Nothing Grows in Shadows
Being a new-comer in a foreign land and attempting to find a place in a new community without pissing people off or contributing to saturation was always going to be difficult. What I never considered was the new perspective gained from exiting a functional and impressively ethical community and entering a new and unknown one.
Studying psychology for 12 years has not made me an expert in anything but has helped me acquire a degree of understanding of the tension between ‘personality’ and ‘pathology’. The former can be precipitant of a dynamic and creative community that is functional and progressive. In its extreme it is a pathological cauldron of toxicity and ill feeling.
With pride I can proclaim that the Australian burlesque community, and especially the Western Australian burlesque community (from whence I came), is a collective populated with assertive, creative, ambitious, and equitable performers and producers. As is the way of the world, not everyone gets along all the time, but ‘the scene’ is largely propelled by an unspoken (sometimes explicitly reminded) consensus of fairness in business and art. Not every dispute is mediated, not every conflict resolved and there is still the occasional skull-duggery; but by-and-large we seem to be on a pretty good wicket. This conviviality may be aided by Australia’s encouraging and receptive audiences that seem to truly respect burlesque as an entertainment form, and a corporate industry that, although occasionally vacillating, feels the same… I don’t know. Sustainability probably helps keep people busy and content, but, like I said I’m not an expert. There will always be movers and shakers, cliques and upstarts, but that’s true of all society and the burlesque community is merely a reflective microcosm.
Since arriving in Canada I’ve met many wonderful individuals across a number of performance disciplines. These artists are verily kind, welcoming, and generously receptive to an ‘Australian invasion’. I’ve seen a lot of inspiring acts, and witnessed (and been lucky enough to participate in) some unique and creative productions.
But there remains an ever-present fracture.
There will always be a burlesque equivalent of the Ukraine crisis. Disputes of territory, precedence, ownership and ethics abound, as there undoubtedly is in any arts or entertainment community. Why does it feel so much more prescient here? Again, I don’t know. I don’t know the history, I don’t know either side of the story and I’m
not interested in being drawn in.
As a conscientious objector I have no desire to be conscripted. That does not mean my loyalty is fluid, but rather it is dedicated to any and all with an ethos I respect.
This all sounds very melodramatic and sensationalized. But there is a degree of objectivity upon entering a situation post-hoc and observing the cyclical settling and unsettling of the dust and the continued spit-and-fizzle of tempers, egos and EMOTIONS. Once feelings are hurt and words are thrown around they can remain there irrevocably raw and bleeding. Sometimes there is no mending and partnerships, both personal and professional, are gone for good. That’s the way of it. It happens.
This has made me wonder what the ultimate hypothetical end point could be for any community that devolves to the point of incurable toxicity. What happens when shit gets REALLY bad? What lies at the end of this rainbow is probably not a pot of gold.
If psychology has taught me anything it’s that when tempers, egos, emotions and personalities go unchecked or unmonitored, pathology ensues.
Factions, cliques, gangs, Us and Them, Them and Us. Never We.
Division breeds distraction, negativity, and exclusion. Exclusion and ostracism see a community fighting itself. Those outside of it see it, and despair. Energy expended in internal bickering and opposition may leave none left over for the fight to raise the profile and legitimacy of the performance genre, and more importantly in my mind, personal creative development.
Inclusivity is a fundamental human need at the level of the individual, as well as the community, and the lack of it is a threat to survival. Inclusivity is essential for development, progression, creativity and the inspiration of every community member.
Students need to learn from every source available to them. Seek knowledge from every avenue and take your time to develop.
Emerging performers need mentorship from as many people as they can get. Seek advice and education and use it to inform your own autonomous development.
Established performers need to be challenged from a wide net of colleagues and collaborators. Seek a boundary, push past it and create some crazy shit.
Teachers need to be inspired in order to inspire. Seek learning outside your comfort zone.
Producers and directors need equitable competition and an open discourse. Seek common ground to work together and elevate the art form.
This is probably only possible in a cohesive and supportive community. Thinking on all this I always return to one word. Respect.
To paraphrase the almighty sage of our times, Ru Paul; If you don’t respect yourself, your art and your colleagues, how in the hell is anyone else?
Respect the community
Respect your rights AND responsibilities
Respect quality, passion, creativity and development
Respect the art
Boiling it down like this might seem like reductionism… but even something this simple is often forgotten. I’ve forgotten it in the past. And despite the best of intentions in the future there will be times when emotion and indignation win out and I forget to RESPECT and instead I REGRESS. But doing this occasionally is forgivable. Returning to psychology, it’s a ‘state’ (occasional/transient slip-up) versus ‘trait’ (permanent, irreversible and unethical jerkiness) issue. States can be forgiven, traits must be amended.
Regardless of whether I like someone or not, I must remember never to dehumanize them. A conflict with an individual does not then make their work, their students, their colleagues, their productions, their livelihood or their art, illegitimate.
Don’t ostracize them, don’t ‘black list’, don’t disparage and don’t venture on a smear campaign.
Just. Don’t. Work. With. Them.
That is your (hopefully informed) choice. It is also the choice of any and all others to work with them if they want to. With the exception of cautioning colleagues of unethical or unjust practices; be neutral. Be beige.
I hope to live and work in a local and global community in which every single member can at least make eye contact, smile and say ‘hey!’ (I’ve never said G’day in my life and I never will) with sincerity.
Join me in a challenge to work with someone you’ve never worked with before. Go see a show you’ve never been to before. Hire someone you’ve never hired before. Take a class from a colleague.
Let’s just make better art. Better art leads to better respect for that art. And everybody wins.
I have a tendency to get personal mantras and reminders permanently inked on various appendages. So I don’t forget you know? I don’t know who said this but I’m pretty sure I’m going to make another terrible life choice one day and get it tattooed on my butt;
“Don’t get bitter. Get better.”
Maybe the other cheek will say;
“Get over it, and get on with it.”
Many thanks to Ruby Slippers for the gratuitous use of her beautiful photography.