My First Burlesque Performance (That Ended in a Trip to the ER)

After being accepted into the troupe, I was invited to submit an idea for a performance for their Twisted Fairy Tale themed show. I had the perfect idea! Since my name is Scarlett and I love wearing red, what could be more natural than being Little Red Riding Hood? I picked the song out, wrote up an abstract, and put together a submission. Although, I didn’t want to send it until after the party. What party? A BURLESQUE PIZZA PARTY!

It was my first gathering with the troupe. My husband and I drove out to a house in the middle of no where. It was Bearcat Betty’s house. She was the mime I saw that first time at the club. She was a co-producer and all around talented lady and still is. They welcomed us in, and suddenly I was in a whirlwind of “how do you do’s” with people with very strange names. They loved a good pun, loved food, loved party games, and I was in the best place ever.

At one point, I went outside to puff on my vape pen (more than two years without a cigarette!) and hung with the smoker people of the group. There were two girls and a boy. I say boy…he was a man. But in burlesque when a guy strips it’s called “boylesque.” Also, when I say girls, I don’t mean in it derogatorily. They are grown women. However, since they have since become family, they are “my girls” so I call them that here. If you wanna get into a deep discussion about gender and nomenclature, I am usually all for it. However, I am writing how I talk here and mean no disrespect. So there. But I digress…

While outside with these lovely people, surrounded by farmland and cats wandering over from the barn across the street, we started talking about the upcoming submission deadline for the show. I mostly listened to the boy, Tweets (not his real name), talk about a Puss in Boots act he wanted to do. I finally got the courage to pipe up and say something and said I was thinking of doing a Red Riding Hood act. Note: I said “thinking” about it. I didn’t tell them that I already had a submission package prepped. Then, one of the girls said, “Oh, I already submitted my Red Riding Hood act” and she further explained what the twist on it was. Damnit. She was one of the founding members, no way I would get picked over her. Crestfallen, I went inside and told my husband that my idea was not going to happen. After most people left, I was hanging with two of the producers (there’s a third one you’ll meet), the White Rabbit and Bearcat Betty. I told them I wanted to submit a Red Riding Hood routine but the idea was already taken. The general response was, that sucks, but there are other ideas. I went away from the party totally defeated. I had a good time and I already loved my troupe. But, I just wanted my premiere to be EVERYTHING. All the good fairy tale people were taken.

The next morning, about a week before the submissions were due, I received a message from Bearcat telling me that it wasn’t the end of the world and I could still premiere in the show. “How about Pinocchio? We were hoping someone would do that.” I rolled my eyes. Ugh…really? Pinocchio? Are they just saying that because my hair is short and I can pass as a boy? But I wanted to be in the show. I wanted to get my burlesque life started NOW. I don’t even know what song I would do….whhhaaaaaa….

After a bout of “why mes” and “it’s not fairs” I thought of a song. I thought of a twist on the tale! I thought of sparkly red suspender shorts and an equally shiny hat! I started to get excited. Just because something isn’t your idea, doesn’t mean its a BAD idea. People will make suggestions to you for a reason…they have YOU in mind for a reason.

So I submitted my routine for approval and BINGO. I was in. Holy shit…I’m IN. I’m going to be performing in a month. A MONTH!? I’m going to be NAKED in front of PEOPLE. Woooo….this will be something else. But, I would soon find out that showing some skin on stage is nothing compared to showing skin on stage while sporting some kind of freak infection while doing so.

I made my costume, had the perfect song and cut it to ribbons in a good way. I practiced my little butt off. The time came for dress rehearsal just a couple days before the actual show. I did my routine! People loved it! I felt crazy alive! I felt at home in the dressing room. There’s just something about dressing rooms I always loved about being in theater. Every dressing room felt like home. My clothes were there, my make up was there, I got naked in it, and got ready in it. Whatever theater (or in this case, club) I was in, I had a tiny little safe space just for me. But it might also be the place where I was bitten to all hell on my arm by some unknown bug creature.

The day after rehearsal, little bumps showed up on my arm and hand. I wasn’t alarmed. I usually get hives when I’m stressed out or nervous. I was a little of both, understandably. But, the bumps grew in size and became hardened lumps underneath. Puss started to ooze from them and they itched like crazy.

It was the day of the show and I was freaking the hell out. I covered my arms (yes both…for symmetry) in band-aids which I rationalized made sense since my strings were getting cut anyway. My compatriots looked on in sympathy and White Rabbit said that it looked like I was getting the dreaded injured performance out of the way on my first night.

My friends started to arrive at the club and I went out to greet them. My arms were just leaking puss at this point and my opera gloves were soaked. My friend put her hand on my arm and was astonished. “You’re burning up! That is a full blown infection you got there.” I couldn’t argue. I felt awful, but not too awful since I was also on a fantastic adrenaline high.

