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There’s No Such Thing as a Free Gig…

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Gig…

There's No Such Thing as a Free Gig...

A thought-provoking piece from UK performer Miss Glory Pearl. Please feel free to comment on this article in the comments section below…

Miss Glory Pearl ©John Fox
Miss Glory Pearl ©John Fox

The Burlesque Community; it’s an odd phrase. There’s no denying that we’re a reasonably small industry and that once you reach a certain level everyone pretty much knows everyone else, but a community? At any point in one’s career, fellow ‘community’ members can be one’s colleagues, employers, employees, and always one’s competition.

Sure, despite a few factions and frictions we tend to get along with each other and offer support, friendship and tips. We have forums and online groups where we debate and gossip and celebrate each other, but when you get down to the crux of it, as a self-employed performer it would be disingenuous to suggest that most of us don’t base our day-to-day decisions on what we perceive to be best for us and for our careers rather than what is best for the community at large.

And as our industry grows, therein lies the problem – many of us aren’t thinking long-term. We aren’t thinking ‘career’, ‘livelihood’, ‘industry’ or ‘business’. We are taking jobs that take the piss and at a fundamental level we are poisoning the water. You may be prepared to regularly work for free, but by doing so you are literally taking food out of the mouths of performers who don’t have day jobs to fall back on but do have rent, mortgages, bills and all the expenses that come with living in a capitalist society.

When you work for free you are giving away something for nothing. You are also saying that what you do isn’t worth paying for. If it’s not worth paying for, why are you doing it? For love? For kicks? For – dare I say it – ‘self-empowerment’?

“We aren’t thinking ‘career’, ‘livelihood’, ‘industry’ or ‘business’. We are taking jobs that take the piss and at a fundamental level we are poisoning the water.”

Let me state clearly: I am not here to bash the newbies or the hobbyists but I am here to suggest that the future of our industry does, in some measure, depend on every one of us taking a broader view when it comes to fee negotiations and producing shows. I’d also like to say that I think we all, from time to time, work either for nothing or for expenses only. Personally I’ve done it as a favour to friends or promoters – usually if they have given me regular work in the past and the occasion is special in some way (a local community based event or something), and I’ve done charity gigs where, in effect, I am donating my fee to the charity. But other than that, although I am sympathetic to promoters’ budgetary challenges, I do not work for free for the following reasons:

  1. Performing is my job. I have trained and invested in my career and, just like a plumber, an accountant or a Marriage Guidance counsellor, I deserve to be paid for it. Yes, I enjoy my job, but so do lots of people who don’t get up on stage every night. You wouldn’t ask a solicitor to represent you in court for nothing simply because you assume she will have fun doing so – why should taking your clothes off on stage be different?

  2. If I don’t charge, how can I expect people to value what I do? People expect to pay for things they value. The price they will pay for it depends on how much they perceive it to be worth. Clever people have researched and proved this and manufacturers employ teams of other clever people to determine ‘price points’ for their goods and services. As an entertainment professional I don’t hold an MBA, but I do understand how the market functions and that as a self-employed artist I need intricate knowledge of the workings of my market and how and where to position myself within it if I am to make a living and be valued by purchasers.

  3. Basic economics. I have a large mortgage. If I spend all my time doing something that costs me money rather than earns me money, I will be homeless. My costumes cost hundreds and hundreds of pounds. My training costs hundreds and hundreds of pounds. I do not have a trust fund and so my income needs to exceed my expenditure. This won’t be the case if I work for free.

  4. Every time I work for free I de-value both my product and all products in that market sector. To give you an idea of how this works, look at online newspapers. When The Times started charging people to read articles online, circulation plummeted – no one wanted to pay for something they could get for free elsewhere. It’s human nature. So long term, if I work for free, fewer and fewer promoters will want to pay for acts.

