Let’s not kid ourselves: being a performer takes money, honey! Here in Shanghai, we have a fair amount of performers who are in the in-between stages of their development– while they aren’t total beginners, they are still in the early stages of their burlesque career. As a producer, it is often my job to decide if and when somebody is ready to make the leap from amateur to paid talent. This week, I spoke with fellow performers and producers to round up some advice for those searching to increase the quality and quantity of their gigs.
Five tips to get booked more often and for better-paying gigs:
1. You don’t have to be a professional to act professionally.
“The thing to remember is, it’s a job,” says Anna Fur Laxis, executive producer of Qi-POW! Burlesque & Cabaret. “Even if you are still in the early stages and aren’t getting paid yet, you should treat it like you are. Show up on time, behave yourself in the dressing room, and respond to any requests from your producers in a timely fashion.”
Even if you only think of what you do as a hobby, chances are this is your producer’s job. That said, they’re your boss, and you should strive for great work. Be punctual, courteous, and well-prepared in all your interactions.
In regards to the dressing room, it’s important to treat it like a work space. Be considerate with your things– keep your costumes and personal items contained and tidy– and be courteous with your behavior. Just as you wouldn’t bring your friends to office, you shouldn’t assume it’s okay to invite your people to join you backstage before or after the show. Bringing your boyfriend, sister, or bestie backstage not only violates the privacy of your fellow performers, it serves as a hindrance to those getting ready in a limited space.
2. Put in work.
“You have to be willing to do free gigs for a while. Start with the small opportunities in your area and build from there. To put it simply: do what you can until you can do what you want.” -Kevin Maxim, professional singer.
It’s easy for most novice performers to get caught up in dreams of headlining festivals, entertaining hundreds of people at a time, or performing on TV. All of the performers you see doing that, however, started small, performing in their communities at free or low-paying gigs to refine their craft. While the idea of performing for $9 plus tips (my first paying gig!) when you’ve spent a pretty penny on a costume might be discouraging, stage time in front of a live audience is invaluable.
My advice: work on a few solid acts or looks and use whatever opportunities you can to get yourself out there. Savvy performers look at gigs like a pool player looks at a game of billiards: it’s not always about the next shot but sometimes about the position you’ll land in to take the shot after that. Remember that even small gigs can lead to new relationships and bigger opportunities.
3. Document everything!
“These days, we are too busy to audition everybody who wants to perform. The best thing to do is to have a few good quality photos of yourself and a few sentences about what you do. If you have a link [to a profile] or a video, even better.” Rami, Event Producer, HUNT Shanghai
Remember those free and low-paying gigs I talked about? Use them as opportunities to build up your promotional materials. Although high-quality video is worth the investment, even a three-minute iPhone video of you performing in front of a live audience is going to help producers understand you better.
If you are in it for the long haul, images and video will allow producers and festival committees to see evidence of your experience and growth. I keep all photo shoots, show images, and act recordings in the same folder on my computer so I know exactly where to go when preparing a pitch or applying for a gig.
(Side note: once you settle on your performance name, snatch the FB profile, Instagram name, Twitter handle, and domain name as soon as you can! Conversely, all new performers should Google their name with any obvious spelling variations to make sure it isn’t in use. And yes, it’s bad form to use a name that’s already in use even if you make a slight change. You want to be easily found on social media!)
4. Remember: you are always ON.
“Be nice to everyone and try to be the easiest person to work with in the room, from both producers and fellow performers points’ of view.” -Dolly DeStory, Burlesque performer and alternative model
From the moment you make your first promotional post on social media, you are building a reputation for yourself. That reputation will follow you from city to city and precede you to venues you haven’t even worked with yet. Remember: in the dressing room, backstage, at the bar after the show, in the audience of someone else’s show, on social media– you are always ON. Everything you do in the presence of producers and fellow performers affects your ability to get booked for future shows.
Recurrent attention-seeking nervous breakdowns in the dressing room? Forget about it. Hounding your producers over text with questions that have already been answered via email? No thanks. Arriving late, being a diva, or getting wasted or high and acting a fool before, during, and after a show? Girl, bye! Trust me, any producer will tell you: we would rather book a solid performer who conducts themselves well than an amazing performer who’s going to embarrass our company or antagonize the other performers.
5. Focus on constant self-improvement.
“As artists, we should always continue to get better and try and keep perspective of where we really are level-wise. Be humble and realistic– some people want to run when they just learned how to walk. If a person starting out wants to get to that next level but just can’t seem to break through, they need to ask someone in their discipline what the problem may be. Asking for this kind of advice takes a lot of humility and you have to be prepared to take criticism but you can learn much more from failure than success.” -Barney Rivera, stand-up comedian
As artists, we all struggle with feedback on our work. Great art is personal, labor-intensive, and vulnerable. If you don’t learn how to take criticism, however, you just aren’t going to go far in this industry. In theatre school, we called it “Take the f—ing note.” Meaning, if someone tasked with your improvement gives you a suggestion on a choice you’ve made, listen genuinely and avoid the temptation to argue or explain. Sure, as your aesthetic and skills develop you can start to take people’s opinions with a grain of salt, but do your best to find the lesson in the opinions that people share.
There you have it, fam– a few points to remember for beefing up your bookings and making those sweet, sweet dollars, euros, renminbi, free booze, or whatever else you accept as payment. Additions, suggestions, or comments? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time!
Glitter, love, and mustaches,