I will never forget standing backstage in all my my wooden boy glory. I’ve been waiting in the wings for an entrance more times than I can count. But, this was different. I cut the music, I choreographed everything, I wrote the story line, I made my costume…everything was on me. I felt like I was going to throw up as I dabbed at my puss-soaked gloves and tried to breathe. Then, my fairy burlesque mother appeared. Bearcat took my hands and looked deeply into my eyes. “You are going to be great,” she said, “just breathe. You will be fine.” Her grip on my hands and my soul steadied me. I was ready. And then the MC said my name.

The performance went well….ok fuck being humble. I ROCKED IT. A girl rushed the stage at the very beginning of my act to lay dollar bills at my feet (that is where the featured picture came from). I stayed in the character and didn’t think anything of it. Then, after I went through my routine, she rushed me AGAIN trying to stuff dollars into the bra I was trying to take off. I loved the enthusiasm, but I was trying to perform! The crowd was so loud when my strings were cut and I stepped off of the stage. I spun, twirled, and went down to my knees. At the end, I revealed my pasties and gave them a shake. I ran offstage afterward, higher than I had ever been before. I did it. I accomplished it. I made it. I felt high as a kite, which was due in part to my accomplishment, and also the benedryl mixed with alcohol. I should have left and gone straight to the hospital to get something done about my arm before gangrene set in. But I didn’t! I stayed and I danced and I chatted and stood around with people basking in the glow of their love.

My husband and I left the club just before closing at 2am. We went home and weighed our options: go to the ER right now covered in sweat and glitter with smeared mascara or sleep for a few hours and then go to the ER. I opted for going to the ER right away because I didn’t feel like sleeping with an arm full of puss.

My show people were still up and chatting in the Facebook group message. I told them we were at the ER and just like a family, they showed their concern and demanded updates. I didn’t get out of the ER until 8 hours later, well into the morning light of the next day. No one could identify what had caused the bumps and at one point, it felt like an episode of House, M.D. There was a particularly awful blood filled GIANT blister on my hand that had ballooned in just a couple hours. While I was sitting up in bed, I had two doctors hover over my hand while pointing at it and talking about it as if it were a separate entity from me. One of the doctors turned to me and said “Sorry we’re talking shop. It feels like we’re back in school.” Fantastic. They sent me off with more benedryl and a healthy dose of antibiotics to fight off the infection.

As we were leaving the ER, after the initial grumbling about long wait times and such, I suddenly grinned ear to ear. My husband asked what was up, and I said “I did burlesque last night.” he smiled and said “I know.”

Thanks for reading! I don’t really have a schedule. I just post when I feel like it and some posts will be longer or shorter than others. Stay tuned for more stories from the burlesque stage!

Upcoming posts:

  • Tipping
  • Drag Queens
  • Kittening


Obligatory First Post

Writing the first post is always the hardest. I’ve had many blogs in my life, and the first post is daunting. It’s like you have to set the tone for the whole damn thing. I am going to attempt to do so, but make no promises.

First, a little background…

The night before my town’s Pride Celebration, my friends and I went to a local gay club that was holding a “Pre-Pride Black and White Party.” I put myself into a gender-bender outfit (goth girl skirt and boots, Donald Draper on top) and loaded into the car with my buds and husband. We were giddy; night before spending our first pride together, about to see some drag queens (one of my favorite kinds of performance), and feeling ourselves in our genderqueer/gay/bisexualness.

Once in the club, we were treated to some of the best music, drinks, and dancing. The show wouldn’t start for another hour. I was getting pleasantly buzzed on my vodka/Redbull and reveling in the electricity of the people on the dance floor. When the show started, we found ourselves surrounding one of the speaker box pillars, almost like an island off to one side of the stage. I was engrossed in the queen spinning and lip syncing. I can’t remember which queen it was or what they performed. Then, she took the microphone and started the show. “Next up,” she said, “we have a burlesque girl from the local troupe!” My ears perked up. Burlesque! I went to a burlesque show years before for someone’s birthday and I dug it.

There was a woman dressed as a mime that came out and held up an applause sign and then shushed everyone. She repeated the gag a few times and it was funny every time. The music kicked up and she started to strip. She mugged at the audience, slipped out of knickers, and shook her ample bottom. I was sitting there, transfixed. At the end when she finally revealed her pasties, I felt a rush of emotion that almost put me to tears. When her act was over, my two gay friends swung their heads around and in unison exclaimed, “THIS IS YOU. YOU HAVE TO DO THIS.” I looked up at my husband and he nodded in agreement enthusiastically. My head was spinning. As the next drag performance started, I went through a mental checklist:

  • I have a theater background and love being on stage.
  • I enjoy being naked and being naked around other people comes naturally to me.
  • I like to dance.
  • I like music.
  • I love dressing up as someone else.

As I went through my list and started trying to devise a plan to break into burlesque, the MC queen introduced a second burlesque dancer. She came out dressed as the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland while dancing and lip syncing to a Gwen Stefani song. Her energy was staggering. She had a perfect blend of drag and burlesque. I was floored. I wanted to own it.