This last point is crucial. It is undeniable that since the release of that X-Tina film, there has been a surge of new performers keen to get stage time and lots of new shows springing up all over the place. ‘Great!’, you might think, ‘More work for everyone!’, but sadly many of these shows aren’t even paying expenses and instead fill their bills with inexperienced performers hungry for stage time. I know of one relative newcomer who gave up on burlesque because after a year of performing she was only ever once offered some money towards petrol. It’s a fine line between paying your dues and exploitation. What this also means is that a lot of these show bills are filled entirely with performers of little experience – not that the promotional material will admit to this.

“If we’re putting on shows and skimping on quality, we are ruining our audience. They won’t value what they are seeing if the tickets are cheap and the acts amateurish. And if you’re putting on shows like this, then make no mistake, you are ruining the audience for everyone.”

To my mind, this has two principle effects. Firstly, you learn a lot of what you learn about stagecraft from watching those who are masters of it. When I started out I was fortunate to work with some of the best in the business by taking on ‘newbie’ slots in established shows. I worked hard to not let the team down, to not be seen as the weak and inexperienced link in a strong line-up. I watched, I learned and I honed my craft. If a line-up only contains those of a similar level of experience, how can one grow as an artist? Where is the incentive to up your game? Secondly, a good line-up is all about variety – light and shade; if we’re all fresh out of burlesque school and finding our feet, that impacts on the audience’s experience, and in some cases that experience isn’t a positive one.

If we’re putting on shows and skimping on quality, we are ruining our audience. They won’t value what they are seeing if the tickets are cheap and the acts amateurish. And if you’re putting on shows like this, then make no mistake, you are ruining the audience for everyone. I recently went to such a show – all the performers and the compere were newcomers but not billed as such. Tickets were cheap and the place was reasonably full. Through the course of the show I lost count of the number of people that walked out – mainly couples who had clearly come out of curiosity. How many of them will ever go to another burlesque show? How many of them will be prepared to pay more than £5 a ticket to see acts whose costumes are worth a hundred times that?

If the ‘Burlesque Community’ is anything other than an empty synonym for the burlesque industry, then it is time we began thinking collectively and considering the wider impact of our choices. This doesn’t mean charging extortionate rates or being unwilling to negotiate our fees, but it does mean ensuring that we value the glamour, beauty and sheer entertainment value of what we do and that those employing us and paying to watch us do too.

Miss Glory Pearl.

Comments can be left below.


View Comments (37)
  • Love this article, and all the comments following it, will definitely be sharing this!!!

  • Agreed Steph! It’s just hard for a lot of people to get their heads around that concept.

  • in my career (3 ½ years of Burlesque show) only 1 time I worked for free … my cachet has increased based on experience, the costumes, the sets, now my cachet is among the highest in Italy (I get lost a lot of gigs for this) but I do not care .. I think that those who want it must pay for my show!!!!

  • I agree with Vaudeville baby’s comment. It’s good to look professional even when you’re doing it for free. But it is best to ask copies of photographs (and or video footage) and a written review/quote from the person and use it on your porfolio, website etc.

    We often provide our event space to emerging up & coming talent in fashion and entertainment and offer them advertising, publicity and features in our press material in return. We also give them copies of video footage and photos for their own use.

    We are generally focused on those who have not got publicity and advertising yet, so it works well, especially when we run independent events in aid of charities, and sponsorship and advertising budgets aren’t enough to cover all expenses.

    If a performer wants to do a freebie for a friend or swap favours via a collaboration then that is their own business. Therefore not all performers who do it for free can be blamed for taking food out of the mouths of those that charge for their performances.

  • I produce and I pay my artists the wage THEY ask for EVERY show. Its my decision to put on a show, its my risk, if the show is a loss, I don’t ask my performers for a discount on their wages, and on the flip side, if the show is a success, it is a credit to the marketing and production, it doesn’t mean a huge pay rise for performers the first time a show is a success.

