BEHIND THE G-STRING with MICHELLE L’AMOUR
BEHIND THE G-STRING puts the talents and perspectives of burlesque producers, promotors, designers, and everyone else who contributes behind the scenes, into the spotlight. Welcome to the inaugural column!
Name: Michelle L’amour
What shows/venues/extravaganzas are you best known for?
Currently, I’m best known for Quarantine Cabaret and UNCEN$ORED. In the past, I produced Superstars of Burlesque, four years at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, four years of a weekly show called Unbridled at Untitled in Chicago, The Wiggle Room, Pretty Funny Show, and Bare Book Club (formerly known as Naked Girls Reading)
How did you discover burlesque?
I first heard the term in 2002. I was working as a backup dancer and choreographer for a band at the time and the front man, Franky Vivid (now my husband), asked if I wanted to open the rock show with a burlesque show. I said, ‘Of course!’ very naively. I had no clue what that was, but when I heard the classic bump & grind music, I had an instinctual knowledge about striptease. It was actually something that I had been doing in the privacy of my home for a few years but didn’t know it had a name!
What made you decide to start producing burlesque?
I’ve been producing burlesque for as long as I’ve been doing it. 18 years. When I started, there wasn’t the scene that there is today. I had to create my own work. Educate the audience. ‘Expose’ them to this new art form.
What did you do before you got into producing burlesque?
I got a degree in finance from the University of Illinois in Champaign. I immediately went into teaching dance full time and began burlesque shortly after. I haven’t had a ‘real’ job my whole adult life. But, I assure you that what I do is VERY real.
Do you ever produce “regular” entertainment?
No. I don’t really understand entertainment where no one removes their clothing.
What is your first step in producing a show?
Concept and then casting. I like to have variety in styles and energies. And I like to have variety in the show, like comics, jugglers, magicians, singers, etc.
What is your favorite venue?
My favorite venue to produce in has been Untitled Supper Club in Chicago. It is a HUGE venue, 18,000 sq ft, with a 20×20 stage. A real gem. Great staff, lighting, and sound. It has all the bells and whistles.
What do you think is the ideal size venue for burlesque and why?
That’s a great question. I love performing for all size crowds, at least I remember loving it! I’ve been a virtual girl for a minute now, which has been fun. But, to your question, it really depends. I would program a show differently if the audience was 100 than if it was 500. Bigger audiences need bigger acts who can carry that kind of energy.
Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to performers? Venues?
Oh wow. So many. I hate it when performers email and give me a long list of superlatives and send me no videos of acts. I do not book on superlatives or tag lines. I book on talent and act craft. ALWAYS SEND VIDEOS WHEN APPROACHING A PRODUCER! I am not going to spend time looking up your videos. Make it easy on the producer. Remember that they get approached A LOT and the easier you can make it, the better.
Then there is the ‘wrangling of cats’. Chasing down music, bios, etc. Getting people to the same place at the same time. Any producer will understand this.
And for venues, everyone wants entertainment, but many venues do not consider what it takes to have that in their establishment. We need a dressing room. We need water. We need a clean stage..hell, a clean spot on the floor! Venues seem to think that performances just happen magically and ‘organically’.
Have you ever blacklisted a performer? Or a venue?
I do not take kindly to performers or venues that treat me or my cast with disrespect.
What is the biggest challenge in producing burlesque?
Getting an audience. It is becoming increasingly difficult to promote these days. There is so much out there. And many of us rely on our social media platforms to promote, but it’s becoming increasingly challenging to talk about anything sexy, or show anything sexy, on social media. It is very frustrating to be censored all of the time.
How have you seen the industry change? And if you could wave your producer wand and change anything…what would it be?
The industry is BOOMING. There is so much happening in every part of the world. It’s kind of amazing! I have seen the industry start to spend WAY more on costumes and make less money. That is frustrating. The supply of burlesque is plentiful and there are a lot of people that work for very little money, which makes it hard to get what you deserve as a performer. The demands for our aesthetics have increased but the compensation has decreased. The economics of burlesque don’t make a lot of sense. For example, you can spend 5k on a costume and do gigs for $150. You have to do a lot of $150 gigs to pay for that costume.
I am also seeing a lot of ‘same’. There is no one way to do this craft. Learn the techniques. Learn the history. But develop your own voice. Connection is the life blood of this art form. Burlesque is not about rhinestones and feathers. Those are tools. Burlesque is about connection and the first connection you need to make is with yourself. The better you know yourself and connect with yourself, the better you can connect with an audience.
What was the greatest mishap on your watch? How did you recover?
In live production, you can’t help but have technical issues. Our very first show in Chicago in 2003 was Valentine’s Day. We had 300 people show up. We were doing EVERYTHING! Midway during the show, the venue experienced some sort of electrical issue which shut everything down. The show paused for 45 minutes! We had to vamp for 45 minutes! That was a lot of go go. The show was able to get moving again, but it was mentally taxing. My husband and I definitely had a breakdown. I truly can’t believe that we found it within ourselves to continue. And I also cannot believe that some of those in attendance are still fans and attending our shows to this day.
What has been your proudest moment as a producer?
So many! I had a lot of pride producing the very first Superstars of Burlesque. The show was jam packed with title holders from the Burlesque Hall of Fame. It was an intense line up. All heavy hitters and headliners. Trying to make a running order for that show was so difficult because everyone was a closer.
I have also produced many student showcases back when I ran Studio L’amour, my burlesque school in Chicago that ran for 10 years. I would always swell with pride at the end of those shows. They were always so emotional and beautiful.
What would your dream lineup be…no restrictions….any time, any place…
What’s great about the quarantine is that I can create my dream line ups. I can work with people for very little overhead. I don’t have to fly people in. I don’t have to rent a venue. It’s kind of magic! I have been able to work with amazing performers all over the world. Something I could never have afforded to do before.
What’s the first thing you do once you decide to produce a show?
Figure out if I can take the risk. Producing is a financial risk if you are not getting a flat fee from the venue and fully dependent on ticket sales. There have definitely been shows where I have made zero or negative dollars. Those are not fun.
What is your biggest strength as a producer?
Communication. Producing is all about communication. I always want my cast to feel cared for and considered. I know what it is to be a performer, so I make sure to always address their needs as best I can. I also PAY people. I never have performers chasing me down for money. That is never a good position to be in as an artist. Producers, pay your performers. And if you need to be late with payment, communicate that. Communication solves a lot of grievances.
If there was one producorial function you could have someone else handle, what would it be?
Promotion. I hate it.
What do you have coming up that we should know about?
I just released UNCEN$ORED 5 and that was a huge success. I am getting ready to release a compilation of videos of my work in the quarantine. I’m excited to have this performance time capsule available to my fans. I am also producing a virtual pleasure event on March 20th called InToPleasure (www.intopleasure.com), that features five pleasure experts, myself included. Super excited about that. I also have my class, Pussy Confidence, that will begin again mid-April. I have a weekly podcast/video series called, Look Down There, where I talk with burlesque dancers, therapists, artists, etc about all the things we don’t talk about. And finally, I am working on an erotic film called Deadly, where I explore the 7 deadly sins and play every character. I see this as the pinnacle of my quarantine creativity and experience. After that, I’m taking a nap.
Keep up with Michelle at www.michellelamour.com and Michelle L’amour (@michellelamour) • Instagram photos and videos