In the words of Gypsy: 'You Gotta Have a Gimmick' 1

In the words of Gypsy: ‘You Gotta Have a Gimmick’


Performers backstage sharpening their skills at the World Burlesque Games 2014, Photo by Joanna Kor


Glaswegian based Cabaret artiste Markee de Saw explores the role of having an edge in your performance with one of the oldest tricks in the book… The gimmick!

A gimmick is defined as a trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or trade and where else, but in the performance industry would this be a valued asset?  


Ivizia Dakini burns bright at the London Burlesque Festival 2015. Photo by Captured by Corinne.

The gimmick has been a long-standing part of burlesque’s history.  Look at Satan’s Angel and her fire spinning nipple tassels, Josephine Baker and her banana bikinis, Sally Rand’s Fan Dance and Balloon Bubble, and Gypsy Rose Lee and her use of intellect.  And of course the queen of gimmicks herself, Zorita with her half man half woman act, her spider web strip and her use of boa constrictors.

A gimmick, which my no means is a necessary aspect to a performers oeuvre, it can be a simple and effect way to attract attention, especially in our currently blooming and bustling industry.  As a cabaret artist working primarily in burlesque, I found the use of a gimmick to be an integral part of my act.


Markee de Saw Photo by Eilidh Kennedy

I consider myself foremost to be a singer.  I’ve had private tuition over the last 14 years in opera, a bachelor’s degree in theatre and music studies, and several postgraduate degrees in the same.  I take my voice studies very seriously, and 9 years ago I decided to venture into musical hall and cabaret with it.

I boldly walked up to a promoter and told her I wanted to perform in her show.  I told her I was a singer.  She looked at me and said they already had singers.  I tried to explain that I wasn’t just a singer, I was a singer, but instead I became desperate and blurted out ‘and I can also play the musical saw!’ Now, this was a bit of a white lie, I could play the saw, but not well.  I could get a note out of it, but I couldn’t play a tune on it.  

However, I was booked instantly. This was the birth of Markee de Saw.  A mix of my birth name ‘Markee’ and ‘de Saw’ as a play on the ‘Marquis de Sade’ and my new found gimmick.

When it came time to perform, my musical saw playing skills were poor, but my true skill, my voice, won over the audience and I was subsequently taken on as a resident singer. Luckily the past 9 years have turned my gimmick into a genuine skill, and I can now consider myself a skilled musical saw player.   


Markee and her singing Saw. Photo by Mark Liddell

I am very aware that the majority of the bigger gigs I have gotten, have been because of my musical saw, and not for any other reason. I am one of the few musical saw players in the UK working in cabaret and burlesque and I know the value this has to me.  However, the danger with a gimmick is it can sometimes overshadow you.  Most people will remember my gimmick before they remember anything else about me.  The first comment out of anyone’s mouth after they see my set usually is about my saw.  


Sirode making an impression at the World Burlesque Games 2015. Photo by Eyesolar

So if you are thinking of adding a gimmick to your act, choose wisely.  Make sure it is something that compliments your persona and what you already do.  You’ll want something that you are happy for people to remember you by.  The more unique or impressive your gimmick is, the more power it will have (and the less likely someone will steal your idea!) And find something that you won’t get sick of maintaining because it is likely that once people get to know you, they will always expect you to do it.


Foxy P Cox and her wow factor at the London Burlesque Festival 2016. Photo by Eyesolar.


You also want to make sure that you don’t rely on your gimmick at the expense of your main act/skill.  Gimmicks are usually short-lived attention grabbers, if there isn’t something to back up your gimmick, then it is easy to loose your audience.   Sally Rand’s and Josephine Baker’s gimmicks worked because of their background in dance, and their near nudity.  Gyspy Rose Lee’s intellect worked because of her wit and over-whelming charisma and stage presence.  

So do something special, anything that’s fresh’ll, Earn you a big fat cigar…or something like that.


Markee de Saw has graced stages on both sides of the Atlantic. She is a classically trained mezzo-soprano, with several degrees in Music and Theatre Studies. She is also a highly skilled Musical Saw player, having been trained by an old friend from Chicago in the back of an abandoned schoolyard. She is commonly known as a good time girl, brazen hussy, and classy lassie depending on the weather.

Visit her Fanpage HERE 

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