Burlesque Mythbusters: Part 1
Lovers, This day one year ago was one of the hardest I’ve had. I was dragged through the media (even internationally) and shamed by a sad, unapologetic misogynist for not adhering to his archetype of femininity. For the past couple of weeks in the lead up to this unfortunate anniversary I’ve thought about a few things and when my head gets too full, they have to go in writing. Then they morph, and usually become something else.
So! Here we go.
I have many opinions. Often too many for my own good. But permit me to confirm, deny, or simply present a (non-exhaustive) list of burlesque “myths”. Regardless of whether you’re a burlesque veteran or still feeling like a ‘newb’, I’d love to know your thoughts.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking (as have others) about the distinction between industry and community. Burlesque often wanders back and forth across this line depending on the day of the week, the activity, and the role or motivations of the individual. However, despite your personal motivation, burlesque IS a part of an entertainment industry and if you wish to be a part of that industry, I believe there is a reciprocal transaction of rights and responsibilities that need be respected as you navigate your way through your burlesque career, or even just tiptoeing through your burlesque adventure.
ONE SOLO MAKES ME A PROFESSIONAL
No. But i think you knew that.
So you’re a burlesque baby? Isn’t it the best feeling? You’ve broken a barrier, or jumped a hurdle, you’re horizons have shifted and that pride you feel swells your chest and maybe your head just a little too! But cool those jets kitten, those horizons are going to keep shifting for a long time. It’s easy to get caught up in the the excitement and glamour of it all. But I’d almost argue that if there is still only excitement and glamour dazzling your eyes, you’re definitely not out of the halcyon days of being a burly baby. In my very early days as a student and baby soloist a couple of people asked me “oh, are you a burlesque performer?” and a secret part of me wanted to cry “YES, YES I AM!”. But the rest of me knew that was a lie. I had dabbled, I’d dipped my toe into some very safe waters with kind, generous and forgiving audiences. But that was not burlesque. That was not the real world. I still couldn’t tell you what precise moment it was that I felt comfortable genuinely saying “Yes” to that question but there was certainly a clarifying moment about 5 years into my burlesque journey…
Picture the scene, a 45 minute freestyle set in a dive bar performing to 3 punters, a friend working the bar, and an ipod plugged into a sound desk. And a tip bucket. It was either the moment i broke my foot during my set and kept dancing, or fishing just enough coins out of the bucket to get the bus home at 2 a.m., that i realised; This is burlesque.
Which brings me to:
ANY GIG IS A LEGIT GIG
No. Even if you’re working for friends, certain conditions still need to be met for a gig to be legit. Always expect a guaranteed minimum compensation for your time. Expect privacy. Expect respect. Expect safety. If any of these conditions are violated, question why you need to do this gig. These are your rights. You also have a responsibility to actively seek these conditions to maintain an industry standard. Compensation is the only one that might fluctuate with geography and a few other factors but find out what your specific communities minimum guarantee is BEFORE you participate in your local industry. Don’t be that guy.
If you feel you’re too “green” or don’t deserve to be paid to perform just yet, DON’T DO IT.
If you’re wondering, a generally accepted minimum compensation in Australia is $100* per act. This should be higher for private or corporate clients. If that number surprises you, ask around. Talking about money is important and we don’t do it enough. It might feel a bit squicky to ask but you’ll feel A LOT WORSE if you’re found to be undercutting other performers. Seriously, don’t be that guy.
BUT I DID A SHOW AT FRINGE FOR PENNIES
Okay. Fringe is different. The industry minimum doesn’t necessarily apply during Fringemas, but the aforementioned conditions still do. Some artists will negotiate their own guaranteed fees, and that’s ok. If you’re agreeing to a profit share that can either be very good news, or very bad news for you. Either way it gives you both ownership and responsibility for a show’s success. But if a producer requesting or commissioning an act, that is not a time for promises or a profit share.
Along with things like privacy, safety, and respect, let’s establish a culture of transparency too. If you’re agreeing to profit share, then that is a reasonable expectation to have, but acknowledge the challenge and risks that a producer is taking and have some patience and sympathy throughout the process. They may be walking away with nothing but chewed nails and an empty wallet after they have paid you.
NEVER WORK FOR FREE
Actually, no. But hear me out.
Working for free can be a bit of a minefield. Once you’ve done it once, you’ve set up an expectation with the person benefiting from your services that can be tricky to break. Some good rules of thumbs are;
- Don’t do something for free that takes money from someone else
- Definitely don’t take your clothes off for free
Outside of that, there are *some* ways to be involved in the industry that are unpaid but invaluable learning experiences that will benefit you without undercutting someone else. There are a multitude of ways you can be involved in low-key, low-budget, or charity events to gain experience or just “because it’s fun”. But once it’s private or corporate shows and events, no. If it’s a charity or fundraiser event and some performers or venders are getting paid, you should be too. These events have budgets. If you’re shadowing or assisting a veteran performer, you’ll likely learn a lot, but you are NOT there to work for the client or work for them for free.
If you find yourself tempted to say yes to performing for free, ask yourself why.
Similarly, student showcases and competitions are obviously exempt from this dilemma. Do them as much as you can for the stage experience, footage and photos!
BUT I DON’T NEED THE MONEY
Well I do. If you don’t “need” the money you should be getting, but want the opportunity anyway, you’re doing it for your ego. If you’re just mucking around and having fun, think about who you are taking money from.
Some of us do it for a living, or for a significant part of our essential income. Leave it to the professionals so we can keep buying our cat the food he likes.
I’VE DONE A SOLO, I CAN STOP TAKING CLASSES
No. The day you stop learning, and stop investing in your performance is the day you start to care less and your performance starts to decline. Bottom line.
Look for new teachers, new classes, new styles. Look to your peers, look to your history, look to your own students. Keep moving forward.
I’VE DONE A CLASS, I CAN BE A TEACHER
No. A good teacher is usually the result of many different X factors. But before you say, “yeah I am a burlesque teacher”, ask yourself;
- Can I teach as well as my teachers or to a professional standard?
- Can I contribute something new or a new perspective?
If it’s a no on either front, wait until you have the experience or ingenuity to change those answers to a yes.
I’VE DONE A SHOW SO I CAN PRODUCE A SHOW
No. You’ve done a few gigs, great! You’ve got a great show idea, awesome!
That does not mean you have the knowledge, experience, or financial security to ethically produce a show. Before you wander down this thought-path further, ask yourself;
- Do I have the money to pay everyone a guaranteed minimum (if not a full base fee) as well as all the other overheads if I do not sell a single ticket,
- Do you understand what it takes to produce a show,
- Does your industry or audience need, want, or have room for this show?
If the answer is no to any of them… don’t be that guy. Wait. Get a mentor. Or network and collaborate to see if your concept is more viable with a producing partner. Beautiful things could happen! But simply put, the onus is on you as a producer. You cannot force performers or venues to assume the risk involved in your production. Especially if you are asking them to create something specific for a show and invest time, money and creative effort in acts for your show. So be sure before you take the plunge!
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s edition!