You will, undoubtedly, have by now read the post on ThisIsCabaret.com entitled "The shittest burlesque I've seen", written by the pseudonymous Alita O'Ginn.
It made me sad.
The central issue of the piece seems to be how tired Alita has become having to watch burlesque performers that don't reach her standards. How annoying it is to have to endure anything but the very best. It must be simply awful for her.
"Do it well or don't do it at all", she says. And here's the problem.
Yes, of course, there are many awful burlesque performers. There are also many awful comedians, newsagents, shoe designers, R&B stars and, well, everything. And yes, some of the awful burlesque performers have been doing it long enough to know better, and just seem not to be able to develop. It's the same in every art form, and it's a shame, but it's the way of things.
Most of the less good burlesque performers, though, are also the less experienced. And that's where Miss O'Ginn's opinions become something a little nastier. To say "Do it well or don't do it at all" to a newbie is to ignore the most basic and important quality of being an artist. To mature. To develop. To let one's art reflect one's growth as a person. That's key. That's being an artist.
Nobody started out fully-formed - certainly not me. It took me at least a decade to even begin to find the things that make me, me. I guarantee that whoever your favourite cabaret, burlesque or comedy performer is, they started out nothing like the person you see and love today. They started out, in all probability, shit. Or at the very least unoriginal, unsure, tentative and scared. Then, as their confidence increased, as their knowledge of stagecraft deepened, as they started to have more faith in themselves as an artist - as someone who can create - they slowly inched towards all the things you like about them.
But this process is hard. It's often painful. It takes bravery and confidence. And if there was someone rolling their eyes and saying "Do it well or don't do it at all", then that fragile confidence might well be punctured, and your favourite performer might run away back to their bedsit and never get to the glorious side of their chrysalis journey.
Miss O'Ginn seems to think that burlesque must either be sexy or funny, but surely it can so much more. It can be clever, thought-provoking, political, surreal - all the things that theatre can be - because that's what it is - a theatre form. Now don't get me wrong - I don't think those that fail to learn, or fail to take those tricky steps into originality, should be indulged forever. I take my shit very seriously, and I expect people I share a bill with to have the same levels of psychotic commitment, but people who aren't there yet have to be given a certain amount of room to try. Their artistry should be encouraged, not their failings punished.
And you know what? I've seen this happen before. A long time ago, when my circuit wasn't cabaret clubs, but was street theatre. There was a time when the established performers felt a little threatened by the influx of new performers. In response, some rules were discussed that would favour the old guard - make it easier for them to get better show times, stuff like that. The rationale was that because the younger performers didn't have such good shows, they shouldn't get the lucrative lunchtime slots. It was ugly, transparent and nasty. And you know what happened? The young performers went elsewhere and spread the word that the Covent Garden performers were cliquey, unwelcoming bullies. And they were right. The scene stagnated and the level of quality of the shows dropped. It harmed everyone.
I love the cabaret and burlesque circuit. I love that the people who make it up are open, non-judgemental and genuinely loving. When I work a stand-up club it's a very real shock that the acts don't all hug and kiss each other and hang out watching and enjoying each others work. Cabaret is different. It's a family, and like any family there are the parents, the respected elder sisters and brothers and the young sprogs and foster care kids we take in. The family that I love - and that perhaps you have feelings for too - happened because of an open door policy. You want to come and play? Cool - come play. Maybe you'll be shit and realise that it's not for you and leave, or maybe you'll become something amazing, beautiful and important, and maybe it'll take a decade to figure out which of those two things you are. We will encourage you, give you ideas, tell you what's not working and let you buy us a cocktail.
That's why the article made me sad. Not angry, not frustrated. Sad. Sad that a website devoted to celebrating burlesque and cabaret has got its highest hit count out of a piece effectively telling three-quarters of that circuit to give it up. But mainly sad because this kind of grumpy gate-keeping has no place in the cabaret family that I know. The cabaret family that I'm a part of doesn't have a gatekeeper. We want the family to grow, so we put out the welcome mat and we leave our door unlocked.