True Confessions of a Pick-Up Artist!
Beginning burlesque performer Fleur de Lis talks about what it takes to help burlesque performers keep track of their unmentionables.
What does a pickup artist/stage kitten do?
It's pretty simple. You basically show up looking cute and help out the producer, emcee, and dancers. You introduce yourself to each dancer and find out if they have any special needs for their act such as props that need to be set or special pieces to look for. After they come off the stage you pick up all of their costume elements from the stage. You may have some time to interact with the emcee but mostly you just want to make sure that the dancers don't have anything to worry about except what they do on stage. It's not a difficult job but an important one and if you do it right they will call you back.
How did you come to be a pickup artist?
I came to NYC a year ago this week from New Orleans. I had lost a whole lot in the storm and spent a year trying to rebuild my business and life. After a year of that I got a wild hair and came to NYC with a suitcase, a one way ticket and $85. I knew no one, had no job and no apartment. I had done costuming in New Orleans for theater, burlesque, and vaudeville but it wasn't a terribly supportive community and assumed it would be worse in NYC so I didn't really look into it. After being in NYC for about 9 months I went on a blind date who took me to the Sweet and Nasty show where I saw you perform. I loved the show. I had always wanted to be on stage and hadn't really been "allowed" to since high school and I felt like I had found my home. I immediately went home and starting Googling the hell out of every name I could remember from the show. I found your site and started taking classes at the School of Burlesque. During a class you mentioned that being a stage kitten would be a good way to see a show and meet some people so I harrassed you until I got a spot. And the rest is history! Incidentally, I can't remember the name of the guy who took me to that show but I'd love to thank him!
Where do you do it?
So far I have worked only at Corio for Filthy Gorgeous Burlesque and the show producer, Jen, and the performers and venue have been amazing. I have met so many great performers that I admire and seen some brilliant acts. I am hoping to get involved in as many shows as possible so if anyone needs me....
What has it been like being a pickup artist for the shows?
It's great! The hottest women in NYC throwing their underwear at you all night!!! It has been a lot of fun. I've been able to go to incredible shows that I may not otherwise be able to see on a regular basis. The performers are open and friendly and really appreciate when you do a good job. It's like being a groupie and getting a job with the show. The first time I did it I was extremely body concious and so nervous I was sick. I found out just hours before getting there that Dirty Martini and Angie Pontani would be there. I was nervous that when I met them I might make an ass of myself by falling to the floor and kissing thier feet or grabbing onto a leg and not letting go. Fortunately, I held my composure and the night was amazing. They were both absolutely fantastic and put me right at ease. I was talking to Dirty about my nerves on wanting to perform and she actually said to me that I had a great body and would be great at it. I was speechless. I was standing there with Angie Pontani, Miss Astrid, and Dirty Martini and I was being complimented. That's when I knew what an extremely unusual and special community the burlesque scene is. For the most part, in my experience it has been one great big happy love in.
Would you say you've learned anything from it?
I have learned a whole lot from it. By just going to shows you do learn a lot about what is accepted in burlesque (ie everything!) and about how to put an act together. You get a lot of ideas. However, when you do pickup you learn a lot more about what happens back stage. Little things like the fact that back stage everyone is usually crammed into a bathroom stall with one mirror and bad lighting. When they get on stage they look like they have been in an enourmous and glamourous dressing room but the truth is that took a whole lot of planning ahead. I have actually come to enjoy the stares I get on the train at 6 pm with my wigs, lashes, and day-glo shadow. Also, you get to learn about costuming. I have been a costume designer for nearly 15 years. The only time I have ever had to worry about how pieces came off on stage was when I costumed "Hedwig and the Angry Inch". In burlesque, costume construction is almost more important as costume appearance. Seeing first hand the issues other performers have with their costumes has helped me in designing my own costumes.
Another great benefit, is learning the different styles that each performer has. You get a chance to see so many different approaches and it can really help you build on your own style and approach.
Do you intend to continue to be a pickup artist?
I will continue you to do it until I don't have one free night to do it! You can never see too many shows, meet too many people, or stop learning new things from doing pickup. Every time you meet another performer or see a new act it is a whole new experience. Plus, after you get to know a lot of the performers it's like hanging out with your friends and helping them out. I can't imagine a day that it will ever get boring.
What would you say to aspiring pickup artists?
I think the best way to get involved to go to a lot of shows and introduce yourself. Make sure that they know who you, how to contact you, and that you are interested and available. At some point, someone is going to need you. If you do get a chance just be responsible about it. It is a really easy job with invaluable benefits if you want to be in burlesque. Just show up on time and be there to insure that no one has to worry about their costume pieces being lost on stage. Watch each performance, not just for your own benefit but to see where the pieces go so that you can be quick and efficient and nothing gets misplaced. Respect the amount of work that went into making those pieces and treat them like they belonged to Madonna!!! You make the performers' lives a little easier and they will appreciate it. And they will remember you when it's your turn to be on stage.