    When my performers tell me they want to do a show for free, for a friend, or favour, or for the experience, I recomend they ‘invoice’ for the ‘donation’ of that act – that way the friend or other promoter/venue see’s the deal they have been given and the worth of the product. The performer can then also claim it as a loss or expence on tax.

    Fan dance for _____ launch – $0 (usual price $250)
    written on your usual invoice, no payment needed, but good for them to see you are a professional and take yourself seriously, and they should too.

    Good luck to everyone new and established 🙂

  • i have no issue with the performers who work for nothing – if thats what you think you are worth then so be it.
    Its the promoters that drive me mad… if you cant afford to run a show then DONT do one!
    Several times in my 6 years as a promoter ive had to nip out on the night and empty by bank account in order to pay wages as weve had a quiet event – but you know what? i clearly didnt promote enough or picked a bad night or whatever. Thats MY job and my fault. As the promoter the buck stops with me , not my performers.

  • When I started out I did gigs for terrible money. I’ve never worked for free in my life because I am mercenary and if I wasn’t making more a night than I would do in a bar, then what is the point? But I’ve built and built over the years. I’ve invested a LOT of money in costumes, dance classes and props. I’ve done gigs that pay well and some that don’t pay so well. But I’ve never taken a show where I’ve considered that I’m being taken advantage of. And that I think is the crux of the matter. Some acts seem so desperate to perform that they’re willing to accept any conditions and no money… Know your own worth as a performer and stick to your guns. Do the best job you are able to and if you still aren’t making the money you think you deserve? Reconsider your career. This might sound harsh and I don’t mean to upset anybody but if people don’t want to pay for you then maybe there isn’t the demand for your show you would want. Endless self promotion can be a soul sapping and thankless task.

  • A really great article. Even if you did a few favours and freebies early on, there comes a point comes a point where you should ask for pay and be prepared to turn down the ‘opportunity’ if this isn’t forthcoming.

    That goes for any creative work – writing, photography, videography, unpaid ‘internships’, etc.

  • As someone who owns a circus/burlesque troupe and is also a performer, i can empathizes with both sides of this argument.

    On the one hand performers should NOT work for Free, however as the article touches upon, someone who is a beginner, should not expect to get the same rates as someone who has put decades into their craft.

    It’s also basic business supply vs demand. Now the market is being flooded with a bunch of amateurs that are driving the market down for all performers across the board, whether it be circus or burlesque.

    Not that there is anything wrong with amateurs, heck we all have to start somewhere, however shows that feature amateurs should be billed as such. The same way there is community theater and then there is professional theater.

    If promoters are willing to hire or “invite” amateurs to work for free at a billed professional event, and amateurs are willing to perform for free at these events, then it is screwing everything up for everyone.

    Personally I have never asked any of my performers to work for free, because I respect the years of training that go into their art form. That being said, I only work with seasoned professionals and not hobbiest.

    As a agent , it makes it incredibly difficult because there are a lot of amateurs out there who are willing to work for less. This is especially the case in the Circus arts where for example, I will have on aerialist who is worth every cent of her 1000.00 fee, but there are others out there willing to do it for 300. The problem is those that do it for 300 most likely have had 4 training sessions and because the have learned to get into a split on the silks they now think they can perform aerial ???

    In my opinion, those types should not be performing full stop. (Not for money and certainly not for Free) They should stick to refining their craft and do shows at the schools where they are training… like dance school have dance recitals… etc.

    When you get dental work done in at a school with students, it’s a lot cheaper than when you go and get it at a professional dental facility. It’s illegal for a dental student to set up a practice. In a way I wish it would be illegal for amateurs to invade the professional market and drive down the prices.

    Sorry if I come of as harsh, but as the person in the middle most of the time I can see both sides of the argument.

