Long before I became a pole dancer, I was/am a theater artist. I’ve been performing, directing or managing productions since 2001. I am very particular about the production quality of any performance. I acknowledge that the talent, performer, and/or script should be top notch, but once you have a great piece of work to show before an audience, you then need to develop a top tier production that helps to elevate the story your performer or art piece is communicating and you need to develop a top tier production that creates the best environment for your audience. Most often, they are a paying audience.
And I personally, am a little sick, of the piss poor quality of many pole dancing/art/athletic shows/competitions/benefits/showcases/performances.
Rather than go through the slew of sub par examples I have personally experienced and have seen via various youtube videos, I’ll just give you a few pieces of advice from my perspective. My experience ranges in that I’m a performer. I am a dancer, actress, spoken word artist and more. I’m also a writer and collaborator. I’m also a director and have even worked as a producer. On top of that I’m a stage manager, house manager and even worked as an usher. On top of that I’m a photographer, videographer and event planner. On top of that, I’m also an audience member. So pretty much, I’ve worked in every role involved in a production whether its a stage play, dance show, charity benefit or corporate picnic. It’s not that I’m one of those people that thinks they need to do everything under the sun. It’s that I have the privilege of being a member of a theater company and part of our responsibility was working on every area of running that theater. We had to clean the bathrooms. We had to hang the lights and build the sets. We had to make the programs, tear tickets and co-direct the shows. So I’ve had the pleasure of working in every role!
Also let me clarify my terms.
Pole Competition – it’s a competition. There may be various talent levels or categories. There is no industry standard on judging and qualifications. Just depends on the competition. A winner is announced.
Pole Showcase – Either there are student showcases affiliated with a studio or showcases open to any dancers. The latter is very rare. In a showcase, each performer does whatever they want showcasing their current level of talent. There is usually no thematic connection between each dancer. As an audience you’re watching individual dance pieces.
Pole Benefit – It’s usually a showcase but the money is being raised for something. In a showcase, its just to show the performer, to give them an opportunity to dance before an audience. In a benefit there’s an added layer of doing it for a cause.
Pole Performance – This is sort of like for-hire stuff. Its half of what Zen Art’s does. It’s when I’m asked to come dance for a neighborhood event, or private art event. It’s not a showcase of what I can do. Its sort of like commissioned performance art. I think I’d also put Girls Next Door by Kelly Yvonne in this category too. There is a clear theme of the night but its still individual dance pieces.
Pole Show – This I have yet to see. This is what I want to see. I want to see a theatrical dance show. Not individual dancers each doing something to a theme. I want a director and collaborators to develop a concept or “script” and create a 1 or 2 hour show that tells a story…doesn’t have to be tradition like beginning, middle, end or have dialogue…or it could. But I want a pole show. Sort of like those individual yet full stories that you see conveyed in dance pieces on So You Think You Can Dance. Well more than just two dancers performing for four minutes, I want an entire dance company to perform a 2 hour pole dance show…but theatrically. This I have YET to see EVER!
Ooooh I’m making up a new category. I want to see a live and televised Pole Reality Competition Show, sort of like So You Think You Can Dance, where pole dancers dance solo, in pairs and in groups with themes and styles of dance infused with pole. And there would also be a freestyle category with live musicians and they’d have to dance to that too. And maybe there would be a category where they create a dynamic set with various props and such and the pole dancer doesn’t know until they get on stage and they have to infuse that into their freestyle. I guess its like a pole competition but a more interesting one. Someone make that shit happen!
Okay now on to my tips.
1. The Art
As it relates to theater, even before you develop the production of a play, the script must be on point. One thing the pole community excels at is the art. Even if a pole dancer is performing in the slums, a garbage dump or at Carnegie hall, the actual dance pieces that are developed are on point. Most of them. Probably 75% of the ones I see are good, with many falling into the great category. For the ones that are “so-so”, my advice would be to remember to tell a story in your piece. Connect to the music. Connect to your audience. Hire a choreographer. Be intentional about your costume, make up and hair. How do each of those things further the story of your piece and highlight the beauty of the song you picked? Don’t just do tricks. A jade is a jade is a fucking jade and I’ve seen 1000 times before. But what is your body language? What are you saying to me? Why am I not home watching the latest law & order versus watching you? Rock my world from your pinky toe to your hair strands. And for the tiny, uber tiny percentage of dancers that just get on stage and waste our time…again uber tiny. I think maybe I’ve seen 3 dances in my 3 years of pole and countless shows, where I was like, “what the fuck was that?” To the very few who get on stage and do that, stop that. It’s like those really bad auditions of America’s Got Talent. And I wonder if they know they suck or if they don’t know. And either answer kind of scares me. But again, this is tiny. I haven seen hundreds of dancers perform live and watched ten times as many youtube vidoes of dancers performing and seriously it was only like 3 times where I thought, “WHAT THE FUCK?” So overall the quality of the art being produced by the dancers, gets an A.
2. The Performer’s Environment
This goes to the directors, stage managers, producers and such. You ARE RESPONSIBLE for the environment of the dancers. They need a PROPER dressing room with lighting, with mirrors and such. And because they are dancers, they need a semi private place to stretch and warm up. And before that show starts, they need a FULL technical rehearsal to run their piece. Most often, where they are performing is not where they have been rehearsing. So they need time to adjust to the new environment. They need to test out their pole. Make sure that pole is not two feet from a wall or curtain. Do the dancers justice. They are artist. Stop fucking around with them. Maybe if you want to take it a step further, supply them with some bottled water. Make sure the show order is posted backstage throughout the venue. Take care of your performers.
