Zippers

They call them “stripper zippers” for a reason! “They” being us. We performers call them stripper zippers, because they are easier and more reliable to strip out of a stage costume.

zippersWhen you need the reliable function of a zipper, you want to avoid invisible zippers and  metal teeth zippers. While invisible zippers are lovely in a garment for hiding the zipper, they will inevitably fail you on stage.  Purchase a zipper with large plastic teeth, either online or at a craft store that sells sewing paraphernalia. If the costume piece needs to be split completely when unzipping, be sure to acquire a zipper that separates at the end. (These can be labeled for use in jackets, sports, parkas, sleeping bags, etc.)

The better the cloth butcher or seamstress you are, the easier a time you will have replacing a zipper and it may be sewn with better quality, but even a novice can do this! Don’t be intimidated! As performers, we have the advantage of typically being viewed at a distance, under alternative lighting conditions, to patrons who aren’t focusing on stitches and thread colors. The audience won’t be able to see any small imperfections and their attention will be elsewhere. Use a color that matches your costume if you’re able. This will help disguise it, especially if you end up with a lot of the zipper showing. (I’m not a great tailor and learned to sew via the “just wing it” method, so my adjustments are slowly getting better, but still not executed properly.) Zipper Example Madam Hatter

Zippers can be added upside down so you’re beginning from the bottom and unzipping upwards. This works well for when you want to be able to hold your garment together before you flash open the spectacular show that is your body… or more costume…, because your hands will be at the top. You’ll be able to easily grasp the two sides and hold tight together until you’re ready. Upside Down Zipper Example Green Dress

Consider adding a tassel or other type of decorative pull so you can find the end. This adds an element of visual appeal on the costume and can make the unzipping more dramatic.  (There are always exceptions, such as – if the objective of your act/costume is for the audience to not know there is a zipper.) Longer or larger pulls can be especially helpful for performers with short arms, less flexibility, or larger bodies to work around.

When you are only partially unzipping a garment, you may want to insert a zipper that is a little longer than you actually need.  You never know what changes your costume layers or body may undergo and it’s better to have extra room you don’t need than to be short space in the future.

Avoid trims, fringe or other items that may get caught in the zipper. In standard “Do as I say, not as I do” logic, I have a dress with long fringe on all the under parts and a zipper on the dress over top. The audience doesn’t even realize the danger I put myself in every time I use that costume! That being said, if you have a situation like this, be very strategic about how the costume layers are laying on each other and how any movement you make impacts the interaction between these.

 

Tear You Apart: in front of everyone and Dolly!

EE791333-030B-459B-8C81-948C2E850496Occasionally I am either gifted or find glorious dresses that would make fantastic burlesque costumes, but since my rack-ready body has never arrived, I’m unable to use them as they are built and have to get creative. The blessed day these beautiful vintage gowns arrived was actually years ago. That lovely little… and I mean little… blue number on the bottom of the photo waited patiently for several years before inspiration and motivation stuck on how to morph it into a haute couture Bearcat dream.

The Costume:

The original lining, shoulder pads, and poofy tulle sleeves were sent out to pasture and I also cut off one sleeve entirely to have some spare pieces of the sequin applique to spread around. I thought I would be able to just add a slit down the back and up the leg and that would be enough to give me room, but oops… I gained like 50 pounds since the first time I tried it on and it didn’t fit then so no amount of butter and wishful thinking would slide me into it now. I had to keep slitting lower and lower down the back, higher and higher up the leg, and add another slit on the opposite side to make space for my body. I was left with flaps of old beaded blue gown sadly flapping on my body like a shredded kite. Some spare “nude” fabric later and I was able to make some kind of structure happen.  I added some godet type features to the bottom to give shape.  I used a yard of fancy fabric to create “applique” by cutting the shapes away from the mesh, a cost friendly alternative to buying dozens of applique. I realized that my beautiful abstract dream dress had several peep show treasures where my body showed, which was part of the objective, but also a serendipitous feature of how much I had to reveal to make it fit on me.  I wanted to get the most of these parts, so I added tear-away pieces over a few fleshy spots. They aren’t the best in regards to construction, but since they were made with scraps and as an afterthought, I’m still pleased with it.

GloveGloves –  it’s a burlesque staple, so why not? I wanted another item to remove besides just the dress. But what do you do when you shove your meaty forearm into a glove and it splits like a hotdog in the microwave? Well… just make the glove as abstract as the dress I suppose. I had to trim the edges with extra pieces of the applique to make a purposeful peep hole on the side. Then I thought, “While I’m at it, I’ll just cut off some of the fingers since the entire finger area was snug on my rockbiter hands”. I was delighted with the beautiful absurdity of the glove. Not need for gloves.  One was perfect.