    Currently I am in the middle of trying to do the largest production that we have done to date. Saying that, it is also going to cost a lot of money. Like the one of the previous comments, there are a lot of other factors involved, from tech crew, theater rental, ushers, marketing etc. However I expect to pay each one of my performers. Why?! Because they all deserve it, and they have all paid their dues. Also, as the producer, I am the one taking the risk, it’s only fair that they get compensated for their time and talent.

    So, you might ask, how I plan to pay over 15 to 20 artists, plus all the tech and other expenses without the guarantee of any ticket sales or other revenue. Well I set up a Kickstarter, just so that I could guarantee to pay the cast!!! (among other things)

    I am happy to say that as of this afternoon we are at 96% of our goal.. so this show will god willing be a reality. It has taken a lot of work to raise these funds, but I think a lot of work should be required for anything you are truly passionate about, and this is my passion.

  • As a long-time audience member (and sometimes partner of performers), I find it insulting to be told I cannot tell the difference in quality and would lose interest in an entire type of performance based on one poor show.

    Everything in the marketplace teaches us to expect less when we pay less. Did any of you stop wearing shoes after buying a cheap, uncomfortable pair at Payless? Did you boycott Broadway stage productions after seeing a neice’s poorly performed elementary school play?

    All fields have some degree of ‘paying dues’, in the form of free internships or minimum-wage paying jobs at the entry level to the field. The phenomena of being asked to do one’s job for free extends outside the arts as well. In America, lawyers are required to perform a certain amount of pro-bono work, Social Workers are encouraged to volunteer outside their field, etc. Captialism is inheritantly exploitive and it’s silly to think that an entire industry should be exempt from that exploitation.

    If the author is proposing various skill levels within one show, it seems the conversation should focus on having a sliding-scale fee system within any given show (possibly including some people who don’t get paid). Is this happening now or is it simply easier to pay each act the same amount?

  • Great article, as a promotor whose spent a lot of time and dedicated a lot of hard work into bringing Burlesque and Cabaret to my home town I think it’s important to respect the effort of performers.

    Many promotors these days are very happy to put money into their own pockets before paying the performers, I disagree with that, as a promotor, these people are giving everyone a bad name and casting a shadow on the whole burlesque and cabaret community! New performers need to take not of what’s being said here, as there’s a huge concensus of agreement for it. No performer gets anything worthwhile out of free shows, it’s just them being exploited by bad promotors!

  • I work at a burlesque venue, and understand the points raised in the article. We are currently feeling the pinch as many girls have raised their minimum amount for performances.
    I have a background as a professional touring dancer (10 years), so understand the amount of work that goes into refining a craft, and the costume expenses.
    A few things I think the article misses is:
    – when creating a show, $1500 may be paid to the dancers, but then a stage manager, sound and lighting, DJ, security, door staff all need to be factored in to costs. Shows easily come in at $3000. With discount tickets, free entries and guest lists it can be difficult to recoup costs and profit from the door.
    – Bar sales at venues are often run as a separate business, and cover stock, bar staff, management, promotions, venue leases, then profits split by up to 5 owners.
    We try our best to look after performers, and offer reasonable fees for 2 short spots within a 2 hour call.
    Once girls started turning down these fees we were forced to outsource show allocations to other producers to alleviate costs. These producers are often the ones who bring in girls for ‘experience’ or their students – driving quality down as mentioned in your article. (of course sometimes the shows are exceptional too).
    Girls should also note that performers who tour, win awards and constantly develop new shows and skills can demand higher fees occasionally than new performers. A girl 1 or 2 years in should think before pricing themselves alongside performers who put in the hard yards.
    Unfortunately it’s a world where plumbers get called so we have a dry place to sleep and water to drink, and barristers hired to keep people out of jail… Dance and entertainment, while important culturally, is always subject to disposable income of the audience. At present it’s a tough climate for disposable income. Corporate dance gigs dried up, and that’s why I turned to working at a venue.
    I’m an equity member and definitely hope fees pick up, and the cream rises to the top. Just throwing in my 2 cents from the producer’s side…

  • A few thoughts:

    **I wonder if something that isn’t being addressed here also is that this is a DIY community. Because this is still largely a DIY thing, many performers aren’t behaving like a business, but expect people to treat them like they are. This means that they want more pay, but still want to be able to get drunk backstage, they want to have their friends comped at shows and also have them backstage, their acts aren’t rehearsed, they have poor communication with producers, cancel gigs on a whim, etc. I’ve seen it all (all over the world).

