My Life in Burlesque: Steppin’ to the Bad Side

I’m nervous, I texted my best friend two days before the debut of my new act. This one’s really close to my heart.

In my new act, I play a murderer.

To be fair, all solo work is close to a burlesque performer’s heart. It’s your choreography, your music and costume choices. Essentially, you’re putting it all out there for an audience to see, applaud, possibly judge. If an act’s successful, it’s all yours. If it’s not… it’s all yours. There’s a lot at stake.

Now, horror burlesque is totally a thing. Chicago has a wonderful performer by the name of Red Rum who’s transformed into everyone from Gozer to Charles Manson. It’s awesome. It’s intimidating. It’s a road I never saw myself going down.

Until last month when I was listening to Delilah. Yes, that Delilah. She closed out her evening show with Annie Lennox’s cover of “I Put a Spell on You.” Now, that song is a burlesque standard. Hell, I dance to it in A Nude Hope with Darth Vader. Nerdlesque aside, burlesque acts set to that ubiquitous tune are often very sexy.

Have you heard Lennox’s cover? YouTube that shit. Go ahead, I’ll wait. The first time I heard it, a chill ran up my spine. I wasn’t thinking about sex. I was thinking about obsession.

I was thinking about Tate Langdon.

Last year, best friend introduced me to American Horror Story. We began with Coven, which was running at the time, and segued into Murder House. I’ll confess that I find Evan Peters to be long-haired, gravelly-voiced perfection and I would gladly take him as my groom should Emma Roberts ever tire of him. But that’s another post. Hands down, my favorite character of Murder House, perhaps in the whole series, is Tate.

American Horror Story - Tate Langdon

Tate is a horrible, horrible person.

He’s also a fascinating one. For every nefarious act he commits, he makes a loving gesture toward Violet, the house’s teenage occupant who struggles with depression. Even if said loving gesture involves helping her terrorize a mean-girl classmate…

As my friend Amanda said so perfectly, Tate was written for girls who came of age in the ’90s. He’s all moody and brooding and wearing Nirvana T-shirts. He’s obsessive and “creepy as fuck” (in the words of my best friend) and he kills people and eventually fathers the Antichrist. And I still sort of hate myself for loving this character so much.

As I listened to Lennox’s gorgeous voice creeping over typically sexy lyrics, my thought process went like this:

Man, I should do a burlesque act as Tate.

There is NO WAY I could do a burlesque act as Tate.

…I have to do a burlesque act as Tate.

Evan Peters as Tate Langdon in American Horror Story: Murder House

I got to work.

I asked my sound design-savvy pal Jean Wildest to edit a clip of Tate’s creepiest monologue at the beginning of the song. I shopped for and scavenged black cotton pants, lace-up boots, trouser socks. Black bra and panties. Not a sparkle in sight, no glitter even, apart from my fave Lush moisturizing bar that gives me an otherworldly glow. (Did I mention that Tate’s also dead?) I stole one of my brother’s shirts from his teenage years. I shopped for the perfect Goth black eyeshadow. I listened to the song ad nauseum, running choreography in my head and begging my girl EV Velour to tutor me in stocking removal.

I worried every goddamn step of the way.

This was so vastly different from anything I’d done in the past. No sequins. No cute lingerie. Barely any glitter, for God’s sake. And I knew from experience that some people have a problem with this character — considering Tate forcibly impregnates a woman with the Antichrist, I can’t exactly blame the naysayers.

But there’s something about Tate that compels me all the same. Many things. I never killed anyone, but I too was a moody ’90s teen. Like his love interest Violet, I struggle with depression. I know what it’s like to be pulled into a fantasy, to embrace it with your whole heart, until it changes you to the point of almost unrecognizable from the person you were before. (Hello, burlesque.)

The act was set to go up Thursday night at EV Velour’s monthly showcase for charity. I spoke with another dancer, who was stage kittening that night, about what I needed her to do.

“See,” I said, showing her the laser pointers, “my reveal involves me putting my hands up, because at that point the cops have caught me. I need you to point them right at my heart.”

Her eyes widened. “Whoa.”

“Yeah,” I said. “We’ll see how this goes.”

Emma Glitterbomb as Tate Langdon in American Horror Story: Murder House.

It went.

It went that Thursday, as I shuffled onstage, acknowledged the audience with a jerk of my head, and plopped into my chair with a sigh.

It went on Saturday, with two friends in the audience, one of whom had introduced me to AHS. When Tate talks almost dreamily about the noble war, about his lack of feeling as people beg for their lives, I heard the audience gasp and knew I had them. Even when I slipped in my trouser socks, I pressed on. Hey, it’s what Tate would have done.

It went as, mid-act, I crawled over to a pot of black cream eyeshadow and started slathering it on my eyes and nose. As Annie Lennox crooned about obsession, possession, and putting a spell on someone, I prepared to meet my fate. Because in my own twisted mind, by killing those I liked, I was saving them from a horrible world. I was doing them a favor.

Emma Glitterbomb as Tate Langdon in American Horror Story: Murder House.

For four minutes, I was Tate Langdon.

I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced a greater sense of artistic satisfaction. Enlightenment. Triumph.

All from pretending to be a teenage boy psychopath.

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Emma Glitterbomb

Emma Glitterbomb is a burlesque dancer in Chicago. Writer by day and vixen by night, she's a proud company member of Gorilla Tango Burlesque and a founding member of Madame Hatter's Moonlight Marauders. Emma has danced with Beast Women, the Better Boobie Bureau, Festival of Flesh, the Kiss Kiss Cabaret, the comedy show Menage a Hah! and the blues band Miss Jackie and the Sass. Say bonjour at eglitterbomb(at)gmail(dot)com.

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