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The Fat Joke

I’ve been wanting to perform to spoken word for as long as I’ve been an entertainer. I’ve been hesitant, because I can’t shake the nagging feeling that anything I write myself isn’t ready to be read or heard by other humans.  Like the majority of the population, the sound of my own voice gives me strange feelings and I don’t have the right situation at hand for someone to voice my words without it taking more time to partner than I have available to get it right. With these perceived obstacles in my way, it went on the back burner for years, until I experienced yet another doctor-patient encounter to add to the life long list of ailments and injuries being dismissed because of my weight, causing my brain webs to light up.  I recalled poetry from Rachel Wiley. The Fat Joke. The creation of this act happen with great speed and passion.  One of the most beautiful and powerful aspects of the art of burlesque is the ability to make the audience feel something and to connect.  Evoking some kind of feeling should be a core objective of the art. Knowing how many people would be able to relate to Rachel’s words, I instantly felt that I needed to perform to this fantastic piece and reached out to obtain permission to share her work.

joke 1

Creative costuming is one of my strengths and it was a challenge for me to keep this as simplistic as I felt it needed to be. I knew I had a white lab coat from when I was in nursing school many years ago. Tried it on. It was too small.  How serendipitous and pertinent to the content of the act. Rather than modifying it to fit me, I used it. A simple beige slip I already owned became my choice over other costume pieces I had that could have worked.  I added rhinestones to make it a “stage” costume, but practicing restraint from the typical ostentatious glamour was the right choice.

joke 2

A couple of the burlesque movement workshops I’ve taken were centered around expressive choreography. They were the support and push I needed to move in a way that I yearned to move to tell my stories.  Special gratitude has a place in my heart and memory for the classes of Rebel Vitale and Gabe Gabriel.

My physical limitations for movement may exist. The limitations society puts on bodies and how they should move are maddeningly absurd.

Art and performance often tell an emotional story.  It is a weakness of humanity to dismiss any story, any voice, any pain, or any person. My hopes are vast for how this act will evolve and where it will go. It has already brought several people and myself to tears with simplistic and striking nature.  We carry around so much hurt that often rests just under the surface and connecting on an emotional level can be all that is needed to release some of it.

joke 3

Madam Hatter: Maybe she’s born with it? Maybe it’s mercury!

What has become one of my favorite acts, started when I selected a character to fit into a Wonderland themed show. Lady Grey’s Lovelies was so kind to have me be a part of their production and I thought, “I could pull off a Mad Hatter” and then I can perform it at my home venue as well.  I was originally envisioning using pieces of costumes I already had and filling in with a matching coat and hat. What I ended up doing was starting a journey, weaving threads of my life into a story and costume that is more ‘me’ than any other thus far. Madam Hatter has delighted many over the past few years, and I am excited and eager to continue to share it with audiences and my fellow entertainers. I’ve been fortunate to perform this act in many places and for many people. Tea parties have popped up in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Canada, Ohio, DC, coming soon Vermont, and literally underground (being part of a TBD Immersive production in the Metro Underground). Madam Hatter has the honor of being the 2019 Winner of the Pennsylvania Burlypicks. I’m looking forward to seeing where else I may be able to share this wonderland of a act.

SPOILER ALERTS – don’t read this if you don’t want to save the surprises for live action.

CoatMy creative and thrifty essence is tied into the costume so tight, that it is exactly the ingredients from which it is made.  I wanted to utilize as much scrap and existing supplies as I had to put this together. Both because I’m in a chronic state of financial strain, and because I felt like it connected with what I would do if I was a milliner, building fantasy with findings. While the costume has evolved and I have purchased a few small supplies, I am staying as true to that vision as possible throughout the life of this artwork. The coat started as an inexpensive purple coat that I used as a base upon which to build my coat-of-many-colors veneer. Rows of silk sari scraps were sewed onto the coat,  one by one, until I had a rainbow of re-birthed beauty and no more patience. I dug through my bucket of scrap and managed to find enough trim to give it a mismatched finishing touch around the edges. Topping it off is a tassel that came as a “free gift” when buying rhinestones online.

hatter

hatter 4The waistcoat used the bulk of what remained from the silk scraps, as well as some beautiful red trim that didn’t make it into a previous costuming endeavor. The base was parts of a thrifted vest that I had laying around, which was too small for me to wear, a scrapable bra, some hope and a dream. Even when I have a plan, my sewing projects tend to just happen as they happen.