    A lot of venues don’t care to treat us like we’re a business because of this. Years ago when I started, I was in a show that was essentially a giant party. I think if you told me or any of those women that we were a business we would have been SHOCKED. It was the spirit of burlesque 8, 10 years ago- it was punk rock. It is evolving.

    As I’ve gotten older and more experienced, I realized that in order to do more, I needed to treat it as a business, and not a hobby. Even when I was working 40 hours a week in a day job, I needed to see my burlesque gigs were my night jobs. The instances of being asked to perform for free dramatically reduced when I started to behave this way. I perform less, sadly, but I know that performing for less than a $100 for what I create AND promote vastly hurts the community and I’m essentially paying to play.

    **I don’t know about the UK, but pay in the states is a whole other bag of beans. I know on the coasts, even being a seasoned performer the rates (for paying gigs) swing wildly from $30 an act to $100. Obviously headliners for festivals get another arrangement, I’m talking about regular ‘ol shows here- for how much some seasoned performers are investing in acts, you’d have to perform an act over 10 to 20 times to make up the cost, which makes it a little challenging to pump out new fresh work more often.

    I feel like with the right marketing a solid burlesque show can be profitable. I don’t even think we’ve hit any kind of ceiling of how much money a show can make- even though times have changed, the desire to see a woman disrobe and hear some funny jokes isn’t dead- a fresh appeal to audiences and how we market to people outside of our regular burlesque scene needs to happen. The show I produce is primarily composed of virgin veiwers- something that is rare indeed.

    I’ve seen a couple of other discussions about this article happening on FB, with claims of people wanting hundreds of dollars an act- I would have to argue that this really isn’t the case- unless the performer is being flown in, it seems like it’s more than possible to create a show where each performer is getting paid at least $200. If you do basic numbers (really basic here) a good show would cost around $1500…seems more than reasonable- especially when you account for liquor/food sales/ticket sales.

    I’m not saying I have the pay solution, but it seems to me that it’s a mix of venues knowing that they can get something for cheap because some performers are training them to believe that way, sub par shows, and not being able to ultimately show the value of having a burlesque show over say….a DJ dance party.

    **Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about festivals, and Cleo’s comment brings up a good point- and I wonder if the pay to play aspect of festivals is ultimately hurting the opportunities for paying shows to flourish. I have played the festival game, have enjoyed and performed in many. I’ve also been lucky to recoup some of my costs with other gigs in the town, staying with friends and teaching- but if I didn’t get to have those opportunities, performing in a festival costs HUNDREDS of dollars. There is an imbalance here.

    I’m really thankful for all of the blogs and forums that we have in this day and age to be able to ponder and discuss with other people. My only hope is that we find a solution before my tits hit my knees. Heh.

  • I’m going to take devil’s advocate here, because my particular show does pay our performers and when the show does really well we pay them even more.

    I often look at things from the perspective I learned from producing music shows and from being in a band myself while playing in other shows.

    While I think that everyone in burlesque from top to bottom deserves WAAAAAY more than they are getting (and trust me as a producer I would like way more as well), I find it hard to tell somebody else that they aren’t allowed to do a show for free if they wanted to. Do I think everyone should perform for free? Heck no and those producers (although in this case I have to lean towards “producers” if they are truly taking advantage) had better do some huge favors for those performers – apart from the “favor” of putting them in the show.

