A principal law of burlesque quantum mechanics* is that every setlist will appear different according to the physical and emotional circumstances of whoever is observing it. (This is because: Science.) In truth, there are no empirically good or bad performance spots (just more- or less-skillfully-crafted setlists), and being trusted by a producer to open a show is a testament to any performer’s skill and style.
There Are No Small Stripteases
There’s no point to opening a show with a ‘weak,’ ‘small’ or ‘bad’ number. (There’s no point to intentionally booking ‘bad’ numbers to begin with: though there most definitely must be differences in tone and tempo within even the most theme-specific show, any time a producer finds herself consciously burying a mediocre act in the middle of a set, she needs to reconsider her booking policies.) No, not every number is the right choice tonally or thematically to open every show; but a producer confident in the skill and professionalism of her cast will have a show full of performers who are all able to “open big.” A good producer will select as an opener a visually stunning, polished act appropriate to the show and theme, one that will immediately command the attention of the audience and make them eager for more. This is most definitely not a place to stick a throwaway act: open big, close big, and keep it fabulous in between.
(… and while we’re on the subject: Backstage Myth #242-A has it that closing a show is the ‘star’ position. While this is traditionally the “headliner” spot (if there is one in a given show), I’ve often found that going on late in a show means performing for a half-empty, wholly-drunk house. This can be as challenging as any other spot in a show.)
Don’t Throw Anyone To The Wolves
Several times I have been booked to perform my car alarm fan dance at a particular show with an audience that is usually unfamiliar with burlesque. Generally they warm to the idea very quickly, and more challenging or sillier acts such as this go over as well as the most classic ones when presented a bit later in the show. In one instance, however, so as to not have two fan dances in a row (this is a good idea), another performer’s very fabulous classic fan dance was left in the second set and my idiotic neo-burlesque ode to noise was moved to the second spot in the show. This was a bad idea: an audience that had never seen much striptease at all - fan dance or otherwise - was completely confused by my absurd commentary on the genre, and the host and next few performers had to work that much harder to regain their attention afterwards. A producer familiar with her audience and the structure of her show would better have put the classic fan dance early in the show and the neo-fan dance later on.
Balance is always key: rather than six slow numbers in a row, all the rock & roll songs in one set, or three short blonde performers in blue costumes one after another, splitting them up makes each one stand out as an individual and unique act. Even in shows with a specific theme to the music, acts, etc (all Neil Diamond songs, all clown numbers), a well-curated setlist makes use of the differences between the acts - resulting in a show that is constantly surprising to the audience, one that keeps them on the edge of their seats wondering what might be coming next.
Like any other aspect of producing, putting together an effective setlist is a skill to be learned and refined through practice. There are artistic as well as practical considerations. It can seem a fairly simple task, but when it’s done clumsily the entire show suffers for it.
Do Try This At Home
Taking into consideration all of the following elements:
• familiarity of the audience with burlesque and/or striptease as a concept
• type of acts booked (fan dance, boa tease, chair dance, neo-striptease, nerdlesque, variety acts, etc)
• music used by individual performers (specific songs, genres and tempos)
• costume colors and prop elements
• large or extensive setup or cleanup required by any acts
• any performance(s) specifically booked as a “headliner”
• time constraints of performers or staff
• anyone performing multiple times in the same show
and above all keeping in mind the overall flow of the show and evening as a whole;
craft a setlist of 10 to 15 acts that balances all these elements; accounts for performers who provide incomplete (or no) information about their acts ahead of time; leaves room for last-minute substitutions and changes; results in a seamless flow; and makes every performer feel happy, special, showcased and loved.
Keep in mind at every show that a professional producer (or her professional staff) has put thought and effort into crafting a setlist that balances many elements, not just your act. Every performer can (and should) let the producer know ahead of time if there are aspects to their performance that need to be taken into account in this respect – and every performer should remember that no matter when they step on the stage, it’s time for their star turn.
* Totally a real thing.