I had already made this yellow skirt for a Snow White act that had a free spirit style underlayer. It was made from fabric remnants and vintage doilies and handkerchiefs I used at my wedding. The skirt was perfect for the Hatter costume.

boaI can’t remember why I thought I needed a boa, but thank goodness I did. Everything in the boa was from my fabric pile. There are pieces of fabric from projects for my children, remaining scraps from other costumes, remnants people donating to me, cuttings from thrifted curtains and scarves that had just been waiting too long to be made into something, and even some pieces from my grandmother’s fabrics. This boa has lovingly become what I call my “Stripper Quilt”. Imagination lead to a surprise reveal when I decided to bustle the boa up into a bountiful rump. This serves an extra purpose of hiding my sugarbritches. More on those later. 

The first hat was formed with some foam sheets, paper plates and a stapler. I then ripped strips of my old bed sheets and Mod Podged them bit by bit, until it finally stopped looking like a pile of things a toddler made for a proud, yet underwhelmed, parent. (The sheet was worn through from it’s intended use, previously harvested of it’s elastic, and had been laying in my fabric pile awaiting a new purpose. No waste. Never.) I removed as much as I could of the staples and paper plate. I keep vowing to “finish” the inside of the hat, but until then I just make sure nobody sees it while on stage. Little silk scraps from the coat were added, and eventually some rhinestone edging.

I wasn’t thinking ahead when I made the first hat and made it too big to function as a headpiece, but too small to fit as a hat. Thus, a hat in a hat would need to solve my problem.  It was fortuitous, because the necessity to make a second hat created a reveal for the act that seems so obvious and cliche, yet so strongly loved by many.  The second hat was made with a souvenir miniature sombrero, an empty Talenti container, carboard, piece of a curtain and other various crafting scraps. Once completed I had to cut parts of the original hat so the new one could fit inside.

Hat Hat 2 hats.jpg

cage-bottom.jpgThe original undergarments consisted of a cage style body suit made from excessive amounts of pink glitter elastic I ordered and never used. I made abstract design on the panty part and matching pasties with whatever rhinestones I had on hand.  This layer didn’t see much stage time. Upon performances scheduled in Frederick Maryland and Tennessee for the Smoky Mountain Burlesque Festival, I needed to make blue law compliant coverage.

Instead of just bulking up the under layer with extra pieces and slapping something on my underboobs, I decided to make my coverage purposeful and specific. It became too perfect and I never went back.  The granny panty bottoms became my “Sugar Britches” with the help of felt and marker to represent a sugar packet. Easy peasy. Now what? Well… if my bum is sugar, what should I do with my front? It is my… Sweet and Low. My sweet and low people. This act is ultra pun and I couldn’t be happier to have a new euphemism on standby. More felt, more marker, rhinestones and done. I have since salvaged much of the original sugar britches and revised them to be more permanent and less bulky to hid under the layers better. I have also found a new use for my original cage underlayer. Never wasted. Always re-purposed. BraA bra was added with tear-away teacups.  Madam Hatter wears a size T cup brassiere. The puns can’t stop. The puns shan’t stop. I decorated the cups with warm colors on my left and cool colors on my right, a subtle throw back to my rainbow coat. My pasties are as close as I could get to looking like tea bags and doilies from the bits of things I had.  I thought the yellow looked like the Lipton tea brand tag, but at least one person thought they were eggs without the rest of the costume to give context. Just to make sure there is no confusion and doubt that they are tea and not chicken ovum, I dip them in my cups at the end of the act now.

 

The shoes also came as a secondary phase and I mimicked the warm/cool color separation. I did splurge on a cheap pair of shoes from eBay to devote to this act, because I was unsuccessful finding any used ones that fit. Curse these beautiful arthritic ten wides.  I dyed each shoe and the strings with homemade dye, made  from alcohol and sharpie innards, then sealed with the sealer I use on leather work. I don’t know if that worked, but I figured it’s a step I should attempt. These shoes were a great canvas to use the scraps too tiny for anything else. I dug to the bottom of the jars, buckets, and bins and glued together my masterpieces.

shoes

glovesThe gloves were just a pair of burgundy ones I already had. They only became devoted to this act after a piece of feedback I got from Burlypicks was to “maybe decorate my gloves”. Back to the craft hoard. An extra doily and a vintage glove that would never fit my large size Rock-Biter hands both got a bath of pink dye and then became part of my weird and wonderful costume story. The glove-on-glove is fun because I can burlesque the burlesque world by using my teeth on the extra glove fingers to remove the main glove.