ShoesBy the time I got around to the shoes, I had no money to spare. I shopped around until I found a pair of used shoes online and spent my eBay bucks. I dyed them blue with a homemade dye of sharpie innards and alcohol, and rhinestoned them to the point of obliterating any recognition of their former selves, like they were entering witness protection. Lately, I’ve been replacing all buckles on shoes with snaps. it’s proven a valuable asset since I neither want to 1: attempt to contort my achy potato sack body to buckle shoes in a graceful manner, nor 2: ask for help (It’s a problem I have.  It mentally hurts me to ask for help. I’m working on it.)

I built the feather fans myself, so they aren’t perfect, but I’m pleased with how they turned out.  I didn’t have enough money to get feathers as long as I would have liked, but I had four layers worth, making these very full in the middle, better to hide me with my dear. (Feather fan building tips post will happen in the future.)

Goonies.jpgI wanted the under layer to be just as odd as the outer layer. I just started forming things together and ended up with a situation on the side that reminded me of the necklace from The Goonies I coveted as a youth. As it turns out, I did not grow up to find pirate booty, but I subconsciously built myself treasure panties.

The Challenge: 

Soarking OakI wanted to challenge myself to be more serious and sexy, or at least not to be funny or default to my usual self. I also wanted the challenge of pairing this glamorous costume with an unexpected song.  So shuffling through my music, I landed upon “Tear You Apart” by She Wants Revenge.  Perfect.  Also perfect because I had to tear the dress apart to make it and would be tearing it apart on stage.

The Experiences:

I have had the fortunate opportunity to perform this act for several different producers in the MD, DC, VA, PA area and I hope to continue to find opportunities to share it. I was able to use this act repeatedly in an immersive theater series.  It was a rare opportunity to do an act over and over in front of an audience to actively refine it. I am so fortunate to have been part of TBD Immersive’s Cabaret series, and will forever remember and appreciate the people I met, the unique venues where I performed with them, and the stores told within that series.

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Bijou MarqueeBijouI was thrilled to have this act accepted to the 2019 Smoky Mountain Burlesque Festival. On top of that, I would be performing at the Bijou, a beautiful historic theater in Knoxville. Those feelings of excitement and terror jiggled inside of me for months. As it turns out, they’d be amplified by learning that DOLLY PARTON would be watching the show. We share a birthday and now we’ve shared space.  The festival is amazing enough, having Dolly Parton there was gilding the lily, and the magnolia. One of my favorite moments was backstage after the show, just before taking a group photo when she said “I haven’t had this much fun since filming Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and hearing this subtle, but charming collective breath that the performers all took after she spoke. It was the audible evidence that this moment would be remembered and valued proudly by everyone huddled in that sparkly heap of entertainers, all with eyes glued on one of the best entertainers and people around. Thank you Dolly! Thank you SMBF!

DOlly 1Dolly

 

 

Costuming Tips

I’m going to make my own life a little easier and organized by using my website as a place to house some common costume tips, geared mostly towards burlesque performers.  There is a wealth of knowledge and wonderful tutorials on the internet, but I’m going to do some quick tips for things that come up frequently when easing people into the world of burlesque or helping performers begin to create or modify their own costumes. The hope is to help others, while helping myself create a centralized reference pile. I’m also available for costuming workshops, geared towards lower budget and basic skills.

I have an unfinished basement I lovingly call my “downstairs house”, that serves as my costuming and arts space. It ebbs and flows between a state of efficient organization and a haphazard explosion of projects and costume piles deposited on the floor after performances, where they live for a shameful amount of time before being placed back on a shelf. Somewhere amidst the mess of fabric scraps, paint splatters, and crusty glue remains lie my anxieties and inspirations.Costume

 

 

 

Let Me Be Cake

cupcake.jpgSometimes, you just don’t get it right the first time, or the second, or third. And that’s ok! This is the case of my cake act. There I was, in my living room with Johnnie Moxie trying on a plain cheap white hoop skirt that I had other intentions for, when I pulled it up to my neck and she gleefully proclaimed that I looked like a cupcake. We both wore it and essentially reenacted the YouTube video of the little girl running around her room shouting, “I’m a cupcake! I’m a cupcake! I’m a cupcake!” and that’s why I now have a cupcake costume.

