A professional MC with a personality as big as their mouth is truly an asset to Burlesque shows and producers the world over – but why are they so often overlooked?
We set our own resident ‘Mistress of Ceremonies’ Lucinda Panties the task of nailing down just why
she should keep her job… every burlesque show needs to make sure they have a compere without compare! She kindly offered to thrown in some advice on how to care for your MC too, without us even asking – pretty sefless.
The obvious – a good MC gives your show a ‘face’ – a personality!
Without one, you’re asking an audience to sit through act after act after act with no common thread or ‘down time’. Don’t get me wrong… the burly girls are the true masters of the stage, and after all, they’re the ones the punters have come to see, but sometimes pretty girls just ain’t enough! (Okay who am I kidding, they’re always enough, but just play along guys).
Consider the ‘fingerprint’ of your event, troupe, or performance style – what makes you different to the others? MCs can give a show that unique identity that we’re all trying to carve out in this industry! Having said that, an experienced MC should be able to adjust and change to meet the needs of each show – a wild, wacky, foul-mouthed compere who can’t tone it down for a slow, sultry, glamorous show isn’t giving the show the tone it needs!
Many MCs have different characters they pull out – such as LVC’s own Chet Broadway/Kasey Carson (two sides of a wonderfully talented coin). In my own practice, I’ve either toned Lucinda up or down, or abandoned her altogether according to the needs of the show.
Want to know how to make the most out of your MC’s talent? Let them know what they’re being booked for! Many MCs work on little-to-no background info – I’ve spent many hours googling bands and performers so I can cobble together intros from their website bios – this in itself isn’t too difficult to work with, but at least a heads-up as to the style of show, audience, and acts will always help! Make sure your compere knows what fingerprint to give your show.
They tie up loose ends, or loosen tight ones.
Ask any burly girl and they’ll tell you (hopefully – I am really just making this up) that as awesome as their time is onstage, sometimes it can be lonely up there. When nothing’s going your way in an act – whether it’s tech problems, an unenthusiastic audience, music issues, or one of the many dreaded costume malfunctions that torture even the most seasoned professionals, sometimes it’s good to know you’re not alone onstage.
Whilst girls who are trapped inside stubborn, tightly-laced corsets can approach audience members for a little ‘help’, there’s never the guarantee that they’ll know how to release them, or that they’ll even help. It wasn’t so long ago I witnessed a prudish audience member refuse to take a glove from a performer! What a way to leave a gal hanging – but she dealt with it with finesse – removing it herself before chucking it right at the audience member’s face. It’s times like these that you can count on your friendly neighbourhood MC to help out, with the added bonus that they can totally act up and play along, as if the whole thing was planned! Ideally a good MC should be able to think on their feet quickly enough to tie it in to their next announcement or even the act itself.
The whole thinking on the feet thing helps performers out also when the malfunctions have happened before they even step onstage. I remember once just as I’d announced a performer, a stage kitten’s head popping out of the curtain whispering those chilling words “stall it! She’s not ready!” – trust me, nothing freezes the blood faster. Luckily it was a marine-themed show and I’d memorised a dirty joke about an octopus in preparation for this exact scenario. Actually, you burly girls want some advice? (Course you do). If this ever happens to you – see if you can get the stage kitten to whisper how long you’ll probably need! If it’s just doing the buckle on a shoe (30 secs), or if it’s more of a 3 minute job (lipstick smudge, pincurl drama, backstage catfight, relationship breakdown, explosive diarrhoea, etc), it makes all the difference to the poor schmo out onstage sweating and jabbering on about an octopus! (Check out more goss on this on YouTube!)
MC or Roadie? Why don’t we have both!
That’s right, at the end of the day, whilst you may have hired us for our big mouths, don’t forget we’re also a set of extra hands! It’s all well and good to have performers announce each other with a mic backstage, or ask the hot bearded barman to do it for you, but who will help you carry your bedazzled jackhammer prop back to your car without dropping it? Sure, you could ask your boyfriend to carry your 3m custom-made rhinestoned feather fans, but do you really want to entrust them to a guy whose only recent contribution to your relationship has been a growing pile of moist towels on the bathroom floor? No! Let ol’Lucinda take care of them for ya.
