Facing your failure.
After many months of reflection on my time in the Boston burlesque scene, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a failure as a performer.
I do not think my performances were failures. The liveliness of the crowd during my time as a show host, the laughs my jokes received when they were delivered, and the overall approval of the audience were all proof that I’m comfortable and capable on a stage or in front of a microphone. But, in my opinion, being a successful performer is not only one’s ability to wow an audience or keep a crowd entertained. It is also the bonds you forge with fellow performers and their eagerness to work with you. The latter part of those qualifications ended, for me, in ejection and humiliation. I could point fingers and rage about how unjustly I was treated, but the blame also rests on me.
When I get excited about a project, I want to be as involved in it as possible. Much like the comic’s Beena din Ailua, when I’m around people I admire I feel the need to show them that I am as talented as they are, that I can keep up with their greatness, and that I need to constantly prove I deserve to be in their company. This can, and has, come across as overbearing and nerve-grinding to others as I try to put my fingers into every aspect of a creative project. I think I’m helping out, but all I’m doing is getting people mad at me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve done my best to keep these impulses under control because I’ve been made aware how aggravating my behavior can be.
I tried my very best to keep my overbearing enthusiasm under control during my time in a Boston burlesque troupe. I tried to remain constantly aware of my boundaries as a show host and story writer. To step out of the way when I was told to do so. To keep to my role and offer advice only when asked. I thought I did so well.
In the fallout of some very messy drama (the details of which do not belong on the internet) I was ejected from the troupe and informed that nearly every member was complaining about the very things I had tried so hard to keep under control. The revelation was hurtful on many levels and it sent me into a nearly year-long depression, the effects of which are still lingering to this day.
But why get so depressed? Why not just pick my chin up and move on to the next project? As I said, a successful performer also creates strong bonds with fellow performers. Onstage connections translate to offstage friendships; the excitement that comes from the prospect of working with someone again; creating living art that cannot be wholly replicated from night-to-night with someone who shares your creative wavelength. I felt these bonds with my fellow performers. I thought they were strong and our friendships solid.
My abrupt ejection, and the willingness of so many I considered friends to believe the rumors and half-truths of messy drama, told me that there never were such bonds. Like the success I was having in controlling my own overbearing enthusiasm, it was all in my head.
When I tried to quietly return to the scene six months later, this time as a performer and not a show host, some former troupe-mates were so incensed at the idea that they forced a producer to remove me from his show before I could attend a single rehearsal. The illusion of friendship had been completely dispelled, and my failure was complete.
Discovering you’re bad at an important aspect of a thing you love is a hard revelation to bear. Discovering your faults remain even when you’re actively trying to overcome them is an equally hard revelation. In the face of such revelations I had to make an important decision: would my failures inspire me to work harder to overcome them, or would I see my shortcomings and mistakes as irreparably burned bridges? I normally pride myself on my willingness to admit my faults and work to better myself. In this case, I really thought I was doing well, but despite my best efforts it all ended in ejection and humiliation. I saw burned bridges turn to ash, and I quit fighting.
Were there injustices and witch-hunts? Do I believe I was treated unfairly in some aspects? Are there people whose names I spit instead of speak? You’re absolutely fucking right. But it’s time to move past all that. The rage in my heart was a poison that was eating away at my happiness, and there are happy memories of my time in the Boston burlesque scene that all the toxin in the world cannot take away from me:
I was honored to be a part of Fem Bones’s fiercely unique productions. In a world where it’s easy to imitate established concepts, she dared to forge original ideas. Instead of catering to a crowd’s nostalgia or pop culture obsessions, she demanded her audience follow her visions. I will forever hold the honor of helping her write her flagship show, “Revenge of the Robot Battle Nuns,” and having the privilege of performing in it for four consecutive years.
Since it’s mostly a solo endeavor I only shared the stage with a few people during my time as a host, once as a puppet (never going to forget that, Rich). For two years I got to share the stage with Dale Stones in two productions of a Batman-villain themed show that I helped write, once playing the evil Dr. Arkham/Black Mask and once playing the hapless Killer Moth. I spoke earlier of onstage connections translating to offstage friendships, and the excitement that comes from the prospect of working with someone again. I felt both such things with him.
Shouting “WIIIIZARD!” at the top of my lungs to the delight of Mary Widow. Talking professional wrestling and heavy metal with my “boyfriend,” Meff. The long car rides with Allix Mortis. The philosophical discussions on the nature of personal connections with Karin Webb. Jane Doe helping me feel welcome as I ate a lonely dinner in a greasy diner. Drinking raw cacao under the guidance of Belle Gunz. They are gems that will glimmer in my heart until it stops beating.
This has not been about pettiness or bitterness. This has not been an attempt to evoke sympathy, because I want none. This has been about recognizing a personal failure, finding acceptance in it, and fondly remembering the good parts of a story that ended unhappily.
You don’t get to be good at everything you want to succeed at. Life is not fair and it owes you nothing. Sometimes you’re going to chase a dream and it’s going to get away from you. Sometimes, whether fairly or unfairly, you’re going to lose. Learning to deal with it is a hard but necessary lesson.
It’s time to close this book. I have others to write.