The most recent addition is a pair of fishnets with holes I stitched and covered in a few flowers and rhinestones.  I could have done the entire leg in decor, but i thought adorning only the area around where the repairs were was appropriate. I’m aware so many of the details of this costume are lost for the audience, especially at a distance and short timeframe. I’m content and even passionate about having these details for myself.  This costume will continue to deteriorate, especially the silk pieces, and the repairs will slowly make it evolve into something even better and more special, a visual representation of the hours of work as I pour myself, my time, my patience, my creativity and my heart into.

Since I am not a good seamstress and often constructing my costumes with the Frankenstein method, the insides aren’t always pleasant to view. The inside of the coat is still purple from it’s former life, but with light thread stitches all over from adding the Sari scraps. I had no intention of changing this look, but it did make me think of something fun to add to the inside. If I’m going to open up and remove my coat anyway, why not have something to show you? or maybe to sell you? How about a selection of nice watches? But the watches are actually just things from my broken jewelry scrap basket. And if you’re going to have watches, why not a clock.  We need to know when tea time is.

clock.jpg hatter 2

I took a class from Blanche Debris where we built backstories for our acts, thinking about what lead us or our characters to being where they are when they’re taking the stage. When I was deciding what time I wanted my coat clock to show, things all fell into place in my head. Tea time is at 6:00. My song is about 5 minutes long. The clock in my coat says 5:55. When Madam Hatter takes the stage, she is intoxicated by her clothes and hat (completely plausible in this modern era and E6000 fumes), and then realizes it’s time to get ready for tea. The audience members are her guests. The tea cups come out. Then she’s ready for the sweetener. The song itself even has a line saying “I think I’m ready now”. Pinkies up. It’s time for tea!

hatter 3

 

 

Pasties

Pasties can be made from all sorts of materials and in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  For those that would rather purchase their pasties, there are many sellers online that have various types, styles, and priced pasties. If you have money to spend, send it their way! (A few makers listed below with examples.  Feel free to comment about your favorite sellers!) For those that want to venture in the land of baking pastries, I mean… making pasties, here is your basic list of ingredient options and recipes.

The Base:

The base of a pastie is what will cover your nipple and form the shape of the design. Materials that can be used:

  • Craft Foam
  • Stiff Felt
  • Buckram
  • 3D Printed Material

I don’t recommend craft foam, even for beginners, because they will not last long (sometimes not even beyond a single use) and often have a cheap appearance to them, yes – even if it’s glitter foam. Stiff felt is a good alternative that is inexpensive and readily available at many stores. 

Other Supplies:

  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Decorative features for the final design (rhinestones, sequins, trim, etc.)
  • Tassel (optional)
  • Ball Bearing Swivel (optional)

Aside from 3D printed or other molded materials, the general idea behind pastry baking is that you’re taking a flat surface source, cutting a shape, and forming a conical form. The amount of peak depends on preference and also body type and body part. “Male” pasties or pasties used on other areas of the body like the buttocks, stomach, face, etc are best with a flatter pastie than that used for a “female” breast.

The best place to start is a basic circle. The size of the circle depends upon how big you want the end product (how much coverage you need legally or desire personally), and how flat or conical you want it. You can use mathematics and make your geometry teacher proud, or you can do some sample runs on paper. The pointier you desire, the larger you need to make your circle. The larger coverage area you desire, the larger you need to make your circle.  It’s like rocket science. The initial circle is not just the size of the end game circle.

  • Draw a circle on the material.
    • Use a compass, or trace a cup or other object. When I’m in my messy basement costuming, it’s not uncommon to hear me mumble “where’s my nipple cup” because I have one that I use for most of my pastie making.
  • Cut the circle
  • Cut a radius into the circle, from the edge into the center.
    • You can fold the circle in half, open, and fold in half the opposite way to identify the center point.
  • Overlap your material into the desired size, factoring in that the height/peak will impact the width/diameter.
    • At this point, if the peak you desire does not give you the size you want, start over with a larger/smaller circle, whichever applies. (That’s why a trial with paper is good until the circle size is right.)
  • When you’ve settled on the size, then glue (or sew) the overlapped portion.
    • Use a clip, bobby pin, or clothes pin to  hold together if you’re using a slow drying glue.

Beautiful Mind.jpgDo you see the beautiful mind formulas that could happen? If you know the desired peak and final diameter, it’s possible to math your way into the initial circumference to cut. Most people are more into the hands on approach when it comes to nipple hats. I made a reference chart for your viewing pleasures, if viewing is your pleasure.

