Advice from the Producer’s Chair: How Can I Get Booked for More and Better Paying Gigs?

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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.

aflThe 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.

kevinmaximYou 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!

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-9-57-28-pmThese 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

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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.

barneyAs 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,
E

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Austin International Drag Festival Recap!

Hey kings, queens, and in-betweens. I was super frickin’ honored to be a part of the Austin International Drag Festival this past weekend in Austin, TX. We’re talking four days of workshops, panels, shows, and some sickening-ass drag. Curious about how things went down? Read on.

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It was such a pleasure to finally meet performers that I’ve been stalking on Instagram for ages: the inspiring gender-blender Goldie Peacock, out of Brooklyn, NY; badass boi wonders Switch ‘n Play, Brooklyn’s premier drag king troupe; sharp-witted bio queen bad bitch Wendy Ho; and the unique live-singing visionary Ryan Stecken, among many, many others.

Easily the best part of any festival like this is getting the chance to see different performers’ unique takes on drag. There were tons of different styles: slick, masculine drag kings and exotic, feminine queens next to funky art genderfuck on the same stage as dark, goth sleaze-drag. I even met another king who regularly performs in heels (shout out Colin Acumen!) and got to exchange ‘Ni Haos’ with Taiwanese stud muffin Wang Newton.

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Wang Newton and Colin Acumen

The thing about this festival is that it’s huge. There are hundreds of performers from all over the world. It’s great because there’s something for everybody, although multiple simultaneous shows meant that it was hard to catch all of the performances I wanted to see. That said, I still had a fabulous time presenting three acts in two different showcases: my Money-inspired angle grinder act, my Soldier Boy act, and my French Fop.

Oh, and let’s talk about this for a second: at performances in the US, people tip!

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DOLLAR DOLLAR BILLS Y’ALL

So while I saw tons and tons of amazing drag at the fest, here are five artists and acts that really stood out to me (in no particular order):

  • Erika Clash’s Mommy Dearest tribute

Anime/Gaymer queen Erika Clash of Bronx, NY slayed me with her freaky geek-chic style. On Friday, I got the chance to watch her get a ghostly ass-whooping to a mash-up of Ariana Grande’s “Break Free” with clips from Mommy Dearest. I loved how provocative and cheeky the act was in addition to her insane styling. Definitely going to keep an eye on her work in the future!

  • Sammy Silver’s Sexy Robot

Let it be known: drag king Sammy Silver can dance. Not only dance, but bring the whole damn house down with his moves. This king was friendly, down-to-earth, and a little soft-spoken which is why my jaw hit the floor when I saw him perform about ten different dance styles in a row as part of an act where he was a programmable dance robot. Well done, Sammy.

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  • Crimson Kitty’s ASPCA Parody

Let’s take it back a few years ago. You’re sitting in your living room, watching TV, enjoying a nice night in… when on comes Sarah McLachlan and a host of sad-eyed puppies ready to ruin your entire damn day. Remember that? Crimson Kitty does. This amazing female drag queen from NY stepped on stage to perform a live adoption ad for herself in a leopard-print catsuit. Hilarious and brilliant, Crimson Kitty proved that great drag is great regardless of gender.

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  • Maximum Capacity and Flare’s Gay Sailor Duet

So my love for Canadian kings Flare and Maximum Capacity has almost certainly reached stalker levels. I can’t help it– they are a sexy pair of kings! They charmed me out of a few dollar bills with a duet between two randy sailors set to *NSYNC’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart.” I loved this act because not only for its adorable synchronized dance moves but because of how subtly political it is. In the US, LGBT servicemen and -women were only recently granted the explicit right to serve as openly queer despite a history of extremely competent, highly-decorated service. This act was charming, precious, and hot all at once, with great chemistry between the two performers. (Check out a Game of Thrones-themed version of the same act below.)

  • Colin Acumen’s Hot Caulk

Self-styled “Princess King” Colin Acumen of Milwaukee, WI, USA killed me with his tongue-in-cheek display of free-flowing caulk. Caulk all over. Covered in caulk. (“I’m just surprised nobody has done this before,” he told me while we were talking shop.) Colin, you stumbled on a gold mine. This act featured a construction worker getting down and dirty, culminating an explosive finale featuring… tons of caulk. So good!

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Colin’s caulk (with a little help from Max Capacity)

In closing, I’m already thinking about the acts I’m going to bring to next year’s AIDF. Y’all just wait. You don’t even know.

Until next time.

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Drag kings of the world UNITE! (Photo Credit Wang Newton)

Check out more photos from AIDF on Instagram and Facebook.