5 Fabulous Reasons To Be a Burlesque Stage Kitten
What is a Burlesque Stage Kitten and why would I want to be one?
Two very good questions that I get all the time from new students.
So let’s lay it all out right here.
What Is A Stage Kitten?
Just as I talk about the “functional” and “cosmetic” when dealing with stocking peel and the art of tease The stage kitten has both a functional and cosmetic purpose in any burlesque show and therefore requires skills in BOTH arenas.
Functionally, the stage kitten is essentially the stage manager of the show. Their function is to set the stage for each solo or group act, place props and costume items where they need to be for the upcoming performer(s) and then clear the stage of used and discarded items ready for the next one. They are there to help the show run more smoothly and seamlessly between acts.
Cosmetically, the stage kitten is a cast member of the show in their own right. They are a character introduced to the audience, they are part of the banter, the presentation and ultimately they supplement the vibe of the entire production. Unlike traditional theatre where the stage manager and stage hands are dressed all in black, hidden and invisible to the audience, the stage kitten is a character who brings attention to their presence, is a part of the audience experience, bringing their own unique style and personality to the stage.
5 Reasons Why Would I Want To Be A Stage Kitten?
Depending on your interest in the burlesque world there are a number of reasons why stage kittening is worth your time. You may be looking to build your confidence, build your network or build your career. Stage kittening can help to do all these things and more.
1. Stage Time/Character Exploration
Maybe you got into burlesque in order to explore your alter ego, shed your skin of past labels, rediscover your inner vixen, goddess, or badass. Maybe you want the chance to do this without the pressure of creating a whole solo act. Being a stage kitten means you can dress up and embody your alter ego without the pressure of creating a solo act or having to hold an audience’s attention for a full 3-5 mins.
You can use this stage time to explore different personas, different pieces of costume, get more familiar with who your burlesque persona is and how they interact with an audience and, in turn, use these discoveries to inform your solo act creation. This is also a great opportunity for those who have never been on stage to get used to being in front of an audience and to get familiar with the feeling of being in the limelight.
This could be social networking in order to connect with other like-minded people in a new town, or, professional networking as a newcomer to burlesque looking to connect with other industry professionals. As the kitten, you get to interact and converse with the producer, the host/emcee and EVERY performer in the show, not to mention being recognized by every audience member, bar staff, club owner and promoter.
The kitten can get more stage time than any performer in the show so if you’re trying to make a name for yourself in the burlesque world this is a great way to get your name and persona known before you’ve even debuted. I’ve known students who, while kittening shows during their burlesque performer training, have made connections that have changed their lives in terms of finding friendship, roommates and life partners. Other students, while kittening, have built up such a following that by the time they debut they have a built-in fan base of supporters right there in the audience, rather than a bunch of strangers.
3. Venue Familiarization
If you are planning on debuting a new act, or are an out of town performer looking to perform at a new venue, kittening at that venue can really aid in settling the nerves for an unfamiliar space. You get to know the size of the stage, how bright the lights are, the vibe of the audience, the distance of the dressing room from the stage, the size (or even existence?!) of a dressing room, the sight lines, the ceiling height etc. All of these factors can throw off the most seasoned of performers if they haven’t had a chance to check out the stage space. So, volunteering to kitten a show in advance not only puts you on good terms with the producer for future bookings, but also gives you some insight as to how to adapt your act most effectively for that particular venue or even which of your acts would most suit the venue for future submissions.
4. Understanding the other roles of the show
When I trained as an actor during my BA Theatre Creation and Solo Performance, in my first year, all the actors were required to do some tech for a show, and all the tech students were required to perform in a show. This gave everyone such a huge respect for all the other people involved in making a show happen. If I, as an actor, had experience of having made a prop, I then had more respect for prop makers and maybe wouldn’t throw my props around so much and therefore take better care of them. Equally, the prop maker who has experience acting on stage, and experience of being “in the moment” with no choice but to throw the prop around, now has more understanding as to why props got trashed by the end of a theatre run and more empathy for the actor using them. MUTUAL RESPECT.
If you are looking to be a burlesque performer, you are going to rely on a Stage Kitten at some point in your career and unless you’ve experienced what it’s like to BE a kitten, you may end up being less sympathetic to a kitten when it comes to giving them instruction. You’ll know how much detailed information they need, you’ll know to talk with kindness and gratitude, you’ll understand the struggles that come up that sometimes make the performer’s requests nigh-on impossible. If you are going to rely on a stage kitten at some point in your career, it only makes sense that you should experience what that position entails and feels like, so that you are empathetic and sympathetic when calling on their services.
5. Research and Development
There is nothing more valuable in developing your burlesque performance than keeping up with the latest trends and peer creations. The first thing you should do when embarking on a burlesque performance career is familiarize yourself with what’s already been done, by who, and how. I was lucky enough to be part of a troupe when I first started in 2005 and was able to witness the other solo acts in that troupe, not just the polished acts on stage but the set-up backstage, the conversations in rehearsal about development, prop creation and costume creation. When I started hosting/Emcee-ing shows I was then privy to numerous acts per night, able to study what worked, what didn’t work, and why. Able to hear the last minute struggles backstage of “Argh! I’ve forgotten this prop!!” and then moments later see how that performer trouble-shooted the issue on stage. YES, at the very least you should be doing your research by attending shows, but by kittening, not only do you get free access to these shows but also some ‘behind the scenes’ knowledge.