dc-front.jpgI have this uncanny ability to get in over my head just the right amount. That combined with my need to be thrifty, I decided that I was going to build this costume using hundreds of yards of ribbon from the Berwick Offray outlet nearby to represent icing. Let me tell you about the glorious bounty that is the Berwick Offray outlet!  It’s a little corner shop of the factory building in Hagerstown, MD filled with boxes of ribbon you can procure for pennies! You can buy a spool with hundreds of yards for a few dollars, or if you’re super stingy you can buy the bags full of loose ribbon for like a quarter or less and just wind it up at your leisure. I had a completely different color scheme in mind, but as true outlets go, you have to work with what they have. I settled on purple, pink, and white. Thus began the tireless and frustrating journey of turning a hoop skirt, corset, bra, garter and old slip into an icing-ed dream. I made the ruffle trim using the ribbon – a monotonous, but not difficult task. Then I had to painfully sew layer upon layer of trim to the base pieces. I used silver wired ribbon to make a “wrapper” on the bottom. One particular day, I was crafting with my pal Lady Bladie. I was about 90% finished this delicious monstrosity when I abruptly stopped and just had myself a quiet tantrum moment. “I don’t want to do this anymore” was my sweaty, tired, teary mantra for at least ten minutes before returning to my machine.

Sewing complete (for now). How did I get it wrong? I tried to make an act. Nothing fit.  I performed as cake to several songs, adding some cute sparkly oven mitts at one point, and it just didn’t fit.  The glitter goddess felt pity on me and my pile of ribbon and fed my brain an idea. I decided not to start as the cake, but end that way. I mean… that’s all I wanted anyway during my living room laps, just to be a cupcake. Let me be cake! Let them eat cake. Good job brain. Back to the costuming to create a new way to start the act. Fortunately, because this happen in phases I had had plenty of time to get over my stitching and bitching. This latest version feels like the right recipe. Like always, it has costume and choreography repairs, but it’s a better product than it was. I performed it the 2018 DC Burlypicks mainly for the opportunity to do the new version and ended up placing second runner up. This made me proud and I’m hoping to finish some more work on it and have the opportunity to perform again sometime next year.

With the new storyline, I needed some Rococo hair. I loathe wigs and also needed the ability to remove the hair to place my cherry at the end.

My solution: Build a hat that is hair.

My dilemma: How do I do that?

My problem: How do I do that and make it secure for much of the act, but easily removable?

My other problem: How do I do that without money?

My other other problem: How do I do that at 2:00am when I should be sleeping, but I’m building costumes instead.

I rummaged around until I decided that I would cut up an empty plastic pretzel tub and use Modge Podge to build white curls, one layer at a time. Well, sure. This is what’s in my brain. I also decided that I would solve my problem of fastening and removal by cutting holes on opposite ends and using a stick passed through one hole – through my real hair in a bun – then through the other hole. It worked. It’s Sturdy enough to stay and I have the ability to remove it with just the sliding of a stick. What I don’t have are progress photos. I color my hair with temporary white spray and use a wrap I made out of ribbon that clips on the back along my lower hairline.  This hides my hair when the “hat” is on and leave something pretty for after I take it off. Problems solved! My good feelings about this one started to replace my bad feelings, which was enough to motivate me to make matching shoes.

 

SUCCESSES: I made a unique costume and powered through the lengthy process of continuing to upgrade, add costume pieces, and finding the right music and meaning. I got over my need to have multiple uses for footwear and made a specific pair of shoes devoted to this act.

faceOOPS!-ORTUNITIES: There is a tear away ribbon skirt attached to the corset that is done in such a way that the corset needs to be a specific width to match up to the snaps.  It’s a bit of an annoyance, but more importantly… I’m not the same size. Until I have the time to change it, I’ll be trying to put 10 pounds of sugar in a 5 pound bag. The costume itself is cumbersome and does not make for a quick costume change as a second act. The white hair somewhat prevents it from being a first act.  This act must come as a solo performance or with enough time for costume or hair changes.

You Don’t Own Me: My Cabbage Patch Kid Story

When people ask how long I’ve been performing, I tell them I don’t like to count the first couple years.  It wasn’t that I don’t value them or that I wasn’t putting forth effort. I was unskilled and inexperienced, cranking out a lot of work that, as it turns out, was not connected to me. I was trying to get things done and it may have worked on the surface, but it wasn’t working in the depth of my soul. I’m still evolving and learning, frequently discouraged by not having the time, energy, finances and physical abilities to execute my visions. I pause sometimes and remember to appreciate the entertainer I am in this moment, even though I hope to become better every day. Present-me needs to look away from future-me and past-me long enough to feel worthy of my own love right now.

