage.

It was July 2005. I had been performing for a while at private events and I thought I was ready to step a toe onto the larger stage of burlesque. In May Scratch and I had been in NYC (I remember it was Fleet Week and there were sailors everywhere) and had gone to Le Scandal at The Cutting Room. During the show I answered a trivia question and when I hastened onto stage to claim my prize (a lovely pair of pasties that I still have), Bonnie Dunn asked me if I was a burlesque performer. I guess there was just something about my look. We talked a little after the show and via email.

We decided that I would come down to New York, we’d have lunch and talk about me performing at Le Scandal, and then I’d come see the show. This was exciting (I might perform in New York!) and nerve-wracking (I had to drive and park in The City!). The night before I was at my parents’ house in Connecticut and I called Bonnie to finalize plans.

“Did you bring a costume? Do you want to perform tomorrow? I had a cancellation.” I mentally riffled through my suitcase: a black cocktail dress, black opera gloves, very plain black strapless bra, black satin bikini panties, not-very-high heels, rhinestone jewelry. I said “Of course!” with a confidence I did not feel. “But I’ll have to borrow a pair of pasties”. Then I hung up and saw my hands were shaking.

The next day Bonnie and I had a pleasant lunch and chatted about all sorts of things. I tried like hell not to show that I was terrified and completely unprepared for that night.

Then I went shopping. First to Abracadabra for a black turkey ruff boa. Then Victoria’s Secret for a pair of stay-up stockings. And finally Tower Records for a CD of Peggy Lee’s greatest hits — life before smart phones.

I went out for a soothing sushi dinner with Scratch’s sister, her husband, and their then-infant daughter, but I just picked at my maki, too anxious to enjoy. Worrying about my performance, I was running the act in my head, because I had no way to listen to my song (see above note about life before smart phones). I wasn’t even sure I remembered how many verses there were. I was basically going to be winging it, based on the costume I had, but hey, I’ve got lots of experience improvising in other performance forms. I was vacillating between “I can do this!” and “Please let me pull this off without humiliating myself!”

I was also feeling very alone. There wasn’t going to be a single person I knew in that audience. Scratch had called to wish me luck. He’d actually considered driving down to see my surprise debut, but that would have been kind of crazy.

I arrived at The Cutting Room and joined the other performers in a hallway to get ready. Bonnie loaned me a pair of pasties — pink sequins with pink fringe. They contrasted nicely with my funereal outfit. Thinking about all that flat black makes me cringe. As does the fact that I wore actual underwear on stage. Nasty Canasta let me use some of her liquid latex.

Eric the host asked me for an intro and I went completely blank. I stammered something about being “Banned in Boston”. Then it was show time. We waited in the wings. I remember the other performers were Anita Cookie, who was so brash and confident, even when she lost a pastie, Nasty Canasta and Jonny Porkpie, who had terrible trouble with their CD and had to try, I think, three times before they could actually do their act, and of course Bonnie Dunn.

Oh God, suddenly it was my turn. Because of Nasty & Jonny’s tech problems, I went on sooner than planned. My hands were shaking. “Fever” started playing. I put on an attitude I didn’t really feel and strutted onto stage. It was one of those “fake it ’til you make it” moments. It was also the longest three minutes and twenty-two seconds ever.

I remember turning my back on the audience a lot. I also remember getting a big cheer for a shimmy. I realized at one point that I had way too much time left and got down on the floor to take off my stockings, which I hadn’t planned to do. I *think* I was smiling, but I’m hoping I had at least a pleasantly neutral expression. I know I never just relaxed and enjoyed myself; I was too busy trying to figure out what to do next. I’m sure it wasn’t as bad a performance as I think it was, but it was certainly not a particularly polished one.

And then it was over. I was handed the champagne bucket and went around for tips. I didn’t even have a robe with me, but I can’t remember if someone loaned me one or I just put my dress back on. People actually tipped me!

And then it was really over. Bonnie paid everyone and I headed back to CT, exhausted and elated and excited for future performances. I got hideously lost on the way (This was pre-GPS). I had to call Scratch who talked me back to the right highway.

That, my Constant Readers, was my first public, professional burlesque performance. Do I wish I had been more prepared? Of course. I could hardly have been less prepared. Am I glad I did it? Yes! It was a bit like jumping into the deep end of pool full of icebergs, but I certainly learned a lot from the experience.

And ever since I always carry a pair of pasties when I travel.


Published in: on 29 September 2016 at 10:54 am  Leave a Comment  

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