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An open letter to SF Boylesque. - Piano wire. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
The richest girl in town.

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An open letter to SF Boylesque. [Monday, Oct. 26th, 2009|12:12 am]
The richest girl in town.

I attended this past Friday's Hubba Hubba Revue: Oktoberfest show at the DNA Lounge and saw SF Boylesque's performance. I have to say that I was.... Hmm. Disappointed? Disgusted? Irritated? I can't honestly decide, but I know that neither "impressed" nor "entertained" fit the bill.

I've seen your troupe perform several times, at Hubba and other events, and I've always enjoyed you immensely. So, while upstairs in the dressing room beforehand, I was especially pleased to see three men of color preparing for an act. "Cool! SF Boylesque is getting more diverse!" And I was so excited when you were announced that I grabbed the hand of a friend who'd not seen you before and rushed to a railing on the balcony to watch.

And then came the trainwreck. I mean. Black-face? Really?

I can't speak to your intentions, and you may choose to explain them or not; that's really up to you. But I feel obligated to let you know the impact of your actions.

Your act made nearly the entire audience uncomfortable and specifically embarrassed and triggered several black people in attendance, including other performers.

Now, I'm all for work that is edgy and smart. But this wasn't the latter. No interesting message, no deconstruction of minstrelsy, no statement on being a black performer in front of a majority-white audience. Nope. It was three black men shucking and jiving.... for the sake of shucking and jiving.

I watched agog waiting for the a-ha! moment when your dancers were going to turn the act on its head. That moment never came.

And so I, like everyone I've spoken with since that night, wondered what the point was. Because making people uncomfortable for its own sake is not the mark of artistic genius. At best, it's a cop-out; at worst, it's irresponsible if not down-right malicious.

And, of course, this wasn't your show, it wasn't your stage. That stage belongs to the Hubba Hubba Revue--its producers, its cast and crew, its family. S.F. Boylesque effectively walked into someone else's house, took a big, steaming shit, and walked out--leaving someone else to clean up the mess.

Quite honestly, my first thought when your act was done was "Oh, goody. I'm going to have so many irritating conversations with white people because of this." My second thought was "Great. Jim's now going to have to deal with the fallout over something he had absolutely no control over."

And I need to say that aside from being part of the audience, I also happen to be one of the few black performers in the San Francisco Bay Area burlesque community. It's been an interesting experience over the last few years to find ways to create work that is smart, culturally-relevant and appropriate, and also thought-provoking. It's been an interesting experience to play with stereotypes and, most importantly, fuck them up. When I say I'm down with edgy and smart work, I mean it. It's what I strive for in my own performances and what I appreciate in others'. That means understanding context.

I'm hoping that this message is received in the spirit in which it is sent. Because I'd be lying if I said I weren't still pissed about it, but I'm trying to not just talk shit in public. I feel like I needed to contact you directly and let you know that you've lost fans over this, and I'm one of them.


Lauren Wheeler / Lola Vauntz

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[User Picture]From: blaugirl
2009-10-26 10:49 am (UTC)
Thank you very much for this post. I really didn't know how to feel about the performance, and I am glad to know the opinion of someone much more relevant to this issue than I am.
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[User Picture]From: sushispook
2009-10-26 01:00 pm (UTC)
that's pretty much where i landed. it was extremely uncomfortable at first, and then a sort of "well they're people of color so it must be ok" moment, but it was really a bad shellac over things and later, after the show, it just seemed really wrong and not right. i wasn't sure how to process it at the time, but after everything died down, it still just didn't sit well at all.
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[User Picture]From: shipbuilding
2009-10-26 02:11 pm (UTC)

Why do people ever think blackface is a good idea. WHY.
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From: elusis
2009-10-26 03:59 pm (UTC)
Well, I was waiting for it to become edgy or clever. I was actually kind of excited about it, seeing their costumes and makeup backstage, because I thought there would be irony in their ironic racism. Whoops.
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[User Picture]From: pantryslut
2009-10-26 04:43 pm (UTC)
Oh, sigh.
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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2009-10-26 08:53 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Just.... Grrr.
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[User Picture]From: 0ntological
2009-10-26 05:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. I really appreciate that fact that you are sending this to them AND posting it in your journal.

I didn't see the whole act, so I didn't really have any idea what the context was. I, like many others who posted comments here, was like "Um? I guess they're making a statement? Not my place to judge?" I was definitely shocked (I was literally standing there with my mouth open...)

Like you, I'm deeply concerned that someone out there is going to blame Jim. There are people just waiting for a reason, and though we all know he doesn't "preview" acts for HHR, not everyone does. Last thing we need!

I would suggest that you just point folks to this entry if they are curious what you thought. I wanted to know, and I think it's important.

Finally, can I just say that more than any other piece I've ever seen any poc do, your piece for the Mardi Gras show really felt like.... it was just some fucking awesome social commentary. Keep it up!
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[User Picture]From: rivetpepsquad
2009-10-26 07:03 pm (UTC)
YOU ROCK LAUREN. I was waiting for that flip and was left feeling "oh.....FUCK" when it never came.
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[User Picture]From: black_pearl_10
2009-10-26 08:12 pm (UTC)
It's a good thing I'm injured, because I don't know what I'd have done if I was there.