    I played so many free shows in a band and in my own shows gave up my portion of the cut to other bands to make people happy. I’ve played a show to an audience of ONE (and that one being the person on our guest list) and I definitely did not expect to be paid for that.

    In our early days of our show we had a couple shows do terribly and had a couple performers waive their fees and I am eternally grateful and will never forget that AND will owe them forever because of it. (Now that I think of it, we should just pay them – even years later. Yes, I have that guilty a conscience.) I’ve waived my fee at a couple shows as well. It happens – and hopefully only when people are being super nice.

    The point is that I understand that you think that people choosing to perform for free could bring down the fees for everyone, and if everyone were doing it, I would totally agree. But I just don’t see it really affecting most of our shows because, frankly, those kind of shows aren’t really pulling anything away from our own shows. If some huge venue in Beverly Hills isn’t paying their performers when they could, I’ll be the first person to protest. Heck, I’m already complaining about another event in town not paying performers when they could totally afford it. (and it aint any of the bread and butter shows around town.)

    If a performer wants to perform at somebody’s birthday party to practice their craft and they are around other performers who are there anyway, let them. Hopefully somebody there will see them and hire them to pay lots of cash to perform their act at another party.

    Now mind you, it’s not how I would do a show, but as a producer, I can’t worry about what so and so is doing somewhere else. I look at what that performer can bring to the show with her or his performance and if they can please and draw a crowd as well.

    On another point, I think it would be really weird if EVERY show had only top talent. Where do the newer performers go? Well, I can tell you from talking to producers all around the world, they start doing their own shows…and then you have the very ‘problem’ you are talking about here. Again, it’s the same with the music scene and it’s been that way for centuries and surely even longer. You can’t get mad when it happens because it’s the way the world has always worked. It’s also how things evolve and one could argue that it makes people work harder and hopefully get better.

    But in every field you are going to have a diverse crop of talent. Just because I don’t hire a person whose biggest influence is a terrible film ‘about’ burlesque, doesn’t mean I have any say on where that person goes with her talent and how much that person charges.

    You put on a good show and the people will come. Sometimes you put on a great show and nobody comes. Sometimes you have an off night and EVERYONE is there.

    Again, NOBODY gets paid what I think they deserve. As I said, just playing Devil’s Advocate here and agree with many points in this article, but it leaves out some crucial realities in my opinion.

  • wow, I didn’t realize that performers actually worked for free. We had contracts & salaries & we had to give our agents percentage. Never sell your self cheap, or give yourself away. I thought that was just common sense.

  • I’m fascinated by this–I don’t see anything wrong with paying your dues in a given field but it’s odd that people would consider working for free or on spec (“If you work for free now and the night goes well, you might get paid later when this becomes a regular thing”).

    I also want to note that it has occurred to me that sometimes the difference between a “hobbyist” and a “professional” isn’t the level of work or commitment, but more the intended audience. If your intended audience is the worldwide art community, that’s one thing; if your intended audience is a group of friends at a local bar, that’s another thing.

    We all know when we do a gig in a little bar that the bartender is making more than we do; we know that comedians often do gigs for free; we know that dance and theatre companies may spend a ton of money and rehearsal time to do shows for which they make no profit. Where is burlesque in that range?

  • When I started burlesque, there was an established scene. Should I have just sat my ass down because an established performer needed the money more than me? We’re in vaudeville, we ALL need money.

    Listen, I’m happy for what I call ‘farm league’ shows. I want experienced performers on my own show, and newbies need a place to grow, stretch, fail even. We all did (anyone who tells you different is lying). Because the only way to find out if you can recover from a fall in front of an audience, or when your bra sticks to your fishnets in front of an audience, or when the music cuts out halfway through your performance in front of an audience… is to do it in front of an audience.

