Sydni Deveraux gives advice on bad burlesque behaviour to someone dealing with an unprofessional performer…
Hello world! It’s Stripper Talk time again! This is a place where I field questions and answer them to the best of my ability, hopefully giving anyone who’s interested in burlesque some insight.
This week’s question comes from another anonymous teaser.
Dear Miss Sydni Deveraux,
My name is [withheld] and I’m a burlesque dancer and producer in [location withheld]. I just started producing my own show, so I’m not quite comfortable with the ins and outs of producing a burlesque show yet. Lately, I’ve run into a problem with one of my performers. She recently very ungracefully bowed out of one of my shows she was committed to.
She asked me to have lunch with her and a couple of her friends to discuss with them what the local burlesque community is like and how to get your foot in the door. She showed up fifteen minutes late. Then, we started to talk about our plans for winter break. She said she was flying back to [removed location] to visit her family and casually mentioned the date she would arrive back in the United States… which was a week after my show she was supposed to perform in. I was obviously taken aback and told her she would be missing my show. She didn’t even remember the date of my show, so she was very confused and surprised. I tried to be tactful about it, but I was annoyed and upset that she had been so careless. I had a really hard time booking this show and now I had one less performer.
Basically my problem is this. I booked this performer for two shows at once: the show she ended up ditching and one in the future. I now realise how dumb that idea was on my part, but I’m torn as to whether I still want her in my future show. On top of quitting this show, she acted very unprofessionally at my first show. She brought a guest backstage without permission and he stayed the entire time; she basically added him to the guest list.
Would it be unprofessional of me to un-book her? And how would I go about it? Or should I give her a second chance?
Thank you so much for your help, Sydni!
Since you’re asking what I would do – I would nix her. Seriously. Her unprofessionalism is appalling. Late? Doesn’t write down her engagements or let you know she’s not going to be able to perform? Forgets her engagements altogether? Brings random people backstage? Do us all a favour and fire her from her show. It’s performers like this that bring the whole community down. I will say, though, that it’s absolutely imperative that you let her know EXACTLY why, in case she tries her hand with other producers. This is where you get to be the professional; kind of a ‘leave it cleaner than when you found it’ kind of mentality. Perhaps over time, after you notify her of her wrongs and you see her behaving differently with other producers, you could reassess the situation.
I in no way find it unprofessional for you to cancel her booking at this point – the only wiggle room being if you haven’t set up the code of conduct that you hold your cast to. It is difficult in this business because you really want to give people the benefit of a doubt (often due to initial fondness, or genuine respect of their onstage talent); you want to hope that everyone is on the same page as us, no matter what page that is. You WANT to think that everyone already knows how you want them to behave at your show, even though you haven’t written it to them or said it out loud. It would behove you as a new producer to understand that these are little untruths we ALL like to tell ourselves so we don’t have to do the super hard work of setting boundaries upfront (I know it’s kept me up at night before).
I hope you’ll now take the time (if you already haven’t begun to) to set your boundaries with your performers; as the boss you get to tell them when to show up and what their expected behaviour is. Sending a pdf-type FAQ whenever you book a performer is really useful, and loving reminders are great and set up expectations: ‘Please make sure to mark your calendars! I expect the cast to be at the venue at 8pm, ready to rock the show’ (or whatever time it is).
“As producers, it’s our obligation to set rules to make a fair playing field for everyone involved with us. It makes our shows run smoother and performers easier to work with over time.”
However, they still get to decide how to act. Contracts, rules, memos or no. Since anyone who agrees to something can still decide to do something entirely different, find solace in that you can also decide how to act. As the producer, act decisively, be fair, avoid favouritism and stick to your guns when it comes to your rules being bent.
Someone is late? They get a written note from me explaining my policy, and if they repeat without notification I don’t book them anymore. Someone cancels or doesn’t show without an acceptable reason or notice? They don’t get booked by me anymore. If they disrespect other performers in my show or the backstage sanctuary – no bookings for them. This is like any other job; if you don’t show up to work you might get a warning, but in a lot of cases you get fired. Just because we’re mostly naked and people have a drink or two doesn’t negate that there is an obligation to perform, and there is an expectation to be paid for services.
This is the hard part of producing – telling people WHY you can’t work with them; really, it’s awful. Over time, though, if you run your ship tight, these issues won’t happen and you’ll be able to have an incredible little black book of super-reliable and wonderful talent to share the stage and what’s behind it with.
As producers, it’s our obligation to set rules to make a fair playing field for everyone involved with us. It makes our shows run smoother and performers easier to work with over time. I wish you all the luck with your boundary-setting and hopefully pushing your community to new heights!
To ask Sydni a question about anything pertaining to being a fancy lady (or mancake) in our shining world of burlesque, please email GlitterWonderland@gmail.com.