[stextbox id=”custom” caption=”the facts …” color=”000000″ ccolor=”ffffff” bgcolor=”dedede” cbgcolor=”cc0000″]Born in Texas
Moved to NYC in 1998
As of 2010-10-01, performing burlesque 1.5 years
Burlesque Q & A with Calamity Chang!
Burlesque is alive, well and probably being performed in a big city near you. Calamity Chang is one of the creative people keeping the burlesque tradition going while also making it fresh and exciting for the 21st century. Based in NYC, she has gone from novice to performer to promoter in a short period of time.
Calamity Chang was kind enough to respond to questions emailed from RiceburnerFM.
RiceburnerFM: Strip-tease artist or burlesque performer, which is your preferred title?
Calamity Chang: Burlesque uses striptease as an element in storytelling so I like both.
RiceburnerFM: What is the biggest misconception about burlesque?
Calamity Chang: That we make a lot of money. We make a quarter of what strippers make in a strip club. And I think it’s fair to say that burlesque performers have more “homework” in designing and crafting our costumes and having to rehearse a complete act.
RiceburnerFM: The old advice for public speaking is to imagine your audience in their underwear, is there a similar advice for burlesque performers about to go onstage?
Calamity Chang: I have never tried the underwear trick… I have never had stage fright myself so I don’t really use any tricks when I perform or hosting my shows. I do have to get into character before performing, and that is done through costume, makeup, and mostly mood for me. I know some performers don’t wear their contact lenses so they cant really see the audience as clearly to help them be less nervous. In some venues, the stage lights are SO bright you can’t see anyone anyway.
RiceburnerFM: What is your absolute favorite song to perform to and why?
Calamity Chang: (Link NSFW) My black fan dance to the Japanese cover of “St Louis Blues” – I love this act/song because the music has a sadness to it that is also romantic and glamorous. I know this song and “person” so well I can dance to this song with my eyes closed.
RiceburnerFM: Talk about your creative process. What goes into crafting a successful burlesque performance?
Calamity Chang: It always starts with the song. It catches my attention first, stops me dead from whatever I was doing; I listen to it and try to figure out the mood and narrative, then I work out the character and ask myself questions like, “What is the character’s reinterpretation of this song and what its saying?” “Where is this character in relation to popular culture?” or “How can I give a different spin to this song via my character and costuming?”
Sometimes it might take weeks or months before I actually begin to choreograph it in front of the mirror. I have a playlist in my iphone called “in the works” and it has about 15 songs that I am thinking and feeling out constantly. I listen to it when I’m on the subway or walking around during errands. When I zero in on one song, I’ll put it on repeat and listen to it over and over and over… This process helps me visualize the costume of the character from the outer most layer to the final last layer that will be removed. The removal of each article of clothing should punctuate moments in the song. Ideally the story of the striptease narrative should be an “arc”.
The last stage is when I sit down in front of the rehearsal mirror in my living room with full costume on and start to “feel out” this character, how she moves, what kind of gestures she makes. Is she feminine? Delicate? Or rough and dominant? Is she energetic and bubbly or does she move languidly and makes lots of eye contact with the audience? Finally, the moment to debut a new act is always so nerve-racking! But once you debut it live, you learn even more about the act! A good act is always evolving whether its the costume you decide to amp up or alter, or certain movements don’t work and communicate the message as sharply, it’s really a beautiful process. Much like designing.
A good act is always evolving
RiceburnerFM: Diet and Exercise: Is there anything special that you do to stay fit?
Calamity Chang: I don’t have a sweet tooth so staying away from sugary things is easy, but I DO have a savory tooth and things like french fries and expensive cheeses are my indulgences. Not eating out in restaurants and drinking help tremendously in staying in shape and not gaining weight – plus you save SO much money especially in NYC. I cook at home and will either saute, bake, or grill lean meats, and I love mushrooms, spinach, brown rice, tempeh, seitan! As for exercise, I really find working out in the gym very boring. I hate running – it hurts my knees. I do like lifting weights though. When I rehearse it’s usually two hours at a time, and its a far more fun and rewarding workout than going to the gym.
RiceburnerFM: You have a “day job”. How do you mentally make the switch from your day job to burlesque performer at night?
Calamity Chang: My day job is very creative (I’m an interactive art director in advertising) and everyone knows I have this nightlife career as well. As a designer, you can get away with being alternative because clients want to know they are working with artists who will give them something unique. I don’t find there’s much of a transition going from day work to night work, what I do find difficult is the transition from home to the show, going from calm and quiet to lights, people, and noise. I try to watch sitcoms for a couple of hours in bed before going to a show – it helps me relax.
RiceburnerFM: A stage kitten is the burlesque term for assistant. What was the most important thing that you learned as a stage kitten?
Calamity Chang: Staying out of performer’s way. Remembering your cues. Get all the pieces of the costume. Not be shy! Besides those pointers, I also learned how to produce and run a show from watching how the machine works!
RiceburnerFM: You not only perform in them but you also produce burlesque shows. Is it difficult wearing “two hats” at a show?
Calamity Chang: No way, I love it! Producing has opened up more doors for me than I could have ever imagined. I like having the financial leverage when negotiating with a new venue to get everyone better pay!
RiceburnerFM: In burlesque you have women in all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnic backgrounds. While the mainstream media is often criticized for a lack of diversity and perpetuating their version of the ideal woman on the general public. What can the mainstream media learn from burlesque?
Calamity Chang: Ah this question is so popular. The typical answer would be to say that hopefully burlesque will show mainstream media that women can feel sexy and beautiful without adhering to what they see on the covers of fashion magazines. But I think we should think further back. Who are the ones making those decisions of which models gets cast, what shape appears on the cover, what dress, what size – you’ll find that ironically those decisions are predominantly made by gay men – the ones in the upper echelon of the fashion world. Why they consistently pick that typical image of women to show us? I don’t know. Maybe they don’t want women with curves cause they want women that look like boys. Or maybe they have conflicting issues about body image themselves.
I don’t think “burlesque” will necessarily change mainstream media in any way. If so, it’s a slow process. The Dove soap campaign was a positive move in a new direction, but ultimately we are a commodity culture, and we want to acquire and consume. That’s what magazines, television, print media will give us unless we boycott those things on a personal level.
RiceburnerFM: Who else should people be following in the world of burlesque?
Calamity Chang: I’m playing favorites here… The Shanghai Pearl, Orchid Mei.
RiceburnerFM: Plug your projects! What can people expect from Calamity Chang in the near future?
Calamity Chang: I plan on doing more Vegas-style shows in bigger venues such as restaurants and sophisticated cocktail lounges. I think the pairing of food and nudity is very interesting and a combination that can’t go wrong. I would love to start touring with a group as well. I love to travel and to be able to perform for audiences outside of my hometown NYC is exhilarating and inspiring.
RiceburnerFM thanks Calamity Chang for her time and effort in answering all of these questions. Check out the links to see her in action, but know that the links are probably considered NSFW, also sign up for her newsletter to find out about her live appearances.
photos courtesy Calamity Chang
video courtesy youtube / americanshapewear