    I’d like to share one last thing: My husband’s father authored over 200 novels. On his desk sat a hand-scrawled sign: “Nobody asked you to be a writer”.
    No one asked us to be a variety performer. But we do it with sacrifice and very little financial reward.
    Yes, I’d love to be at a place where I can earn a comfortable living doing burlesque, but who doesn’t dream about supporting themselves on their art? And that’s an economic reality that may never resolve itself no matter how many hours we rehearse or how many rhinestones we have on our costume for an art that is already marginalized by it’s sexual content.

    All we can do is strive!

  • This is a good read for ALL PERFORMERS! DON’T GIVE YOUR ART AWAY FOR FREE! I have many thousands of dollars in student loans towards my BA in Dance. I try to supplement my income to pay back those loans by using that craft! If you perform for free, you devalue what I do and make it more difficult for me to pay off my student loans! Lets keep the performance field alive and well. Lets support each other, and help others achieve their dreams by making performance art demanded! People would not put all their efforts and money towards being lawyers and doctors, if there wasn’t some reward at the end. The same applies towards performance artists!

  • I so agree with this article. It is important beyond words to value our craft and time as performers. That being said, I have to respond to Violet Streak’s comment: I have been paid much better at certain dive bar shows then some of the gals who dance at Hubba shows. Just sayin.

  • As a professional independent circus artist, I agree with this article completely. The same general problem applies to performers in my field as well; newbies desperate for stage time bringing prices down for the rest of us. Have/Did I do shows for free or less when I was starting out? Yes, we all do, but I didn’t expect success overnight and I had years of training under my belt before I even set foot on a stage. I find performers in both our professions don’t respect the training/learning process that allows them to be truly great later on and want everything NOW, even if it means selling themselves and the industry short to get it… Maybe that’s something all professionals reading this can pass along to students: Performing is hard and it takes more than 5 months of classes and an e-bay costume to be able to put on a show worth seeing. Respect the process, be patient, and one day, maybe next month or maybe years from now, your day will come too.

  • In other avenues of dance we try to respond to the peer community with transparency on rates to establish a local minimum that should be accepted and adhered to to prevent undercutting. Now that the burlesque community is becoming so widespread I think that is more necessary. It is not enough to insist dancers charge, experienced or newcomers, without establishing what is an acceptable minimum rate for their area.

  • Well said, well written.
    I’ve been experiencing this kind of attitude more in the States than in Europe.

    I would also point out the whole “festivals” ideas and “applications” system of most of the Festivals all over the world, spreading like a plague, where Performers are asked to perform for free with the idea that it’s an honour and a privilege to get chosen itself.

    I appreciate a good Festival (and I submitted and performed to a bunch myself, getting an awesome time and experience out of it: totally worth it), and I enjoy a GOOD QUALITY competition.

    BUT, it seems more easy and common these days just to put up a “festival” / “competition” type of show instead producing a PROPER show, cause it’s cheaper and easier..and most of the time, the quality of the show is lower.

  • Well I don’t disagree (and have never and would never ask people to perform at my shows for free, including paying performers out of pocket for charity and free shows), where does that leave newer performers who frankly need the stage time to get better? No one starts as the best and small shows at low ticket costs seem the right place for them to cut their teeth and improve.

    I’ve seen several of these articles recently and tend to assume they’re a facet of the general slump in entertainment spending, performers who need the income are anxious to keep billing prices high, but I bet they didn’t start out making what they charge now…and new performers are going to get paid an appropriate amount (i.e. not much) based on their skill and crowd draw (frankly a more important factor then what they spend on their outfits or how ‘good’ they are to most shows, you put 50 people in seats who don’t show up otherwise you’re a ‘better’ performer then someone who draws 10).


  • This whole article is a mirrored sentiment by photographers…let alone almost any Artist. Would we all love to do what we love for free if it meant we never had to worry about finances? I’m certain any artist would. I know I am one of them. But unless I become an overnight multi-millionaire, that ain’t a real option.