Basic Pastie Science

For non-tasseled pasties, you’re almost done!

  • You can seal the material with Mod Podge, something else, or leave them as is.
  • Decorate the outside.
    • I start from the inside of the circle, so I can adjust any pattern as I move outward. Starting from the outside may leave you with an odd space to fill as you close into the center.

For tasseled pasties, you have an extra step before sealing and decorating.

  • The ultra easy way to add a tassel is to poke a hole in the center, feed the tassel through and glue it inside the pastie. This is how I did mine in the beginning.  (I would add a small grommet on the hole.) 
    • The disadvantages:
      • The tassels are permanent.
      • They are “harder” to twirl.  I managed, but I’ve heard from others that without the swivel they weren’t able to twirl at all or as efficiently.
  • Another way that is still inexpensive is to add a fishing swivel with ball bearing to the center.
    • The advantages:
      • The tassels can be added using clips and removed or traded out with others.
      • They are “easier” to twirl because of the nature of the ball bearing.
    • Place the swivel in the center.  If there is enough on the other side, you can glue from the inside. If they are too small, you can add something to insert in the swivel hole and then glue that to the inside of the pastie. (I’ve used a safety pin by breaking off the tip and the fastener and bent into form.)
    • Cover the inside with a small circle of the material.
    • Two different types of swivels are shown in the picture instructions.
      • Left: Ball bearing saltwate fishing swivel size 0 (33lb) purchased online
      • Center: Swivel with attached hook purchased at Walmart
      • Right: same as above with the hook detached
  • If the tassels don’t have a clip, add a lobster claw or other type of attachment so you can clip onto your swivel.
    • Tassels can be purchased or made using fringe, beads, or other materials.
    • The types made from non-beaded fringe will often get frayed and misshapen  over time if they aren’t stored delicately.

Slide2Slide3That’s great Bearcat, I have showgirl hats for my nip nops, now how do I fasten this to my body?! I’ve seen or heard of the following:

  • Spirit Gum
  • Carpet Tape
  • Fashion Tape
  • Medical Tape
  • Medical Adhesives
  • Toupee Tape
  • Spray Glue

Be wary of things that aren’t skin safe, especially if you have sensitive skin. In general, avoid using lotions on the area on pastie wearing day. If you mess up placement, use fresh tape. Often, once it hits skin one time, it will lose effectiveness if you just try to shift position.

SupertapeI use Supertape brand toupee tape in AA strips because it’s easily peel-able and can curve nicely onto the pastie shape, skin safe, strong, and easy to remove. (I use it to tape underwear and other costume pieces to myself. If I forget to remove it, it can get vicious and wants to permanently stay on fabric. Just take it off as soon as you’re finished, and it’s fine.) 

Slide6If you’re feeling adventurous, experiment with different shapes and designs. “Punchline” pasties are ones that have an extra element of relevance to your act, a final punchline in your joke! (Keep in mind, many people won’t be able to see them. It’s a bonus for those that can.) Some of my work shown here, featuring such hits as the spinning wet floor people from my “Safety First” act and my tea bags from my “Madam Hatter” act.

This lesson is to teach you how to be a fisherman, not how to steal someone else’s fish.  Be inspired, but don’t copy designs of others.

Tassels: Here are some examples of tassels you can purchase – not all good ones for twirling use. If the tassel is too light or short, it won’t be a good merry-go-round the pastie ride and will leave you flat with your face in the dirt.

Slide4

I make all of my own pasties, but have just a handful of pasties/pastie bases from others in my possession as examples. Check out their sites for better photos and products for sale! (Clicking photo will take you to their website.)

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Glue

Do you find yourself in the glue section of a store whimpering like a lost puppy? You, my dear pup, are not alone.  There are so many things to consider when identifying the best adhesive. In an effort to keep it simple and targeted towards common burlesque needs, we’ll *stick* to a handful of options and how they may be used.

Eyelash Glue:

Eyelash GluesI tend to use the dark toned glue as nature intended, on my eyelashes. I use the clear/light on the occasion I’m gluing rhinestones or other objects to my face. I haven’t used eyelash glue for anything else, but at the rate I’m going, who knows where life will take me.

Spray Glue:

Spray GlueI don’t really use this for much, but I have seen people use it for pasties and adhering other items to their body.  It’s not skin safe and it’s a pain to clean off, so I don’t recommend doing this.  (Future post about pasties and corresponding adhesive will happen.)