Is there video somewhere of this? I think it's time to have a talk with some folks we know who have worked with them, but I'd like to be able to see this performance so I have something to show them.
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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2009-10-26 08:52 pm (UTC)
I don't know if there's any video--our usual videographer was out of town--but there are photos. (Thankfully, most of the photogs aren't making them public.)
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[User Picture]From: elliotharmon
2009-10-26 08:42 pm (UTC)
What the crap. Any claim of ignorance is rendered irrelevant by the fact that they lied about the act.
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[User Picture]From: i_dreamed_i_was
2009-10-26 08:47 pm (UTC)

Could it be that this was some sort of "commentary" around the Hubba Hubba/brownface ridiculousness?

That's all I got.
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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2009-10-26 08:50 pm (UTC)
Yeah, maybe. But honestly it was pretty commentary-lite. And all they accomplished was to shoot themselves in the foot. Apparently they did this number at a conference for burlesque performers of color last month. I'm not sure how that went over, but at least perhaps there was some sort of context for it there. Friday night? At a show spoofing Oktoberfest? Not so much.
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[User Picture]From: dali_drama
2009-10-26 08:49 pm (UTC)
thank you SO much for writing this/posting this.

you've summed everything up eloquently, and maturely. WE needed this.

i'm completely blown away that any POC (or anyone with even one iota of social/historical awareness, for that matter) would be fool enough to pull out black-face. it's tacky, it's offensive, and completely lacking in shock value (the operant word being "value") if, and when i say if, it's a BIG FRIGGIN', "IF", not accompanied by some stellar contradictions/statements to tear apart something so ugly.

the only reason i'm not amazed no one had given them at least a, "so, uh... what are you doing?" when they were getting into makeup is because it seems everyone was equally shocked, confused, and expecting something beyond, "ha ha, we're black, so it's funny!"

black-face for black-face sake? vile.

hopefully this will not have any adverse backlash against jim, and all of the hardworking staff and performers of HHR, you all do so very much to make this show a respectable, and deservedly successful addition to the bay area.
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From: delux_vivens
2009-10-26 09:37 pm (UTC)
Have the POC involved in this said anything about why?
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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2009-10-26 09:57 pm (UTC)
Not yet. I'm still waiting for a response. I emailed them directly, and there's another conversation happening on Facebook right now. At least one of the dancers got a link and was invited to comment, but he hasn't yet as far as I know.

Edited at 2009-10-26 09:58 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: cheekytubemouse
2009-10-26 09:58 pm (UTC)
I don't know the producers of HHR, but I've heard very good things about them from my boyfriend whose band has performed at their Oakland shows more than once. I also *greatly* appreciate that they provide a platform for burlesque performers of varying age, race, and size. I feel that they do a lot of good in the SF entertainment community and hearing what SF Boylesque pulled has me right pissed off. I hope this doesn't hurt HHR too much and that word of SF Boylesque's unprofessional bait-and-switch is spread to producers of other shows/events.
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[User Picture]From: fairymere
2009-10-26 10:44 pm (UTC)
thanks for the post... i just returned from IDKE in Tucson where there was cultural appropriation up the wazoo topped off with a fat suit. so i am very interested in the ways that communities can talk about intention vs impact of performance, accountability of performers and the too-often trend in calling any feedback or commentary on performances an attempt to censor.

i was at Kaleidoscope and the piece definitely was not read this way there. it sounds very similar in costume but i dont remember there being make up. it made me think of Bamboozled at the time.

i do think that i might disagree that producers dont deserve to be in the hot seat when it comes to accountability for their stages. sure, its hard to micro-manage everything that is on a stage but i think its valid that if you see some thing at an event that sharing your feedback with the producer is totally acceptable. AND you should share it with the performers.

anyway... will try and keep up on to the response as i am interested to hear how it all goes.
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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2009-10-26 10:49 pm (UTC)
I don't think anyone actually expects a producer to walk away smelling like a rose after a performance goes wrong. That said, it's pretty damn speshul for performers to tell a producer they're doing one number and then turn around and do something completely different.

And yeah, I'm curious about how much context played into the performance at Kaleidoscope. But that's part of being a performer: knowing your audience. And this was the fourth time SFB has been on the HHR stage.
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[User Picture]From: savia
2009-10-26 11:40 pm (UTC)
I'm not saying anything new here by pointing out that racism has been the new "edgy" for a while now. And blackface is making a comeback. And actually, that last link to Bambizoozled.com (a database of blackface) is rather eye-opening for white folks like me, seeing (white) people commenting about how black people should "get over it already." Feh.

Of course, in some cases it's used to make a rather sharp and salient point, by way of making people uncomfortable, but all too often it's not.

I hope you post the response from the group, if they send one.
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[User Picture]From: parlance
2009-10-27 06:30 am (UTC)
I know it's hard to decide whether or not contacting an offending party will be constructive, and I wouldn't have blamed you for deciding not to. Thank you for sharing with us.
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[User Picture]From: flintultrasparc
2009-10-27 05:18 pm (UTC)
Wow! Fucked up!
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