New Performer Tips: Thinking Big!

We know that, in everyday life, the motto is ‘less is more’. We all want to look naturally lovely, with beautiful barely there make-up, hair flowing naturally, with a gentile persona but when it comes to hitting the stage, that just isn’t going to cut it! You want that back row to see you, your props and your actions whether they are 10 feet away or 10 blocks away (you never know, they might have binoculars!). As The Melvins frontman said ‘More is more!’ Yes, it definitely is! Well, you want to back row to be able to see you, don’t you? 


Big Persona

The first thing the audience will see is you. And you just slipping onto the stage with your head bowed really isn’t going to grab their attention. They have paid to see a performer make them fall off their seats with excitement and their expectations are high. You deserve to be on that stage. You have rehearsed your routine for months and know it inside out. You need to make a big, confident entrance that is going to grab them and give them a right shaking! So take a deep breath (don’t forget to breathe out before you step on stage, aside from dying of asphyxia, breathing out makes your body relax, if you don’t breathe out before you enter the stage you will be holding yourself very tense and rigid!), boldly step out in your character, with your head held high.   (pic of Lady Lolly Rouge at our Clwb Kaboom! show by HA Photography)

Big Hair

So you wouldn’t normally pop a load of traffic-stopping hair adornments into your barnet when heading out but when hitting the stage that is exactly what you want to do – stop the traffic, stop the audience talking and see their jaws drop to the floor with just how awesome you – your big stage persona and hair are! One of the worst acts to see is someone that has a polished routine, lovely costume but they’ve not thought about their hair, which hangs lanky around their shoulders and causes a shadow acorss their features while performing. Remember this: while other art forms on stage might permit the natural look (we’re thinking belly dance, understated and minimalist theatre, etc) burlesque is an excuse to go wild. In fact, you must go wild. It’s burlesque law. There are loads of tutorials on youtube on how to pin hair up (pinning hair up will lose shadows that the lighting may cause across your face), and then go wild with pinned in accessories – the world really is your oyster – and depending on your character and scene, you may choose to pin oyster shells, pearls, flowers, ships, jewelry – jesus, we’ve even seen a helicopter put in an updo!

If you feel your hair isn’t quite going to cut it, get a wig! you don’t have to spend loads on a wig, a cheap (non-very shiny and obviously synthetic one will do) wig, dressed, pinned, sprayed – you can even sew different bits of hair, flowers, foliage into it – will go a long way into creating a big impression. Think big.

If you can’t get ahead, get a hat! Big hats are great as costume pieces (just remember a big peak will cause a shadow across the face, though, unless you wear it pushed back a bit). Depending on your character (again, that golden rule – all these tips must fit into your act’s character or on-stage created persona!), you can make these as big as you like – from a victorian bonnet to a massive headpiece. Just remember your act content must match the scale of your hair – no point thinking big about this if your routine doesn’t have the substance to back up this statement (you don’t want to be known as the headpiece with a dull routine).

Big Make Up

It’s time to get out all those pallets someone gave you for for christmas that you hid in a draw because you were afraid of the colours, a big act demands big colours. A big stage demands big make up and lighting will effect your colour choices, even bleaching out your normal, everyday make-up. Again, more is more! A lighter-coloured base, set with a translucent powder is an ideal canvas for experimenting with your stage make-up – and do experiment with a style BEFORE you take to the stage! Going wild with make up for the first time just before you hit the stage is not a good look. Think of the basics (and one look at ballerinas on stage will tell you what these are) strong eyes, strong eyebrows, strong lip and contoring.

Big eyes start with false eyelashes, to emphasise and to make you look lovely. Liner on the top (and bottom under lash line if you like). And yes, even if you are naturally blonde, you will need to darken your eyebrows for stage, as you will look eyebrowless, therefore older if you don’t. Remember about the back row – they need to see your expressions and your eyes are a big part of that. Lips will look a whole lot more luscious if you colour them (pat some glitter on top for a really eye-popping effect!) Some performers like to highlight cheekbones, brow bones, collar bones and cleavage – you can get some great highlighters out there – but if you don’t want to splash out loads, a pearly white powder will do the trick, and some performers like to contour – shade their cleavage, hollows of their cheeks and temples. Also a blusher in a pinky or peachy shade, applied a bit darker than normal will stop you looking one dimensional. Remember stage lights will bleach your normal level of application so go in a bit more heavy handed. Also remember the choice of stage lighting – green will make red lippy look black, blue will make you look ghostly… (check out our lighting tips for performers here: ) Also, a good tip here is take pics of your make up trials so you can compare.

