The 7th Annual Kansas City Burlesque Festival was a dream come true for me, and I’m going to tell you all the reasons why, starting with a little backstory.
As some of you have probably read, I began performing with the Blackline Mafia fetish troupe in November of 2009. It was also a dream come true. I have a lot of dreams and aspirations, you see. You can read more about my early days of burlesque here. Once I got more involved in the community attending shows and fangirling over the ridiculous amount of creativity, I really wanted to perform burlesque. The very first act I developed holds so much meaning and so much ‘me’, that I have a goal of sharing it with as many audiences as I can. I started applying to festivals with that goal in mind. In 2011, I was accepted into the 2nd Annual Show Me Burlesque Festival with a different act, but still one that held special meaning to me for performing.
When I was a newbie performer, I had a completely different understanding of the burlesque community than I do now. With experience, and a lot of rejection, I have come to understand the nature of being cast in burlesque festivals. I mistakenly thought that if you were good enough to be cast in it once, you would always get in after that. This is obviously a terrible business-model, because one of the great things about festivals is bringing things to audiences they haven’t seen before and may well never see again. So if everyone who was accepted previously still got in, the talent would never cycle out. I completely understand staples and fan favorites, but burlesque is ever-evolving and new talent is constantly emerging. It is one of the many things I love about this art form.
You can imagine my disappointment when I not only didn’t get into my home festival the following year, but none of the out-of-town festivals I applied to either. I didn’t realize this is fairly common. An act has to be the right fit for a show, and as a producer I came to understand that. I got into my local festival as an alternate the next year though. I was placed in a small show-within-a-show which was still a big achievement for me. The next year I applied, I didn’t get in, but I volunteered and still had a great experience. Then came my next big breakthrough. The very first act I ever created, after several incarnations and a lot of workshopping, was accepted into the 6th Annual Show Me Burlesque Festival. I was blown away. The act was still rejected by the out-of-town festivals I applied for, but I was beyond thrilled regardless.
The more I thought about it though, I wondered if my goal of ever doing this act in other cities would happen. I took the next year off from applying to festivals, with all of the uncertainty of my mom’s recovery. I was still able to perform, however, as part of my belly dance teacher’s huge dance number she submitted that was a combination of her professional troupe Exotic Rhythms Belly Dance and student troupe Mosaic Fusion for her show ‘Invocation’. That was yet another dream come true, performing on the mainstage of the Casa Loma Ballroom for Spectaculaire.
I said to myself at times throughout the years “if I don’t get into a festival this year, I’m never applying again.” But the drive to achieve my goals always kept me coming back, even at the risk of rejection. I was over the moon when I was accepted to the 7th Annual Kansas City Burlesque Festival for 2017. Not only was the act I’ve been wanting to perform out-of-town accepted, but the other act I applied with was as well! I couldn’t believe that both my acts had been cast in my first festival in another city! I was seriously freaking out with excitement and anticipation. After nearly seven years I was finally achieving one of my burlesque goals.
When I made my travel plans, I did so with the intention of making this the best possible experience for myself that I could. I knew that if I brought James along with me, as much as I love him, that I wouldn’t get the full festival experience that I wanted. I initially made plans to travel with another performer, but scheduling conflicts ended up with me taking the road trip solo, which was still pretty awesome. I booked a room at the hotel attached to the venue where the festival was being held. It was expensive, even on a discount travel site. I didn’t realize quite how fancy four star hotels are. I put out a call several times to see if any performers in the festival, from my town or elsewhere, would like to share a room with me. Unfortunately I didn’t have a single taker *sad trombone.* I did, however, offer to let the Bon Bons use my room to get ready on Saturday evening since they would be driving in that day and leaving right afterwards.
I set out on Friday morning later than I had planned to, after a panic swept over me for how much I had yet to do. I had pre-packed what felt like half my apartment the night before, but still had more things like snacks to pack the day-of. I set out on the road just after 11am and headed west. I didn’t get much sleep the night before due to excitement-driven anxiety. I was feeling sleepy in the midday sun. I pulled off to get lunch and rest. Just after I was back on the highway, up to full speed, I saw a bird flying erratically in my peripheral and then BAM smacked across my windshield right in front of my face. A white smear indicated the bird was just as scared as I was right before the impact. That woke me up. I guess I could say that a bird sacrificed its life for my road trip.
When I got into KC I was mesmerized. I had only been once before, on a vacation five years ago, where James and I attended a comedy show at Standford’s, a drag show at Missie B’s, and a burlesque show at Uptown Arts Bar. We also went to the KC Renaissance Festival, Coco Keys, and Schlitterbahn. It was a magical vacation. But this trip I wanted to have an adventure on my own. I was certainly having one from the moment I arrived.
After getting checked into the hotel, venturing deep into the maze of parking garages, and finding my way back to my room (which was, hilariously, #1234), I opened the window to see my view: the Liberty Memorial and WWI Museum beyond the lush park, and the hotel pool in the foreground. I found out from the bellhop who brought up my luggage rack (which was ridiculously full) that the pool was heated and open year round. What?! I brought two swimsuits to take advantage of the jacuzzi tub, but I had no idea I’d be able to go swimming. It is seriously one of my favorite past times. More on this later.
I found my way to the Musical Theater Heritage inside of Crown Center where the festival was being held. I actually set a timer to walk there to see how long I had to get to my room and back. This really came in handy later, and even though no one ended up sharing the room with me, I’m very glad I booked my room there. Speaking of which, one the perks of rooming by myself was that soon as I got back, I stripped down and spent most of the rest of the time in the room naked. That is my preferred state. I was incredibly nervous, especially realizing I hadn’t left myself nearly enough time to get ready. Shower, hair, and full-face done, I headed back to the venue to check-in. Once I had my badge and a walk around to see the layout, it dawned on me I hadn’t eaten dinner at all. The show was close to starting and I had just enough time to dash across the street to get a bowl of soup. After I was finished, while washing my hands in restroom I looked up in the mirror to see a bright red stream of blood coming from my nostril!
I haven’t had a nosebleed in nearly 20 years, but some combination of factors (as I would discover the next day, a lack of Vitamin C) deemed it necessary to delay me from the opening of the festival I’d been looking forward to for months, if not years. Several tissue changes later, I decided to embarrassingly find my way back to the show, already in progress. I sat down in the performer’s section, leaving an empty seat between the person next to me, because I was still bleeding from my nose. What a first impression! I explained at intermission to her why I did that, but at least I struck up a random conversation! The reason I decided to leave my lovely husband at home is because, as I told many people that weekend, I am an anxiety-riddled-introvert and often use him as a buffer. If he had been with me, I wouldn’t be forced out of my comfort zone to interact and network with other performers. That is one of the things I love about burlesque festivals, is making those connections and forming those bonds. Friendships are forged in the glittery tornado that is a festival. One friendship I made was with Frenchie Renard. She is a magical creature of wisdom and sass.
Even though I missed the first few, I saw so many fantastic performances during the first show. Another thing I love about burlesque festivals is the diversity of performances gathered in one place. Each festival has a vision for what they want to put on stage, and I’m honored to have been included in this one. Between the shows I had to make two trips back to my room to get what I needed for my act, because one thing I now use is a very heavy restaurant chair. I bought it for acro but it looks nice enough to use for anything on stage. I was even able to lend it to another performer during the show. Backstage I donned my costume and locked myself into the the collar of my yoke. I could feel my heart thumping in my chest and tried my usual technique I’d learned in a workshop at BurlyCon to center myself. The emcee announced me, the lights came down, and my song began…