Mod Podge:

Mod Podge.pngMod Podge can be used as a sealer. I’ve used it when making pasties bases or on the inside of headpieces I’ve dyed to keep it from coloring my forehead. My most substantial Mod Podge Masterpieces are my Cake hair and my Hatter Hat.  Both were built with soft items like ribbon or fabric strips. Layer by layer, I coated each strip in the glue and formed into place. It was a test of patience, because I am not built to wait for things to dry (or for reading instruction manuals). I had to fight my natural instinct to mess things up by not waiting. As the layers would dry, they would harden, and then I could continue to add more. One note: Do not leave your Mod Podge prop in your car during a hot summer day, because it will shape shift. Fortunately for me, my incident was minor and I was able to use a blow dryer to heat it up and get it back into form.

The “base” of the Madam Hatter hat was made with paper plate and some craft foam, stapled into the vague shape I wanted and then covered with ripped pieces of my old bedsheet. The “base” of the Let Me Be Cake hair was a plastic pretzel container that I cut and layered with pieces of ribbon I curled into place as they were wet with Mod Podge.

Hat BuildHair Build

Hot Glue:

Hot GlueThere was a time that everything I made was hot glued, because I didn’t know how to do anything. Those times were short and as frustrated as learning new things can be, I’m so glad my days of being a hot-glue-hottie are in my past. Hot glue is handy for a quick fix in emergencies.  I mainly only use hot glue now when I need something to dry quickly to proceed with the making process and the end result won’t be only the hot glue holding it together. A hot car will wreck your day if your costume is comprised of hot glue. My most important tip for performers is the same as when I work with little children using it for the first time. If, or when, you get some on your fingers, rub it quickly so it will roll away and not burn your fingers like witches on stakes.

E6000:

E6000 FamilyAlso known in my house as “Cancer Tube”, “The Beast”, and the thing I buy anytime I’m at Joann Fabrics with an extra coupon to spare. This is what I use most often when it comes to costume and prop building. It comes in many forms.  Look at them there all lined up like it’s killer family portrait day. E6000 is toxic! Be sure to protect your lungs with a mask and wear gloves or at least thoroughly wash your hands after use. There is no need to go full out Hazmat suit like you’re Marty McFly and 1950s George is your craft project.

BTTF

MaskWhat is needed is a respirator mask that is available online or at home improvement stores. Once protected, there are some decisions to make.  Personally, I only use the liquid kind in the tube. They have black, white, and clear.  I tend to stock up on clear. They do sell options for the liquid form that have tiny application caps. I’ve tried a handful of times and I end up making more mess when I use these than just being strategic with the standard cap. For rhinestones or other small work, my application method of choice is to take a kabob stick and dab it slightly in glue. That will form as a way to tack the item onto the stick and into the dot of glue where it will live on your costume.  There are wax pencils and other specifically designed tools for this. I’m frugal and my cheap method works well enough for me. I also know I would likely lose any tool I spent money buying. Just re-dab as needed when it starts to lose that pick-me-up attraction.

Gemtac:

gemtacI haven’t used this myself, but I’m told it’s a non-toxic alternative to E6000. This is good for anyone with family or pets who can’t be in a ventilated or separate area when gluing.

 

Hooks

Cloth Hookscoth-hooks-black-and-white.jpgI’m hooked on hooks hooking. Cloth covered hooks are a great way to add or modify a costume to be removable (or more easily removable). They are metal hook and eyes, with a layer of fabric covering. I replace all of my bra attachments with these and use them on other things like skirts, wraps, etc. You can find these online or in craft stores. My local store keeps them stocked in black and white, and sometimes brown. I try to keep a few on hand because I will often be working on costumes at odd nightly hours when only bats and vampires should be productive and most stores aren’t open. You can dye, or even easier – color the white ones with permanent markers, to make them match your garment. I imagine you could use paints also, but that would likely chip away. 

Hook ExamplesWhen I’m using these for the back of a bra, I will remove all of the standard hook closures and then sew the hook directly onto the ends.  Because my bras tend to have 3-5 rows of hooks due to carrying around boulder boobers, I will sometimes change the shape of the ends to be more of a trapezoid instead of a rectangle, then it will look better if I’m only using one cloth hook. If the ends don’t overlap and I leave them as huge rectangles, having one hook with leave a space between that makes me feel have weird feelings.  There are times where I will use fabric to make completely new ends. This usually happens for me if I need to extend the circumference of the bra, if I’m building a bra from scratch, or if I’m Frankensteining things together.