One of my goals as a performer is to never become jaded with it, which is surprisingly easy, even when you're a professional sword swallower who introduces strippers. And when I hear the curtains whoosh open and get the spotlight in my eyes, I fall in love — with my life, with my work, with my audience. That is, until I see a set of expensive highlights in a trendy cocktail dress drawing a drunken bead on me, then I die inside. She's there to deliver the message that it's Jenny's bachelorette party and I should somehow make Jenny part of my show.
Is it always Jenny? No, maybe it's Debbie or Kristen or Jessie, but no matter the name this scenario always plays out the same way. Hordes of Cosmo-fueled women are here for their friend's last night of "freedom" before marrying into what I can only assume based on this desperate behavior is some sort of urban polygamy cult or cartoonish sheikh's harem, wherein she will be systematically denied all personal choice and interaction with the outside world until her inevitable honor killing death or an ATF raid frees her and it's now my job to make sure she's entertained and flattered and feted before she faces her fate.
The thing they universally fail to grasp is that if I'm standing on the stage in front of you it's MY special night. I've earned it. I've come to be here because I've managed to get a meager, pedicured toehold in New York's burgeoning variety scene by honing my skills and stretching my chops and generally gracing swanky, martini emporium-type venues from here to the Hamptons. I love these gigs; they appeal to my sense of glamour and occasion, and frankly, they feed my waifish inner-prima donna, who is just beginning to live. I was not born with an inner diva, I was, however, born with an inner high-school basket case. A deformed inner aspect nourished by years of torment at the hands of better dressed, more popular Debbies and Jessies. Sure, in the last few years, I've outwardly dressed my awkward inner self in glamorous sequined and satin wrappers and learned to trot around like I own the place, but you can't underestimate the unexplored anger I have aimed at the gangs of haughty mean girls who want to invade my sacred stage place with their sense of entitlement and lewd party favors.
Sometimes I view the behavior of the parties as the by-product of confused gender roles in a post-feminist society or I blame the shallow consumerism of Sex and the City as a cultural model, but that's mainly because I had to read a lot of cultural criticism over the years. Generally speaking, though, it's just what happens when assholes get drunk. The modern phenomenon of the bachelorette party is born of a good, if misguided, notion that women should be entitled to the same privileges as men. And while this is a good practice in terms of pay equality, elected officials and CEOs; it may not be quite the same for the Neolithic rituals of the bachelor party. There's just no female analog to getting Buffalo wings at a titty bar, so bridals parties are forced to wander the Earth looking for their equivalent. The end result is well-meaning hen parties, girded with enough sugary alcoholic beverages to float the proverbial navy that the Village People spoke of, embarking on a quest for a party palace Shangri-la that will cater to their princess fantasies. Because they offer up generous amounts of liquor and gender subversion, drag clubs and male strip revues had long-served the destinations of choice for these search parties, but thanks to endless trend-piece articles and our own damn talents; the current fashion is toward the seemingly empowered environments of neo-burlesque shows.
Once there, their behavior resembles a horde of angry peasants, only instead of pitchforks and torches they're wielding phallic sippy cups and pink boas and like any marauding horde they will not be dissuaded until they've stormed your castle. That is to say, they want to be in show biz, like NOW…and since it's Debbie's special night they somehow feel entitled to have their spotlight fantasies fulfilled on your time. It's not that I'm contemptuous of audiences in general. I love them. I think this love affair between entertainer and audience is part of the formula that makes a good performer. So much so in fact, that crowd work is a regular part of my shtick; inviting patrons up help me buckle my straitjacket or even take a sword out of my throat. I do this, however, with extreme discretion. I've learned the hard way not to pick the ones that are too excited when you ask for volunteers, they're the ones who are just looking for their big break in show business and that's often at your expense.
As emcee or interactive performer in these shows, I stand as gatekeeper between the bachelorette and the glow if the spotlight. Ultimately who is chosen to grace the stage with me, is my choice and my choice alone, no matter how loud the maid of honor's input it. Let me put that another way: if I have selected you to come up and work the buckles on my institutional-grade restraints or literally pull 19" of solid stainless steel from my delicate throat, you best believe it's because I can judge in a wink of my false lashes who's sober enough, attentive enough and willing enough to be part of the show. Now it is possible you may meet those criteria AND it's just before your wedding, but you don't meet those criteria BECAUSE you've registered for a china pattern. Your powers of pretty, pretty princess do not extend into my kingdom.
I've set this policy in stone, because in the past I've blinked. I allowed myself to be tenderhearted and in the same spirit of appeasement as Neville Chamberlain, allowed an unfit bachelorette in to my domain, because the riot of noise that was going on at her table was invading the hinterlands of my stage — and ruining the show the rest of the audience. I'm lucky to have lived to regret this, because if you screw up your part as my lovely assistant, you won't just derail my act — you'll puncture my esophagus and that's just awkward for everybody. As Betty Bride-to-Be lurched toward the stage I could see she had a bellyful of pink "martinis" and I would have a serious amount of heavy lifting to do to save the evening for everyone else in the room. Initially things went well and spiel was proceeding apace when I pulled out my sword to show the audience. That's when it happened…One of her party launched a large, surprisingly flaccid, marital aid onto to the stage, which landed with a rubbery splat at my feet.
At a moment like this you can only take a deep breath, appeal to the better angels of your nature and calmly think to yourself, "I never have to go back to high school, this will pass, if they don't accidentally kill me, these women will go away…" Following which you make a quick deal with G-d, wherein you ask to never have to the utter the sentence, "Please don't throw dildos at me, it's dangerous" aloud again and complete your appointed task. As the unblushing bride exited the stage I had to stop her.
"I'm not picking that up," I snap. "I don't know where it's been." Further observing to myself, "…or I do and I'd just as soon not think about it." Humbled, she stoops down to retrieve her dowry. I have emerged alive, if not triumphant, and relieved to be able to exit stage left without an EMT.
So, while I'm grateful and excited every time I hit the stage, I'm also wary. Constantly on the lookout for packs of mean girls with plastic tiaras, pink glitter sashes and a Donald Trump-level sense of entitlement. I hear their war chant of "It's her special night!" and my blood runs cold. As every entertainer knows, it is one thing to die onstage, it's another to be killed.
The Lady Aye is a professional sideshow performer (rare double blockhead, fire eater, escapist, pain-proof girl, sword swallower, and grinder girl) and MC, who has worked with everyone from Rob Zombie to Cirque du Soleil. She's performed all over the US, been chosen as a finalist for Stoli Originals Casting Call competition, appeared on Discovery Channel's "Oddities" & the WB's "Gossip Girl", In addition, her press accolades include USA Today, Bust Magazine and the Village Voice's Best of New York 2006. She is currently working on her memoir Pain-Proof: Becoming the Lady Aye.