Make-up bag essentials: 

  • Lipstick
  • Glitter (of all kinds – cake glitter if you are doing your face, any grade craft glitter to accentuate the movements of your body) and body oil/ Lush massage bar to set (put on pasies BEFORE applying this to your body)
  • Eyebrow pencil
  • False Eyelashes – the less natural looking the better
  • Copydex (for attaching the eyelashes – same stuff as the expensive eyelash glue!)
  • Eyeliner
  • Colours of your choice
  • Translucent powder to set your make up, prevent shine under the lights and camera flash
  • Wipes for any quick changes/accidents

Big Face

Yes, you need a big face! Before you start panicking and wondering how on earth you can grow your face bigger, we’re only talking about facial expressions. Remember that the sultry, downward gaze or subtle coy look in magazine – or even on TV – will not translate on a stage. Bigger is better. Bigger facial expressions show the audience how you are feeling on stage (obviously in the context of your on stage persona or character – we’re not asking you to show them ‘Bloody Hell! I’m freaking nervous!’ of you are!). Think of a range of emotions that you will use in your routine and practice how they look in a mirror. Are you using the whole of your face? if not, do it! A great exercise before hitting the stage is to run through the vowels using as much of your facial muscles as possible.

Big Costume

…And by this we don’t mean having a pantomime dame type cacophony that would take a team of six horses to haul to the venue. Small can be big too! By big we mean, will get you noticed. Sequins, feathers, beads, colours that clash violently – all these will make your costume larger than life.

Big Props

Also, we don’t mean one that has to be airlifted onto the stage! But it is common sense, a small prop the size of an egg will not be seen by the back row – you may as well mime. Be sensible and thoughtful about your prop size. And do not be tempted to fill the stage with props that you only waft at for a second in your routine. With props, less is more, a lot more – and one thoughtful prop that will be seen by the back row is better than a whole load of small props that are only used for a secord. Also remember it’s how you use the props. You need to make your actions big, and be confident with your prop, from how you pick it up (give it a pause to show off what it is or to let the audience register what you have just done before you start using it) to how you dispose of it. There’s nothing worse than wishy-washy prop usage. If you have a prop, commit to the prop and bloody well own it, don’t let it own you!

Big Arms

No, not weightlifter’s arms, but arms that are bold, strong and confident. Confident arms are the sign of a confident performer, and one of the first things an audience notices with a routine – if your arms aren’t properly energised and engaged the audience can tell a mile off. If your arm is up, engage every muscle, feel it from shoulder to the tips of your fingers. Own your arms! Sounds hilarious, but an arm casually hanging there, and not engaged in the moment looks terrible. Think of how it would look in a photograph. Being onstage is like thousands of those photos tagged together – remember every second you are creating a theatrical picture.

Big actions

Ditto what we said above with your actions. Big, confident, beautiful. Own the space, cut through the space. also, remember that point again re magazines and tv, small actions are really not going to make a great performance on stage. You want the back row to see you. Think of it like waving through a crowd of people at the train station to a friend that you must give an urgent message to – so they really need to see you. Your on stage message is very important.

Big Music

No point causing all this fuss if your music is a wishy washy track of an ubsure artist… You may be as big as you like but it’s all got to gel.

Big Finale

So you have your big entrance, your big costume and persona and big delivery, you need your ending to knock the audience off their seats, to cry out for more or just to stun them. Think of the ending as soon as you create the routine. What is your punchline? Is it on your pasties or merkin? Is it something that you have been ‘looking’ for as a character in your act but find at the end? Is it an explosion of confetti (remember aim up not on the audience), a glitter pour (remember, aim on your angled body, not your face, as our Lilly has done – glitter avec eye and mouth is not pleasant) or is it your winning personality and charm? If a pastie reveal, do this towards the end of your routine – leaving ages at the end after you’ve revealed is like telling a joke and trying to still tell the joke after you have told the punchline. Does the song end with a bang or a fade out? Walking off to a fade-out is difficult to achieve the same crisp finish as a song that ends with a big finale. Besides, you want to take a bow for all your hard work, don’t you? Which leads us to…

Big Bow

Yes! The audience are cheering, and as tempting as it is for a new performer to rush off stage in a flurry of excitement, the ‘YES! i DID IT!’ euphoria, you need to take a bow! The audience are thanking you for what they have seen and it also gives a pause of clarity and looks professional if you acknowledge applause. Practice how you will bow – some performers have a signature move or throw a kiss out to the audience. then leave the stage confidently, head held high and still in character!

Finally… Big Pat On The Back! 

You deserve that! You went on stage, owned the space, entertained the audience, now it’s time to reap your rewards!

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