So you have the enthusiasm and the ambition but you don’t yet have the shows? As a newcomer to the scene it can be very hard to break onto the stage without experience so here’s some tips that we see working time after time…
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? but the easiest route to the stage really is to take a class. Not just because you will learn (hopefully!) about the artform, and a good teacher will unlock the natural talents you already have (and not just force you into a cookie-cutter and stamp out another version of what their idea of burlesque is) but some classes lead to showcases for those who put the work in. This might be in the form of a troupe where you have learned a routine with a class or you may have been asked to work on a solo act as part of your course. Either way, being chosen by your teacher to perform as part of the school showcase will be a great opportunity.
*top tip: make the most of this opportunity! If you are chosen for a showcase, rehearse rehearse rehearse! This goes without saying! So that when you hit the stage you perform to your best. Also, have a friend in the audience film your act. Video footage is almost invaluable when it comes to applying for shows. Make sure they have a clear angle and are close enough to pick up your facial expressions. Also, check to see if the show is being photographed, and if so, ask the photographer if you can use their photos of you.
Another thing that goes without saying. Producers book acts who practice or who look highly practiced. Producers don’t waste valuable slots on those who do not put the work in. You need to be the best you can be. And even better than that, and that takes work. You are entering a very competitive industry and there will always be a performer who will have practised more and harder – and they will come across as wanting that valuable newcomer slot more.
I’ve got loads of acts!
If this is you, and you’ve not even performed yet, then maybe this is why. We all have loads of great ideas pinging around for great acts. But we need to focus. Most new performers who are successful and who seem to be getting all the shows only have one or two acts in their first couple of years of performing. The benefits of only focusing on one or two acts are that you can really polish the acts. You can get to know the acts – the more you rehearse (or perform) them the stronger they will become and you may even think of better moves the more you do them. You can get to know who you are as a performer whilst performing an act you are confident about. You can learn how to work the audience and what works on stage with an act you know inside out. You really can build up a reputation for your act – and become the performer that producers want to book because they’ve heard of that act and need it badly in their show. If you have loads of acts that you’ve never performed (or have only performed once), not only is it a waste of costuming, time and effort, but you can’t ever get to know the insides and outsides of that act. You can’t ever let it evolve and be confident enough performing it.
*Top tip: be connected to your act. That way you’ll grow closer to the act the more you rehearse and eventually perform it and it’ll never get boring.. Devising an act that doesn’t mean anything to you can make you easily tire of it.
With live auditions costly – both time and money-wise, a lot of shows relying on video footage, you might be thinking how on earth do you get the footage if you’ve not yet done a show. But there are many ways around this:
- Hit the rehearsal studio. Get a friend to film you in the rehearsal studio. Don’t forget you can always dress a space to be more in-theme if you are worried about it looking very rehearsaly…
- If you have a show booked, get a friend to film it!
- Hire a space! Gather friends! A lot of local community buildings or even small theatres (or professional theatres) have spaces with stages in or a performance area which can be hired for a couple of hours during a quiet day. Gather a few performer friends who are also in need of footage together and take turns to film one another’s act. That way you will have a live audience to bounce off and will enjoy it more as you’ll have the support of your friends. Plus you can have a few runs at your routine to make sure it’s the best it can be.
- DON’T even think about filming your act in a cluttered living room, messy garden with your dad barbecuing sausages in the back garden and the neighbours looking over the fence – or similar. Producers need to see clear footage of your act and not be distracted by what else is in the picture. Clear an area – move big stuff out to create a clear frame for your act to be showcased. Clear out of shot people and pets that don’t need to be there. Remember, your future does actually depend on this!
- AND DON’T think blurry, heads in the way, footage of you doing your thing at someone’s birthday party, with Aunty Vi on film duties, giving a running commentary – or chatting to her mate loudly over the top of your track – or swiveling around ‘looking’ for you in shot (creating a very dizzying experience for the viewer) will be good enough to clinch you a show. No. It will be better sent to You’ve Been Framed and earn a cash prize and narration by Harry Hill.
