The New Orleans Burlesque Festival is thrilled to have Jo Weldon return to the festival this year. Jo is the headmistress and founder of the New York School of Burlesque. Her new book, The Burlesque Handbook, was released this summer by HarperCollins. It is the essential manual to understanding and performing both classic and neo-burlesque. NOBF founder/producer Rick Delaup asked Jo twelve questions that were on his mind.
1. The Burlesque Handbook is a much-needed guide. It covers so many aspects of burlesque performance. Everything is there to help new performers jumpstart their burlesque careers, without years of
figuring it out on their own. What kind of feedback have you received
from beginners who have read the book?
Since the book was based on handouts and information given in classes, which produced students who went on to become successful performers, I knew it would be a useful guide. I've gotten great feedback from new performers. Most often, they comment that it has changed the way they thought about some of the details I discuss, such as music and color choice. And almost all of them have commented that they appreciate the chapter on etiquette. In fact, a lot of experienced performers have told me they appreciate that chapter!
2. What are some of the qualities a successful burlesque entertainer should have, that can’t be learned from a book?
Inventiveness and timing!
3. I’ve come across women who want to perform in burlesque shows, but don’t want to strip down to pasties or a g-string. Is there room for them in burlesque?
I have to teach on TV fairly often, and I'm able to convey some of the movement and style of burlesque without going that far. However, I think pasties and g-strings are what ultimately make burlesque so remarkable. It's the only performing art in the world in which striptease plays a part. Why leave out the think that makes it unique? The other elements--sexiness, satire, etc.--are all available elsewhere.
4. Burlesque performances are known for iconic props like feather fans and boas. What small props have you seen over the years that are unique, but just as effective?
In my opinion, every costume piece should be used with the same attention, care, and theatricality as a prop!
I'd love to see more folks really get into working the robes. When I began working in strip joints there were a few people who were still working robes and chiffon, and they had a sort of casual showmanship that was mindboggling. They made the most elegant sculptural forms, and framed and revealed their bodies in the most devastating ways.
5. What kinds of things does a burlesque performer learn from years of stage experience?
You learn to what the audience responds, instead of just what looks good in the mirror during rehearsal.
6. There are some burlesque performers who don’t, or rarely, attend burlesque festivals. Being that there is a sense of community in the world of burlesque, what are the advantages of attending a burlesque festival?
Just that, the sense of community. It is a very special world! And the opportunity to network with that international community is stronger in person than online.
7. I know a lot of dedicated dancers dream of making a comfortable living in burlesque. These days, it’s an extremely difficult thing to do. What advice can you give a dancer who would like to earn the same income as Dita Von Teese?
Nobody earns the same income as Dita, and I can't think how anyone could plan to do so. She is a celebrity, and celebrity is hard, if not impossible, to deliberately create. Anybody who wants it has to be prepared for it. She is an entrepreneur and a person who has branded herself and has built powerful collaborations with people such as her costumer Catherine D’Lish, her manager, her web person, and others with whom she has worked or did work for many years. She had an image and stayed true to it; there's a lot to be said for believing in what you love to do! But there isn't a beaten path to being a burlesque celebrity, in the same way there is a path to try to prepare for a million-dollar record contract. There just isn't a burlesque industry in the same way there is a record or movie industry. We all have multiple streams of revenue, and certainly Dita does. Or, we have to get jobs and do burlesque on the side. And also note, young performers -- Dita responds to all her emails with her best possible grammar and no texting shorthand! She's always professional.
8. With so many burlesque performers out there these days, what’s the best way for a dancer to get noticed and recognized?
Good manners and inventiveness.
9.You are one of the organizers of BurlyCon coming up in October in Seattle. What can attendees expect this year?
BurlyCon is an amazing experience, complete immersion in burlesque and all it can be. I love it, and I love participating as well as instructing the classes. It's the ultimate burlesque community experience because no one has the pressure of performing. Of course we love the pressure of performing, but it's really wonderful to just experience the people we know and love without the hustle of work.
10. While in New Orleans, what are some of the things on your itinerary outside of the burlesque festival activities?
Not many! I can't wait to see my friends. I love the festival, and I want to take classes and see all the shows. But I look forward to taking the streetcar out to the Garden District for a leisurely walk.
11. We're all working to move the burlesque scene forward, make the art form more popular, and sell more tickets. What areas need the most improvement, and what can be done to get there?
I think it needs to be kept playful, sensual, not too self-conscious. Over the past few years I've seen top performers repeatedly raising their own bars, and new performers developing much more rapidly than they used to. I love it!
I think the marketing in some cases, especially smaller shows, could be aimed a little bit less at what burlesque connoisseurs think will be appealing, and more toward what the uninitiated might find appealing. Burlesque just is appealing!
12. What are your views on the mainstream media's coverage of burlesque?
It's kind of amazing that they still keep claiming "Burlesque is Back!" But that's part of what I was talking about with regard to marketing. There are still plenty of people to whom burlesque is new.
This is very true. At the 2nd Annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival, our audiences will be filled with many locals, as well as visitors to the city, who will be exposed to burlesque for the first time. It’s a wonderful event to catch so many great performers from around the world performing over one weekend.
The Burlesque Handbook will be available for purchase throughout the festival weekend. There will be many opportunities to meet burlesque star, instructor, and author Jo Weldon over the weekend. Jo performs Friday, September 17th in the Mondo Burlesque showcase at Harrah’s New Orleans. You can also find her at the shows, parties, panel discussions, as well as the afternoon burlesque workshops at the Westin Hotel. For more on the NOBF (Sept. 17-19), visit www.neworleansburlesquefest.com.
More information about The Burlesque Handbook:
About the book: http://bit.ly/dwJ2F3
Read an excerpt: http://bit.ly/a2FU15
Buy the book: http://amzn.to/axi6aF