As a new performer, the world of burlesque and cabaret is an exciting one… It can open new doors to new pathways in life, it can open you up to new friends and experiences… You might be offered a lot of shows, which is good, as we bet you are keen to get on that stage and perform! But while not wanting to put anyone off by any means, we’ve compiled some advice that will hopefully keep you safe…
Getting A Great Learning Experience From Shows…
While you are new to the stage, you are still learning… Yes, you may have learnt your routine already, but the learning doesn’t stop outside the rehearsal studio. A good performer never stops learning, ever. You can learn much more from filling a newcomer slot on a bill of established performers than doing a lot of only newcomer shows – although newcomers showcases are a fun, supportive environment as everyone is in the same boat – and you will easily make a lot of friends! Similarly, you can learn a lot about doing a very badly organised show where the producer is wrecked, you have all your kit robbed and you are left stranded after the promised over night stay has fallen through – but we don’t want you to learn that kind of lesson!
First and foremost – you don’t have to do every show you are offered…
This might sound ridiculous, especially from Bluestocking – when we advise new performers to do as many shows as you can, but be choosy and think about the kind of shows you are offered. Make a list of shows you respect and have heard good things about and apply to them and ask other performers their advise on the best shows to perform at. For newcomers, we’d especially advice Leeds’ Varietease, a very supportive and creative show, run by the excellent Mourning Star. There are other prominent shows that offer newcomers slots. These will look awesome on your burly CV and will give you a great experience of performing with and for other performers who will offer advice if you need it, and give you a quality experience on the stage, on bills with some of the bigger names in the UK burlesque scene – very inspiring for any new performer! It’ll also be in front of a supportive crowd. But things to think about – if you are offered a show at the local pub (for example), check who the show is run by, what kind of audience will be there, will the show be ‘policed’ by a pay at the door system or can any one come in and have a look? Is there changing facilities? If it is just a case of turning up and performing in front of the regulars, this will probably not give you a great experience. A dedicated audience there to see a show is much better than a handful of indifferent barflys more interested in their pint.
Offers Out Of The Blue…
Similarly, an offer to perform for someone you’ve never heard of, dropping in your inbox may sound very exciting but you have to ask why they are contacting you. If they’ve not seen you perform, the chances are they’ve messaged a lot of other performers and are hoping someone will get back to them to perform for free. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the bookings in your first year will probably be unpaid, which is cool as you’re still learning the art of performing to an audience, but this also invites the interest of chancers. We cannot stress this enough… Do your research! Look up who they are, what they stand for and what they want. If they want someone to dirty dance while their band plays “sleazy rock” do you want to be associated with that? If you do, then cool. But our advice is think of the image you want to create for yourself and stick to it. Also, ask yourself why they are contacting you if they’ve not seen you perform. Personally, if we’ve never heard of the producer/band sending the message, we would never take the risk.
Performing… It’s a Risky Business…
Again, while not wanting to put anyone off, we also want to make sure all the performers, especially newcomers or younger performers, have a great experience on the stage. Which means you must keep yourself safe. This boils down to the type of shows you apply for (and again, we would recommend they are always from trusted sources, be that shows on your ‘hit list’ or shows another performer has recommended to you). We would never ever advise performing at a show without doing research on the producer or show and audience type.
Who is Running The Show?
If you don’t know the producer, look at their track record. If they only book ‘free’ artists but bill it as a professional show, can they be trusted? If they never book names you’ve heard on, again, can they be trusted? On the other hand, if they are linked to established artists and have a list of known performers who want to work with them, then they are probably a good bet. Listen to others’ experiences – but not to hearsay! Most important as there is a difference between good advice and gossip.
Key things to ask:
Are they reliable? We mean this in terms of them offering you a booking and getting there to find you are not on the bill (always get a definite confirmation with the venue location and contact numbers of producer).
Are they professional? Will they keep ‘popping up’ in the dressing room if you are trying to get changed?/do they get so hammered they don’t know what the hell is going on with their show? / are they too over familiar?/ do they treat their audience and performers with respect?
Does the show actually exist? Yes, that does sound like a joke but really, there are “producers” out there who will crop up on social media with fictional shows to be “popular” or “on the scene” (psychos – definitely avoid!)
We know that a key part of performing is getting promo shots done. We will do a whole post on them later, but while we’re on the subject of safety and opportunities that might arise to new performers, it’s worth mentioning here. If you get a photographer out of the blue (who doesn’t know you or your work) offering a photo shoot for free be very careful about responding. Similarly, you might see a job post aimed at burlesque performers and pin-up models and are thinking of responding. Again, think very carefully. Especially if they are in another area to where you live and especially if they are “open minded”. We’re not saying all photographers are bad – we know a tonne of great ones around the UK (just ask us, we’d be happy to recommend), but make sure you get recommendations from other performers who have been snapped – forums on facebook and Ministry Of Burlesque are great for advise from others on this. If you don’t know anyone who has worked with this photographer (alarm bells!!) ask to see their work. If they can’t show you anything you feel comfortable with, don’t do it.
If you do find yourself in a situation with a photographer that is either intimidating, makes you feel uncomfortable or there’s a seedy undertone that you don’t like, don’t feel afraid to stop the session. You can do this. Do not feel bad about putting your clothes back on and just leaving, This will not tarnish your reputation. You have to feel right. and you have a right to feel comfortable and supported. There is nothing wrong in putting yourself first.
The golden rule – DO NOT PUT YOURSELF IN DANGER!
To sum up, here’s a quick checklist to bear in mind:
- Where is the show?
Is it in the middle of nowhere? Is it in a town? How will you get there? More importantly, how will you get home?
- Will there be a place to stay?
Sometimes producers offer a place to stay if a show is not in your hometown. ALWAYS check this out before committing to a show. Do you trust the producer (either on reliability – you don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere, or trust them personally to not invade your space if you do stay)? During over four years performing I’ve heard horror stories of young performers being given a room plastered in explicit porno posters, of doors opening in the night and a male producer assuming that it’s ok to enter the bedroom where a performer is sleeping and more. Not wanting to scare anyone as this has never happened to me personally, but KEEP YOURSELF SAFE!
- What is the venue
Is the venue in a theatre, club, restaurant, ‘dedicated venue for entertainment’ (festival location, function room/similar) or is it on the floor of a pub, someone’s ‘private function’ in a private facility. If it is in someone’s home (or a non-public space), be very careful. If you decide to take the booking check who will be there (we would advise only doing these shows for people you know) and always take someone with you and tell a third party where you are going.
- How is the show policed?
Check that the venue is operating a properly policed ticketing/pay on the door system, that way you can ensure the right people will be at the show and you know that the organiser is er, organised.
As a new performer, chances are you will not be insured. Check that the show is insured. Any decent producer worth their salt will insure the show which will cover you in the event of anything happening.
- Who will the audience be?
Do your research and check to see the type of show being offered. If it’s more of a lads’ night out, quite rowdy, etc is this the type of performing experience you want?
- Where will you get changed?
We know that at some shows, dressing rooms are like gold dust, but there should always be a safe, secure place for you to get changed that won’t be on view of the public. Somewhere that you will be safe from members of the public walking in and somewhere safe for your valuables…
While all this advice may sound a little harsh, we just want all new performers to be open to the fact you can say ‘no’ to a potential booking if it doesn’t sound right. Your first year performing should be a special time full of great experiences to build upon. It’s a time of learning how to work the crowd, how to behave at a show and how to perform and we just want you all to have the best experience out of it. There will always be offers of other shows, Be discerning, do your research and stay safe.