*top tip – think about the camera angle. If you are taking the time to record, take the time to set it up. Invest in a tripod or a friend with non-shaky hands. Higher angles are better than low angled shots. Wide angles get more of the action in. Also, if you are filming from a show, if there is a lighting tech, ask them not to use red lighting as red lighting can ‘bleed’ or cause a camera not to focus.
Stand out from other performers and you will be noticed. Producers get sent many video links for a show and no matter how confident you look in your clip, if you are dancing along to cliched tracks in a pink corset and boa combo or doing a generic chair dance in a red and black ‘moulin rouge’ ann summers outfit, complete with fan section (that also involves trademark ann summers black fluffy small fans), as harsh as it sounds, your clip will be overlooked. Producers, especially those with a few years of shows under their belts, will have seen plenty of these type of acts (yawwwn! Not original or showcasing any talent at all) and will be looking for a dynamic new performer that shows forward thinking or lateral creativity.
“But my acts only consist of the above…”
If your entry point into burlesque is doing acts as described above, then that is no problem at all. In everything in life, our interest as peaked by what we see on the surface. This is okay for the hobbyist but if you are looking to apply for shows outside of your safety net, you need to think bigger. Most of the professional performers we know were lured into burlesque by a pair of pink frilly pants but what makes them memorable is the fact they scratched beyond that Ann Summers/Leg Avenue/everyone’s idea of “burlesque” surface. They researched, took classes in other disciplines, added other areas of inspiration and made creative choices for costumes.
*Top Tip – You need to be a contender to be in the game. If you want to take performing seriously, and be booked as a serious performer, it’s time to scratch the surface yourself.
Firstly, research. Do not underestimate the power of research. And don’t just limit yourself to looking at your favourite performers on youtube or key words on google. Research is looking into everything. EVERYTHING connected to the art form. For instance, doing a historical act? Soak up everything you can about that time, era, person… You might find an amazing avenue to direct your act towards… Doing an Isis wing act – look into the origin of these sorts of props (the skirt dancer of the 1800s – was pretty pioneering then) go to the root of that prop and take it in a new direction rather than copy a copy of a copy… The same goes with fan dances… Widen your knowledge – eg acts based on fairy tales- research the root of that fairy tale as sometimes the roots are far more symbolic and interesting (eg little red riding hood is a folk tale about the sexual awakening of a young girl)… Hit the library, hit ancient knowledge, hit archived pathe footage, try new art forms, look at costumes from different ages, mix in things like magic, etc… Aim to enrich your knowledge and create something that is truly you and not a generic act that producers will have seen hundreds of times before.
Take classes in other disciplines can really help diversify your act. We love the performer Ophelia Wilde, and a lot of her acts are based on classical dance training and street dance. Other dance classes which can help are belly dance – great for perfecting shimmies, wiggles and losening up the body and making acts flow. Also think about clowning, drama, circus skills, drag, musical instrument, magic, gymnastics… any of these other skills can add a dynamic to your performance
Think out of the box when it comes to costumes… You don’t need to spend a fortune to look a million dollars. Even things bought in shops can be customised. and that is the key to upping your game and getting noticed as a newcomer – NEVER wear a piece on stage exactly as it came in the shops (or from eBay China). There are loads of things you can do to make something yours – making things out of really clashing colours for instance will make you stand out and looks great on stage, plus you can customise on just a few quid – check out our shoe make overs article and costuming your first act feature, plus if you search this site there’s tutorials on making a professional pair of pasties, customising bras, etc…
So, tell me what shows to apply for…
This actually is on you. You want to perform, you must do the research yourself on shows. You have to put hard work in this area to, as no one can hand you this information on a plate. Research shows in your chosen area. Research who the producer is and the contact email for application. Things to bear in mind:
- level of show. If it is a very slick, professional production with polished performers from across the globe, who normally don’t offer a newcomer slot, this is not for you.