    I am a photographer. Some would call me a professional, by the fact that is how I earn my money, then yes I am. But I feel I am far from being able to put myself in the same class as a professional photographer. I never went to school for it. I’m a self taught photog, and now try to attend workshops as anyone would looking to be the best I can be for clients.

    What does a this lead to? Well my photography world has been primarily Burlesque. I started in youth figure skating and have found parents suck. They pester you to take photos, but rarely ever buy anything….and if they do, it’s nothing more than a $5-$10 purchase of a 4×6. Or wants the digitals to print their own for barely $30! So I moved to Burlesque. My skill in photos with skaters transferred well to Burlesque. But after 2 years traveling all over the United States coverings shows, festivals, & special events, I have earned less than $100 and been published in only one single publication. The cost of 2 1/2 tanks of gas. I’ve spent a little over $18,000 trying to bring the beauty, the artistry, the passion, life, vibrant vitality of burlesque to the world through my passion of photography. Along the way, and I am very certain many Burlesque performers have dealt with the same….theft. I’ve had equipment stolen by audiences & the few unscrupulous performers that are out there themselves.

    I feel the same pain as Miss Glory Pearl lays out. I’m at a crossroads as I can no longer keep working. I had hoped to provide a service to the community with my specific style of art in photography. Only to find the fans, economy, promoters, just want it all for free. Many of the performers have professed they would like to pay me for my work, but as Miss Glory Pearl states, they are hard pressed to even get a dime themeselves anymore. I have given much of my work away for free. Had large prints made for them to frame in their homes or dance studios. Why? Because they welcomed me into thier world open-arms and shared many tips & ideas for me. I only hope this Fall I can find a way to change my fortune or walk away from my love forever.

    Miss Glory Pearl’s words speak not only for burlesque performers, but for all artists.

  • I’m reading these comments as a fan of burlesque and a sincere interest in seeing the art form succeed and improve. My career is in the business world in a non-performing arts capacity. My background includes marketing, public relations, fundraising, volunteer and event management. In the business world, work is often performed without pay in order to gain experience, skills and connections. Sometimes the work is done well. Sometimes you get what you pay for. Also, personality and attitude often trump talent. On a fundamental level, burlesque is like any other business. The customer will determine what’s good, bad, entertaining, with his/her pocketbook. A bad show has never ruined me to burlesque. Honestly, I needed to see some bad shows to truly appreciate the fantastic ones. Now I’m not only a burlesque fan, but an educated one. Keep up the good work ladies!

  • Well said 🙂 ……I did read something a while ago that suggest rates of pay for performers and newbies and it did clearly state around 50 shows for free! Personally I’m not in agreement and I feel if you perform for free it should only be for charity.

  • I meant to add that there are producers who always pay us even if means taking the money out of their own pockets. Kudos to Scratch of the Boston Baby Dolls and to Cha Cha Velour of Las Vegas.

  • This is an incredible and wonderful statement: “If a line-up only contains those of a similar level of experience, how can one grow as an artist? Where is the incentive to up your game? Secondly, a good line-up is all about variety – light and shade; if we’re all fresh out of burlesque school and finding our feet, that impacts on the audience’s experience, and in some cases that experience isn’t a positive one.”

    When I began dancing I also was one of the few newbies that was pulled into shows that featured way more experienced talent than I, and I am eternally grateful. As a producer now, I am always looking for a new performer that shows oodles of potential and put them into my shows that feature performers that have been on stages for many more years than them. It’s incredible to see how they flourish and change in such a short time, and I feel like I get to pay it forward.

  • Very well said! I am a “Legend” and it seems that producers value us primarily if we work for free, pay our way, pay our own expenses, and provide professional advice. Too many “Legends” are giving it away. What kind of example are we setting for the newbies? How can they value what they do if we don’t value what we do? Again, excellent article.

  • I am so over this. yeah I did free shows when I started. Now I do not. Audience knows the difference in San Francisco between the HUbba Hubba Revue and a show at a dive bar.

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