3. The Venue
LORD FUCKING JESUS. <— I know, the religious people will be up in arms. But FUCK! I need you guys to stop picking shitty venues for your pole productions. There is NO excuse. Not even money is an excuse. There is no excuse that many of you are still making your audience stand for over 2 hours to PARTIALLY watch the dancers because we all know we’re missing all of their floorwork and the bottom half of their spins because only those in the front row can see it. You need raised seating. Here is an example. And here is another example. And while you’re at it, as a director, think about stage pictures and scenography. If you’re developing a pole show, you need to sit in every major section of your audience to look at the various view points. What an audience member sees sitting way in the back stage left, may be completely different that what someone in the front row center sees. I’m not talking vantage point. Its more so, say if your dancer has some important prop that furthers the dance piece and its in her left hand. What happens if 45% of your audience don’t even see the prop because of the way you positioned the dancer? Pick better venues. Make sure your audience is taken care of. Make sure they can see what’s happening. No one will take us seriously as a new and growing industry if the production quality of our major events are in a dark, shitty hole of a bar or in a rented room of a rehearsal studio with crappy fluorescent lights. Fix that. No excuse. At least not in New York.
4. The Creative Team
You need a creative team. You NEED a REAL stage manager and not just your best friend to push play on the stereo. You need someone to be the director. Someone probably needs to be the producer. Marketing and Publicity is key. Get a photographer and a videographer. Even if you can’t pay everyone, there are top notch quality people who are willing to volunteer. There are film students with access to 5D Mark III’s. There are people more than qualified to help develop and support your vision of a show. I performed in the first ever Flight Club showcase produced and directed by Amy and I was grateful for the opportunity and Aerial Amy did a phenomenal job. But as I sat backstage and watched the show, I knew there was a way I could help her. At the end of the night I spoke with Amy. She mentioned she was doing the showcase again in six months. I looked her in the eye, “Amy, you don’t know it yet, but I’m your stage manager.” A few days later she emailed me and asked if I was serious and what that actually meant. Well with both our creative and management powers, have you seen how the Flight Club showcases have developed? The production quality has increased ten fold and even still I’m not satisfied! Secure real creative production talent! Its essential to actualize your show.
By the way, my name is Sheena LaShay and I do many things but my EXPERTISE, where I THRIVE and make fucking magic is in stage management. I once stage managed a theater festival with 20 plays performed each night, where the order changed every night and there were over 100+ actors, multiple bands, musicians, DJ’s, a film crew and more and I rocked that shit. Watch one of the pieces here. And that’s one of many many many shows I’ve done. I’ve been stage managing since 2001. The last off-broadway show I worked on involved FUCKING JULES FISHER. He gave me my light notes.(It’s beyond googling Jules. This man is in text books!) And Sandy Marshall was my director. Do you know how many emmys and tony’s they have combined including their nominations? Oh yea, and on that same team was Alan Muraoka. He works on small things like “Little Miss Sunshine.”
I’m bragging but I’m making a point. Point is, get a good team of people that doesn’t just include your homeboy, your best friend, your girlfriend or your workstudy. Those people are great too and if that’s their expertise, have them all up in your show. But also, it might behoove you to get some outside, PROFESSIONAL people too. Shake things up a bit. Get someone else who has a different style of videography or something.
5. House Rules
Listen, here are a few tips when it comes to the day of a show. Don’t open your house without checking in with the stage manager. Don’t open your house without announcing it to everyone. (That means don’t let audience members in.) And if your show is running late, at about 5 minutes pass the hour make an announcement to your audience. Its COMMON COURTESY. But also, keep tech rehearsal on time so that you don’t have to start so late.
Go watch a broadway play. Go watch an experimental theatrical piece in the park. Go see a Redmoon show. (Watch this video too.) Go to the opera. Watch the guy playing his guitar on the train platform. Go see a movie. Watch skaters in the park. Go see how people perform and engage their audiences and be inspired by it all as you develop your events. All the showcases and competitions pretty much look the same. I want to seem some variety and originality. Not just in the dance pieces but in the productions and events themselves. How can we make that happen?
Half of what you’re doing on facebook, twitter, youtube, blogs and such, well frankly is sucks or isn’t engaging and doesn’t actually entice me to buy the tickets to your show. I usually buy it because one of my friends is dancing and I want to support her and I try to ignore your weird flyer and annoying update on how, “this is the best show ever.” What are you, the Ringling Brothers? (wait for it. He say’s it about six seconds into the website.) Oh and the website for your event. I’m not trying to be an asshole but honestly, for the love of god, fix that tacky shit. There are far too many FREE resources with clean and dynamic templates on wordpress, blogger, wix and more that there is NO excuse your website is just BLAH! No excuse!
8. Next Level Shit
These are a couple of my favorite performance pieces. Just a couple. I’ve seen probably close to 1000 theater shows. Okay, maybe 800 theater shows. Countless operas, ballets, concerts and such. In addition to studying theater, I spent time studying World Theater and Musical Theater in London, Paris and Berlin. I’ve seen some crazy, awesome, mind blowing shit. I want the production quality of pole events and I want pole shows to start doing mind blowing shit. Some of my favorite things that make me wonder about how to develop pole are below.
Loves Me, Loves Me Not by Redmoon.
How can we take pole out of the tradition performance spaces and place it in dynamic environments?
Juliet’s Solo by Pacific NW Ballet
Look at the dynamic scenography.
So that’s it people. I want some cool shit to happen in the pole industry. I want us to create better shows and to take care of our performers and audience members. I want us to be innovative and collaborate and blow people’s minds. What say you? This post was written for the April Pole Dance Blogger’s Blog Hop. To find out more about our theme, go here. To participate in the blog hop, click below.
FYI, the photos of me are by Laura van Schendel