Recently, I was wrestling with being a queer girl in a hetero marriage. I am genderqueer and bisexual. However, when it came to Pride and general identification I labeled myself as an ally. A few days earlier, I had discussed with my husband how Pride was becoming commericalized by allys in businesses and how even at my job, they were trying like hell to get themselves into the parade just to hand out fliers. I started to say, “As an ally myself…” and he cut me off. He said “You know, you’re part of the rainbow, right? You are not straight. You are bisexual.” And he had a point. I needed to own my queerness and my identity and be what I wanted to be no matter how I look on the outside to other people. So, at this moment, in a gay club the night before Pride, I wanted to be seen. To be heard. And to make some freaking noise. I had to be part of this burlesque adventure.

After the show ended, I made my way to the back of the club by the dressing room. The girls came out, almost on cue. Aided by enthusiasm and alcohol, I rushed them.

“Hi! I just LOVED you guys. You are EVERYTHING!”

“Oh, thanks! Nice to meet you.”

“How do I be you? I wanna be you. How can I do it?”

There was an awkward pause and a bit of a surprised look, but they’ve probably seen worse in the club after a show.

“Here’s our card. We are having a meet and greet in a few weeks. And we’ll be holding auditions. But, just to let you know, we’re not bringing on any more troupe members. We’re just looking for featured acts.”

“Oh, ok. Cool! Thank you. You are wonderful! You were just simply amazing!”

I took their card and held it like it was a goddamn golden ticket to the chocolate factory. My friends and I talked about burlesque ideas for the rest of the night, including what my name should be.

Pride came the next day, and I ran into the burlesque girls again. They were performing at Pride and the Pride after party at the gay club. I hung out with them and talked with them when they weren’t performing. Despite it being ridiculously hot out, moving around in corsets, and having people scream at them, they were delightful and chatty. Very chatty. I never knew people could talk so much about anything. We all became friends on Facebook.

Leading up to the Meet-and-Greet/audition, I went through a series of self-doubt. I had my song, I had my outfit. My husband surprised me with pasties and opera gloves in my favorite colors. Yet, there was a nagging feeling that I couldn’t do it. And now I knew the girls and I really liked them. I wanted to impress them. I wanted to be cool enough. And the other side: what would people think? My friends? My family? I am taking off my clothes and having money thrown at me on a stage while I jiggle my boobs…doesn’t sound like a “normal” hobby.

The day before the audition, I decided I wasn’t going to go. I was sitting on the couch after a day at work, and my husband asked if I was working on burlesque stuff later. I said no because I wasn’t going to go. I didn’t think it was a good idea. And then he did what he does best: he asked me questions to unpack all those general statements to get me to admit what was really wrong. It turned out I was scared of what other people would think and he gently reminded me that I don’t usually care. He was right. It was ART damn it. And I deserved to make some art after being a student and office jockey for the past *mumbles* years.

A bag full of pasties, gloves, and various strippable costume pieces under one arm and a boat load of anxiety on my shoulders, I walked into the bathroom after the meet and greet. My heart was pounding. I shakily put on my pasties and costume. There were two auditions, me and another girl. The other girl was extraordinarily pretty and she had a fucking hula hoop. I panicked. Should I have some kind of talent other than dancing around and taking things off? She’s taking things off WHILE hooping. I calmed myself and breathed deeply while wandering the hallway. Finally, it was my turn. I crept up to the doorway that was serving as the “stage entrance” and the girls in the front row who I talked to weeks before shouted to the rest of the troupe that were there “Oh, she’s like, already in! We like her. We stalk her Facebook. She’s awesome.” Those comments were the exact boost I needed. They liked me! They really liked me!

The MC came towards me and said he would introduce me and play my music. He asked my name. “Scarlett Ropeburn.” I said. “Scarlett Ropeburn?” I nodded. “Nice.” He sauntered over to the speaker and plugged in my phone to play the song. I started my routine. They threw crumpled up paper at me to simulate what tipping is like on the real stage. They hooped and hollered as I took off a glove, a sweater, and when I dropped to the floor and unbuttoned my shirt, one of the girls exclaimed “advanced floor moves!” and quickly took a note down. I shook my pasties and I could have died from happiness. After, they asked me a few questions as I was trying to awkwardly cover myself back up. When I said that the audition was my first performance, there was an eruption. Apparently, I’m a natural witch.

A few days later, I received a message from the head producer, one of my chatty girls, the White Rabbit. I was in. I was officially part of the troupe. Despite the fact that they were not looking to add another member because they already rolled deep (we’ve been dubbed the Wu-Tang Clan of burlesque troupes), she said my audition was too good and wanted to snatch me up before I got wise and went somewhere else.

Since then, I have done four shows and three features. Yes, I am still new and still green. I am constantly learning. In fact, I am taking classes soon to beef up my performances. I am by no means an expert or professional. So why the blog?

I feel like I have to write all this down in order for it to be real. I sit at my desk job, dreaming up acts, listening to my show music, and dancing in my head. I keep my burlesque life and “real life” as separate as possible. But, I also want to sing this love song to the world in some way. So, I’ll write about it. And hopefully, you’ll dig it, dear reader.

Upcoming blog posts:

  • My First Performance that Ended in a Trip to the ER
  • Tipping
  • Drag Queens