I have been doing burlesque for almost eight years now. That, by no means, makes me some sort of expert. I feel like I am always learning something with every corner I turn. However, it has allowed for a lot of experience in the last eight years. I have travelled all over the United States and had a few amazing experiences in Europe. I have come across thousands of other performers, producers, MCs, stage managers, kittens, lighting techs, teachers, etc. in this industry. All of those interactions have really helped mold me into the kind of performer and producer that I strive to be. As I earn my stripes in this industry, I just want to share some thoughts on what I feel has contributed to my success based on the things I have learned along the way. These are in no particular order of importance.
10. When you are sending out enquiries to a producer about being booked, send them an email. Usually you can find this email through their website or just a quick Google search. Facebook has got to be the worst form of communication for work purposes next to the carrier pigeon.
a) When sending your information, include videos and a few photos. This is non-negotiable.
b) If the producer doesn’t get back to you right away, just remember that sometimes people are busy, out of town, life happens, or all of the above. Simply resend the email to bump it up to the top of their inbox. Do not berate them for not responding.
9. When backstage, don’t explode all over the place. A lot of times there is just not enough room for everyone as it is. If you show up unorganised with miles of tulle and a suitcase of makeup, this is a really great way to get on a bad foot with the other performers. Leave the diva at home. Don’t huff and puff. Mind your manners. Keep your voice at a moderate level. Everyone else is getting ready to perform as well and needs to focus.
8. Do not talk to the stage manager and stage assistants like they are incapable of understanding English. They are your friends. If you want your act to go right, do not piss them off. They are also extremely trusted by the producer, so if they have a negative experience with you, the producer will hear about it and then you’ll potentially be out of future bookings. Make sure you thank them. They work really hard.
7. When meeting new people in the industry, do not rapid fire a list of all the things you’ve done, are doing, will do, and might do. Especially do not follow up this pompous behaviour by letting this new person know how you can instantly be of a benefit to them.
Example: “Hi. Nice to meet you. I am Burlesquey McStripperton and I produce X number of shows in these places. I also MC my own shows, perform, make my own costumes, and bake my own bread. I will give you SOOOO much work if you ever come to my city. Here, look at all these pictures of me in my phone.”
In this world of smoke and mirrors, people tend to really appreciate a breath of fresh air and realness. Ask the person where they are from, how their travels went, if they are excited to perform/see the show? I feel that from there you can possibly move into work talk, but even then, respect the other person enough to know if and when it’s ok to discuss work. Don’t forget that conversations work both ways – if you expect someone to listen to what you’re saying, you have to do the same.
6. There are lots of members of the burlesque community who we would consider to be the ‘rock stars’ or ‘celebrities’ of what we do. The funny thing about performers is that a lot of us are actually socially awkward and anxious. If someone appears to be standoffish, it’s most likely because deep down they are having a panic attack about how many people are in their immediate vicinity. Perhaps they are nervous about their upcoming performance. Perhaps they have some real life stuff going on that is on their minds. Making connections with people that you admire or want to work with starts with just being human and treating them as one.
5. Take classes. You have to continue to learn and grow as a performer. It is imperative. You are never above learning. Someone has some new information to offer you that you did not know before. This can be a really hard mindset to stay in. I struggle with it myself and it’s especially hard to keep that focus when you are juggling a lot of hats, but I promise you, it’s so worth it. TAKE ALL THE CLASSES! Even if you hated the class, you learned something.
4. Stop glorifying being busy. The Universe does not give a golden cookie to the busiest person in the industry. We are ALL busy in some form or fashion. Gloating about your busyness just exhausts everyone around you. That’s not really accomplishing anything.
3. Organise your items in gallon sized ziploc bags. I know this might seem so simple and unnecessary to mention, but I’m mentioning it anyway. I have one bag for g-strings, one for stockings, one for tools (needle, thread, nut driver, scissors, Leatherman, etc.), one bag for glitter – you get the point. If it fits in a plastic bag, put it in there.
2. Help your fellow performers out backstage. If they need help getting into their costume, applying glitter, lacing up their corset, straightening their backseams, sewing on a snap, forgot their double stick tape – whatever! Help each other out. This makes everyone’s experience go much smoother as a whole. Even if you’re killing them with kindness, just help out. It feels way better than the alternative.
1. Stay humble. This whole burlesque thing could just end tomorrow with no notice. There’s no way to predict where this industry is headed. Of course, I like to think it’s here to stay. The people that have paved the way for us to be able to do what we do now have done us a great service by going through the hardest of times. In comparison, we have it pretty easy for the most part. We are the lucky ones. Performing is a privilege. Don’t forget that.
I would love to hear from others about their experiences and what they valuable things you have learned over the time that you’ve been performing. Feel free to comment!
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.