Nasty Canasta: Time To Put Your Glitter Where Your Mouth Is

If there’s one thing a 10th anniversary inspires, it’s decadent* introspection. Having only recently celebrated my own Aluminum Anniversary in the ecdysiastical arts, I’ve been just full of Terribly Important And Insightful Musings That Are Definitely Worthy To Be Shared And You Know You Want To Hear Them, Too. But then I realized no one but me is really interested in my old-man rantings about Back when I started performing! You kids have it so easy! I once had to sell a kidney for a bag of rhinestones! – and, frankly, even I’m not so very interested myself that I can’t be easily distracted by a Love Boat rerun or a Tumblr full of bunnies or strippers or bunnies and strippers holy crap someone find me that Tumblr now. Move it along Margaret, it’s a new day, time marches on, innovate or die. So okay… except for one thing which hasn’t changed – and which, frankly, I’m just tired of hearing over and over and over again.

Art-strippers come and go but the complaining does not. Because we like to complain. We like to proclaim, and be clever, and point out the problems with “the community” and tell each other how shows should be run and how performers should perform, and how festivals and competitions should be organized and crowns and titles should be awarded, and how producers and audiences and musicians and costumers and DJs and bartenders should behave and just exactly who should be allowed to do what; and sometimes a larger percentage of “the community” is in agreement over these shoulds, and more often they are not, but time and again over the last ten years I have read and I have heard (and I too have proclaimed) what should be done and what should be changed and that is followed almost immediately by a chorus of voices singing out:

“But a gig’s a gig.”

“And I need the work.”

And this, right here, this is the crucial moment where the pause needs to happen and everybody but everybody needs to stop talking and get off the internet and put down the phone and go off alone onto a mountaintop or into a quiet locked room and really, really think. Because unlike the Muggle world in which jobs provide things like food and shelter but require a high degree of not-punching-that-asshole-district-supervisor-in-the-face, our Jellicle job is low on income and security but high on the not-having-to-put-up-with-civilian-bullshit-like-that-and-also-we-can-wear-boas-to-work scale. In exchange for never really making a living getting naked, we do actually have more freedom in certain areas; and therefore:

If you honestly and truly believe that a performance situation is wrong, professionally or morally (the facilities are inadequate, the pay is too low, you are being asked to compromise your personal or artistic beliefs), then do not take the gig. That’s it. Don’t take it. **

If you believe that the situation is acceptable if certain conditions are met, then propose those changes. If they are made, great; if not, do not take the gig.

If you are willing to take the gig as it is, if you’re comfortable with the reality and morality of the situation, then take the gig. And shut up. ***

I’m tired of hearing about how shitty this gig is, how awful that show is, how this one pays almost nothing and that one is a horrible degrading experience and this venue doesn’t have a stage and that venue doesn’t have a bathroom and this producer owes me money, didn’t say anything when the bar owner grabbed my ass, let a dozen photographers into the dressing room, did nothing to promote the show – from performers who keep taking these same gigs, again and again and again. (What’s that thing that Albert Einstein probably never said? “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”) If you want the situation to change, your behaviour towards it must change; if you don’t require it to change, if you can accept it even with its imperfections, then complaining about it serves no purpose and just takes away from bunny-stripper-Tumblr time.

Nasty Canasta. ©Francine Daveta
Nasty Canasta. ©Francine Daveta

To be sure, this doesn’t address the monetary aspect of the situation and all I can say is, personally I have not yet been faced with the ethical/financial dilemma of “Do I turn down that Republican Party Fundraiser gig on moral grounds even though it pays $100,000 and a unicorn?” And I daresay that until a major political upheaval occurs, most of us will never find ourselves in anything even approaching this situation.

However: I have turned down private gigs that paid half a month’s rent but required ten months of work; well-paying day-trip gigs with a producer I was totally skeeved out about spending six hours in a car with; regular gigs in venues so inappropriate as performance spaces that I want to claw my own pasties off in frustration, or locations so difficult to get to that they require three hours of subway travel, or so dangerous that I literally fear for my safety coming home. I have stopped working with producers that have accepted massive pay cuts from venues, or don’t oversee or curate their shows, or do nothing to protect their performers from sexual harassment by venue management or audience members; and in contrast I have supported the decision of a producer who cancelled a long-running, decently-paying regular gig when an audience yelled racial slurs at a performer and the venue management simply shrugged it off. After ten years, I’ve even stopped taking gigs that are just kind of a pain in the ass, simply because I’m too old and tired and I don’t want to complain all the time.

In this fragile art-stripper economy, I have felt the loss (and so has my landlord) of every single one of those turned-down gigs, be they $40 or $400 paychecks. And it’s not to say that I haven’t decided to take plenty of less-than-ideal gigs just to pay the rent, or just because they were incredibly fun.**** But over the years I’ve realized the importance of making actual, conscious, deliberate decisions about gigs – Am I satisfied with the circumstances of this job? Do I feel the money is fair? Is this a producer I’m comfortable working with, and a show I want my name on? Is this gig going to be a fucking great time that I’ll remember forever, and is that alone important enough? – rather than taking every show that’s offered despite my misgivings because, well, a gig’s a gig and I really need the work.

Because despite a decade of changes, two things have remained exactly the same: I always need the work, and there’s always another gig.

Nasty Canasta

* Get it? “Decadent”? Like decade? Word power!

** And hey, if you feel strongly about the situation (and if you Care Enough To Complain, then let’s assume that you do) why not politely and appropriately voice your reasons for turning down the gig? If that producer hears enough times and from enough people “Thank you for the offer but I simply can’t travel three hours and perform four acts in your show for a $30 guarantee,” or “The last time I worked at your venue the host was incredibly offensive and inappropriate; as much as I enjoy your show I can’t work with you again as long as she’s hosting,” then maybe just maybe the pay scale will increase, or the quality of the hosting will improve. But if she never hears otherwise, there’s very little impetus for that producer to up the pay or fire the asshole who thinks “Our next performer is pretty hot for a fat chick!” is a valid hosting schtick.

*** Blowing up FaceTube with blind-item posts about how SOME PRODUCERS in the community really need to learn to VALUE PERFORMERS and RESPECT that what we do takes TIME AND SKILL and REALLY SHOULD LEARN that WE DON’T WORK FOR FREE and THEY’d be NOWHERE without performers!!!!! does not count as shutting up.

**** Not that I’ve yet experienced The Ideal Gig (despite a lot of truly excellent ones). I rather suspect that if I ever do perform in The Perfect Show, I’ll crumble into a pile of dust and glitter as I leave the stage.

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4 Comments
  1. WORD. Thank you for sharing, if more performers just said NO to crap jobs, unethical producers, etc., they would go away. Do you think there’s value in experienced performers sharing their challenging experiences with new folks, so new folks can decide if they want to pursue certain gigs? I’ve seen some producers just cycle through new crops of performers who don’t know any better. By sharing I mean: “This was my experience . . ” and giving the facts, not “This producer sucks and I’ll tell you why you should never work with them . . . .”

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