In all seriousness though, it’s always good to have another person backstage to lend a hand, to help pack up after the show, or to keep an eye on valuable props or costume items tossed into the crowd. Having your MC call for those lost gloves to make their way back up the front again, or point out the face of the thief in the police line-up (or alternatively to bash that face up in the car park after the show) can be invaluable help. The most recent example I can think of was making an emergency run to the servo down the road for ice during the Perth International Burlesque Festival!
They can actually pronounce French names properly.
Take it from LVC’s resident French Grammar Enthusiast: Yes, the ‘T’ is silent! No, you can’t call a woman “mon cher”! Seriously, if someone’s going into a line of work that involves a lot of froofy fake French names, they need to work on a bit of pronunciation. Nothing sets up a glamorous classic striptease in a more confusing fashion than an Aussie intro. I suppose this comes back to the ‘character’ element I mentioned above – nothing wrong with a super ocker Aussie stage character, as long as the MC can ditch it for a gig if the producer calls for it.
They show up early, they introduce themselves to performers, and they include them in any decision making processes about their own intros!
When I first started at LVC I went around and introduced myself to each and every performer – I worked hard to remember both real names and stage names, and regular faces and stage make-up faces (not as easy as it sounds). I asked them for bios, act info, and any other information that would help me out. These days I ask them the gist of the act, and any special instructions and the gals just look at me with awe and admiration in their sparkling eyes and say “Oh Lucinda, whatever you think is best – I trust your judgement – without you, I wouldn’t be where I am today!” or something like that.
On the other hand, sometimes I MC non-cabaret events (crazy I know), and my fellow comperes simply regurgitate performers’ website bios – nothing is more boring! A good MC injects some sass and interest without it detracting from the performer’s act. At a music festival a few years ago the members of a band “convinced” me (money may have changed hands) to dub their singer a ‘teen heart-throb’. I obliged, much to the chagrin of the singer, who was immediately showered in training bras thrown from the audience. Not even joking.
They have some sort of background in public speaking.
From the second I witnessed my first burlesque show, I was hooked. I loved it. I lived and breathed it. I attended religiously, and I knew I belonged on that stage – it was my calling! I’d trained as a child, I’d worked hard, and I knew it was right for me. That’s right – all that experience in public speaking was finally going to pay off (I sure as hell never wanted to be a burlesque performer!). I’d always participated in public speaking at school, and had emceed my school music concerts – it was totally a natural progression for me, and I got picked up by LVC after literally one burlesque gig. I’d like to think it was because I approached my role as a serious one – it wasn’t a ‘second best’ prize because I’d failed as a dancer, it was my job and I was made for it! Like any job, if you’re not doing it without that passion, that fire in your belly, you’re doing it wrong. A burlesque show is a high-energy, high-intensity event, with lots of attention and lots of spark focused on that stage. Someone standing there stumbling through words and avoiding eye contact with the audience is not someone who should be in charge of keeping the event flowing.
They’re a valuable tool! (As opposed to just being tools)
Performers: When you have a good MC, you have at your disposal a way to communicate to your audience what to expect when it comes to your act – use it! LVC’s Lola Moore has a popular White Rabbit act which involves a very shy entrance to the stage, only completed once the audience has given her the encouragement and cheering required to entice her onstage. I don’t know what would happen if the audience didn’t realise their role here, because no MC at a Lady Velvet Cabaret or Lucha Royale show has forgotten to mention that in this act Lola is ‘very shy, and needs some encouragement to come out!’ – I imagine an audience not aware of this would wonder why the performer was poking her head out from the curtains, looking terrified, and hiding again, or perhaps an audience not paying attention may not even see her poking her head out at all! Bottom line: You choose how your act is presented to the crowd – use the tools at your disposal to maximise the impact of your performance and ensure its success!
Producers: When you build up the profile of your resident MC just as much as you do your performers, you are creating yet another drawcard for your troupe or show. When you give your MC credit, a page on your website, or remember to include them in the cast bow at the end of the show, you are building an ally and a loyal performer, as well as a reputation for caring for your artists! When you select an experienced and popular MC to host your show over a less experienced (read: cheaper) amateur MC, you are improving your reputation with audiences – the ones who are obliged to sit and listen to them waffle on for an hour or two. Bottom line: choose a talented waffler and treat’em well!