- corporate dinner shows – again, not usually for newcomers
- touring/resident-type productions. With this type of show it is worth doing a bit of digging. While some touring productions have a set cast throughout the production, certain producers often offer a newcomer slot, particularly if it a show which hits different areas of the country. Some producers will use the newcomer slot to generate ticket sales and interest in an unknown area and if you have a lot of support in that area, you could be in with a chance.
- Newcomer shows. Do your research here. While newcomer shows are great for getting exposure and meeting like-minded performers at the same stage of career, make sure that the producer running the show is professional, has a good reputation and that the show is billed as a newcomer show in publicity, not used by the promoter to line their pockets by charging a door premium with the audience thinking they will be seeing professional level performers. Why is this important to you? Well, the expectations of such an audience will be very different. Audiences primed to a newcomer will be behind the performer and very supportive.
- Competitions – great for getting exposure. Some great ones include Burlesque Idol and the Tassle-Off, plus most of the burlesque festivals run newcomer shows (and these will often be in great venues with amazing lights and a photography team). Most will rely on just the video link for offering a place, too. But if you enter a competition, be prepared – there can only be one winner. On the other side of that coin, it’s a great way to get to know the producers!
Application and Pay
There are plenty of posts here to help you on Applying for a casting Applications for new performers (and the inevitable – dealing with rejection) on here – just have a search. But the main thing is, if you are a new performer, mostly you will be looking for stage time to further your experience, widen your name and build contacts, so do not expect a fee. Most of the binned applications from new performers state ridiculous fees that often make the headliner’s fee seem like peanuts! You really could not make it up! Getting you first foot on the ladder can be a hard and expensive journey – especially if you are continually applying for (and traveling to) out of town shows. We’ve all been there. Which leads us on to…
In all ways. By all means be ambitious with your career, be driven and focused when it comes to achievements. But when applying for a casting be realistic. By this we mean, if a casting states anything like “experienced”/”seasoned pros only”/”professional”/”accomplished”/etc… and you have only done a handful of shows (or none at all), do not apply. Not even with the lines of “I know your casting for ‘x’ but I… blah blah…” as your application will be laughed into the bin. Also, be realistic in terms of shows you apply for. This again goes back to researching shows – if you are short on cash, limit yourselves to shows across a certain mileage radius until you are at a level to command fees. Be realistic about the costume budget too – don’t expect custom made items for your first act, particularly if you don’t know if you’ll ever perform it more than a handful of times (remember you are still learning your style and what works for you, routine-wise). And be realistic about your experience when talking to others. Don’t be tempted to lie your way in by stating you’ve done ‘x’ amount of shows or have worked “before” with this or that performer. Being honest opens you up to producers who will trust you more than the hundreds of applications they get with over-inflated experience. Producers like honesty and hard work.
Yes, we keep saying that, don’t we. That’s because it is hard work. Getting shows is hard work. And breaking into the scene is hard work. And while there are a lot of performers who will help you, and great forums that you can ask questions and expect answers from seasoned pros and those who have been there, there really is no substitute for learning from your OWN experience. This means being prepared to fall flat on your arse (metaphorically and in reality!). You learn a lot from mistakes. Fuck it! The whole of our advice posts on here are actually made up from making loads and loads of mistakes and looking like twats (glittery twats). The whole reason why we thought it would be good to write our advice down was so the girls who take our courses could learn from our mistakes (which has now widened to you, where ever you are, reading this now! Hello!) Our advice is, by all means ask questions and ask for help, but do this alongside what you are already doing. Do your own research, fall flat on your own arse and pretty soon reach your own goals and heights!
So if you’ve not performed before the chances are you’ve not yet had the chance to make a CV. Don’t worry, not all shows require a CV, especially if you are applying for a newcomer slot. Just be honest about your experience, send a strong video link or something original or that shows promise and hopefully you’ll be getting attention very soon.