Even in those early years I was making a mental list of ideas, songs and concepts that I wanted to do.  The list grows every day. I can’t turn off the burlesque Rumpelstiltskins wobbling around in my brain that see a tiny straw piece of the world and wants to spin them into act gold. I will never get to everything on my list and it is constantly being re-prioritized. Something beautiful happened when both a song and an idea that had been separate on my list, both waiting until I felt I was more worthy of each, collided into burly magic and I realized they belonged together like hot glue and regret. Shortly after this I started taking my first burlesque workshops. It became the right time to believe in present-me enough to put together this act. It was time to go the garden and hoe a row for the Cabbage Patch Kid act to take root in my repertoire.

Smoky SmileRewind to 1981… I am a child of the 80’s. My mother wouldn’t wait in the lines of crazed, Christmas chaos waiting to adopt a beloved Cabbage Patch after being trampled by Tupperware mothers in corduroy and hairspray, but I did eventually own one.  He was bald and had a single tooth.  I lost his certificate much as I lived on to lose the certificate of one of my actual offspring. (I have a safe now, this is no longer a problem. If nothing else in life, I’ve mastered important paperwork.)

Xavier RobertsFast Forward to 2013…  I won a small gift certificate for a tattoo at a charity auction. I joked with my husband that it would probably only be enough to get a tiny heart on my tush.  Somehow, this turned into me deciding that in my appreciation for humor and as a tribute to the 80s, I would get Xavier Roberts signature tattooed on my rump with the year of my birth. I knew it wasn’t an original concept, but I didn’t have money at the time to get anything larger and in my forever state of frugal, I didn’t want it to go to waste. So, the tattoo came years before the act.

Smoky CertificateRewind to 2000s…  For a decade, I was in an unhealthy marriage. It was emotionally and verbally abusive and my walls had enough holes to pass for Swiss cheese. I was in a dark cloud and walking on eggshells. A story for another day, but I touch on this topic ever so slightly to show that this personal part of my life, complete with trauma and triumph, is a foundation for everything this act is built upon.

THE CONCEPT:

I paired Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” with my Cabbage Patch tribute, because it made complete sense in my mind that my feelings of empowerment, independence, and newfound ability to be myself since 2009 merged well with a doll freeing herself from being owned and becoming who she is. I could be light and fun referencing a character, and simultaneously unburden and uplift my soul. I haven’t reached the full vision of the act, because I have some costume upgrades to do and prop building in order to birth myself on stage from Bearcat sized cabbage, as well as overall choreography work. Future progress aside, I am proud of the act and enjoy sharing it with everyone.

THE COSTUME:

Smoky DressThe dress I actually ordered with custom measurements arrived in a size where I can only imagine they read my clearly labeled “inches” as “centimeters”. It took what felt like an eternity, but I finally found a used square dancing dress large enough to fit. I modified the dress to attach a crinoline skirt. The process felt something like trying to put a marshmallow in a sleeper hold and send it through a wood chipper. I also added a zipper the entire way down so the dress would completely split.

Costume ProgressI splurged on fancy beaded fringe, the kind you need to negotiate with yourself about, followed by mapping out a plan on how you’ll pay your phone bill now. Green. Like Cabbage.

If you had yourself a CPK doll, you’ll remember their luscious locks of yarn hair. I needed to build yarn hair. A soft brown cap, a skew of yarn, and a few curse words later I managed to form an easily removable yarn pigtailed wig/hat situation.

Cabaret Cabbage Layer

THE MOMENTS: (*Spoiler Alert*)

The two parts of the act that are the most important to me are reflected by the audience. Every time I tear apart my adoption certificate, my spirit does a quick little hiccup of affirmation that my decisions in life leading me to that weird and freeing moment have been right. Even those patrons who don’t know the CPK reference can gather that this character is about to break free. A significant moment indeed, but shadowed later by what is still to date one of my favorite reveals. Sidenote: I have a mighty affection for performance moments, either by myself or others, that generate reaction and impact greater than anything involving the exposure of a body part. Although greatly amazing and intimate, I feel like those moments of popping out a boob or bum are wrapped up in an easy to open package. Other moments can demonstrate the greatness of burlesque, because the viewer has followed you along the garden tour.  They understand, but moreover they appreciate and they feel something. With any luck it will be a package they didn’t expect to receive and will carry it with them always. After I’ve discarded my shoes, knee-highs, and dress I stand on stage with a shining green rhinestoned ensemble as a peeled version of my previous doll character, capturing attention with my newfound glamour.  The moment that matters: tearing off my yarn hair. That’s it. It’s the simplest of actions revealing nothing more extravagant than my natural hair. Hair I attempt to curl to look nice, but inevitably flattens into a heap of whatever box-color version of dark red I find on sale, usually with my mouse-fur-brown roots emerging. But that’s enough.  It’s me. I’m enough. I’m enough and I’m everything. The audience feels it and I am so happy they get to own that moment with me.