They’re a team member.
And I mean they’re a member of the whole team. One thing that all performers, staff, producers and promoters should always remember is community. It’s something we all need to remember! In this industry, clique-ishness and diva attitudes can quickly ruin a reputation that took years to build up. Burly girls who act like divas backstage, stage kittens who hog the spotlight, promoters with nasty attitudes, stubborn and unhelpful venue staff, all find themselves running low on work after word gets around. What you want from an MC is what you want from anyone involved in the show – teamwork and a positive attitude. You don’t want to find your MC sitting backstage bitching with the dancers, you don’t want them talking down to the tech staff, or failing to help promote your show on social media. Your MC should be doing their own sound check, introducing themselves to the sound staff (why piss off the guy in charge of your mic?), being kind to support staff, and professional to audience members during intervals or after shows. This is clearly a no-brainer, but sometimes it’s amazing what we put up with when we lose perspective and forget to hold everyone to the same high standards that we always try to meet!
Prompts – an argument for and against.
There’s no Compere Club where all the burlesque MCs hang out over martinis and discuss the finer points of their art (or if there is, those snobs haven’t invited me to it, so maybe you shouldn’t be taking my advice at all), but if there were, I imagine we’d all spark up a heated debate about the use of prompts, as we sat around the fireplace sitting on leather couches getting steadily more drunk, being served dolmades by pool boys in glittery shorts. ‘Look’, I’d say, flailing my arms and spilling some of my drink on the nearest pool boy, whose hands are full of dolmade platters and as such unable to wipe the liquid trickling down his sculpted abs, ‘I am clearly the most impartial judge here!’.
‘Why is that?’ snort my successful male colleagues (that’s right – you ever noticed that, huh?).
‘Because! I have seen both sides of the coin here!’.
And it’s true. I’ve seen MCs stand onstage in front of hundreds of people consulting A4 display folders with their scripts inside, and I’ve seen MC Savants memorise entire shows from opening night right through the season. 99% of my material is made up on the spot depending on how the audience reacts to me, but there are always key facts that must be remembered. If I’m sitting backstage/side of stage in between acts and have the luxury of consulting a running order after each act, then I simply memorise my key facts for the next performer and check each time I return to my seat, but if I don’t have this opportunity, I may use a small card to prompt me or scribble “Miss Fifi le Fleur the Fiery Fiesta Princess of Featherton” or even write on my hand in pen – what with the increasing number of elaborate stage names to remember, I never want to get caught out standing onstage having just forgotten which girl’s up next. I’d like to think this position is somewhere in the middle of the imaginary debate at Compere Club, and that it is a balanced opinion. And since no one’s willing to take on the Compere Club Sexy Pillow Fight Champion for three years running, there’s no one game enough to argue with me. Bottom line: an MC should be experienced and competent enough to not have a big printed script steal the limelight.
They’re in it for the glory!
This may seem counter-intuitive, as I have painted (or attempted to paint) a picture of the ideal MC being a humble, hard-working team member who’s willing to admit that the performers are the ones the punters want to see… but at the end of the day if your compere isn’t in it for the glory, what are they in it for? Are they a burly girl on hiatus who misses the stage (or isn’t talented enough to dance on it)? A wannabe doing favours and working for free to get a foot in the door? Or a performer’s boyfriend whose only qualification is a pleasant speaking voice and a low pay rate? Your MC needs to want your troupe or show to succeed just as much as you and your drawcard performers do. If their goals match your goals, then the previous 9 points should be completely null and void, because a compere is just another performer in your arsenal, and their desire for success will motivate them to meet each of those standards. If your MC takes their career seriously enough, then they will work on their pronunciation, they will work hard to develop different characters and memorise words. They will spend time researching performers and crafting speech that keeps audiences engaged, entertained, and enthusiastic! A proud MC will work tirelessly to build their reputation and won’t hesitate to be a friendly and involved team member who is respected by their colleagues. If their career isn’t something they’re willing to pride themselves on and work hard for, why are they in your show? You wouldn’t accept a burlesque artist who wasn’t willing to work hard to succeed and improve would you? Course not! And yet sometimes it seems that producers leave the role of MC as an afterthought – what a mistake. When one person has the potential to be the glue that holds your show together, you want them to be truly super!