Sunday, June 7, 2015

Embracing "Full-Time Artistry"

Due in large part to my having a month's worth of down time between jobs, I've been spending a lot of time I'd normally be spending in an office with other performers. Naturally, the topic of working as a full-time burlesquer has come up, usually when I've mentioned suddenly being available to rehearse during mid-day. I've noticed many of my fellow burlesque performers express the intent to move towards performing as their full-time occupation, and I'd be remiss if I didn't express some kind of curiosity as to how that decision comes to fruition. On top of that, I was also curious as to how that functions as an autonomous lifestyle--especially since there really isn't a "top tier" of burlesque performance.

Let me clarify what I mean. If you're a great singer, actor, writer, musician, shock jock, athlete, flea circus ringleader, lightning juggler, painter, or comedian, there's an industry and an infrastructure there to make sure you have the opportunity to get famous and rich using your particular skill set. Burlesque doesn't really have that. The highest tier in the business is pretty readily accessible if you know how to network. Add to that, making a solid career out of performance where your bread and butter gigs will never be in 45,000 seat arenas inevitably means that it's destined to be a long, financially mediocre struggle, though not without its merits. When one of my fellow performers makes the decision that he or she wants to make a career out of burlesque, I reckon there is a lot of thought that has to be involved in the decision, since most high-level gigs are rarely more than 3-digit paychecks.

I've asked some pointed questions of three of my favorite performers who are either contemplating making the transition to full-time, have recently done it and returned to part-time, or who have been doing it as their main gig with no end in sight, and they were each kind enough to give me some thoughtful commentary. I spoke with Fem Bones of the Slaughterhouse Sweethearts, Luminous Pariah of Mod Carousel, and Dangrrr Doll (of RAWR Burlesque), three performers I admire and respect. this thing on?

First question; "Why? Also, how are you?"

Fem - "The frustration of not doing my best due to all my energy going into what I can only view as a gigantic time waster(day job). Whats the point of having a passion when you are too tired to chase it with all you got?"

Dangrrr - "I'm good! I went to college hoping I would become an editor at a publishing house or something, and then the recession hit. It made it impossible for me to use my degree. For a month I worked at a firm that designed museums, and all the employees wore t shirts and jeans but as the secretary, I had to wear a full suit every day, with my hair back in a bun. And if any of my hair was frizzy, I would get yelled at. I wasn't allowed to wear makeup. But during that job was when I started taking commissions, and I decided I could, and would quit for good!"

Luminous - "My goal was to become a theater actor, but I shortly after decided I wanted to be an environmental scientist. In a 'break" from school, I discovered burlesque and had to know more. I began attending shows obsessively; learning through watching, and of course meeting performers. Ultra took me under his wing and also sent me to Seattle's academy of Burlesque where I was "spotted" at my recital. After that, Waxie Moon gave me several large opportunities for artistic experimentation and exposure (pun intended). The more professional performers that I met, the more I began to wonder why I was slinging espresso at 6am when this tribe of people I so clearly belonged to was beckoning me to join the glittery side."

Luminous Pariah

Second question; "Did you have a short term or long term plan?"

Dangrrr - "Costuming wise: I want to stop taking commissions and I want to create an actual readywear high end lingerie line, with employees and all. In regards to burlesque. You just have to be willing to take that risk to potentially be very very poor or very very stressed for a while, as you get on your feet."

Luminous - "I made the leap of faith to give up my day job in 2011. I had a full business plan, that I had set in motion before letting go of my day-job."

Fem - "See what is possible when using the eight hours a day that would be wasted, and use it strictly for art purposes. See if having my natural sleep pattern(4am-12) would help my energy, and productivity levels. 20 years from now I expect to have evolved into a completely different creature."

Third question; "How's the lifestyle? Pros and cons?"

Dangrrr - "Well, I just have to be really careful about my expenditures. I can't afford as much in rent as other people maybe can, I have to limit my leisure spending. But I do pretty good actually, somehow I manage not to be starving even with crazy NYC expenses. I just keep really good track of my finances."

Fem - "I've been booking a few more gigs, but frankly, I don't find a TON of Boston burlesque work lately, and out of town is expensive. I'm still pushing, but the fact is producing is where I make the more income. With more time on my hands potentially equaling more events for me to produce..... That could POTENTIALLY actually work as a long term situation. I've also thought about teaching some classes..... But I'm juggling a lot right now as is."

Luminous - "The best part of self-employment was the pure autonomy. It was wonderful to move around the globe as I pleased. On the flip side; it was quite difficult to manage the number of micro duties and events that I needed to take part in to keep an income flow. Not being able to budget at all was very frustrating and at times terrifying."

Question for Luminous; "Why did you go back to non-performance for an income, and what would you tell other performers who are planning to go full-time?"

Luminous - "Performance is still my main focus, but I've relieved a lot of stress in my life by paying rent through a day-job. I find myself taking gigs because I'm interested in them, rather than because I need them to pay my bills. Less stress has actually freed my creativity a lot too. I think I'm actually being booked more now than I ever have been before - which is funny. I also love being able to recycle my income from performing directly back into costumes and production."

Question for Dangrrr; "What are the next big professional steps for you as a full time artist?"

Dangrrr - "I am honestly thinking of either going back to school, or getting another job, just because I need to stop taking commissions in order to get the line started- and I need startup capital, too."

Dangrrr Doll

Question for Fem; "You had mentioned to me at one point that your day job was 'a waste of time' but I am curious whether or not your non-performance work had any value to you prior to swearing it off for good. Did it?"

Fem - "It made me value the opportunity I have to make art versus a life without it, and community. It reminded me to respect others, and their unknown situations, even if my customers did not. It also gave me the bitterness, and spite to do what I can to never have to go back."

Fem Bones

My own thoughts;

Among all this, I like to think I know myself. I don't think I would ever want to take on performance as a full time engagement, specifically because I don't think my creative drive will ever overtake my desire to be financially consistent. I know that there were a few gigs that I've taken as a means of keeping money coming in that would not take again if I didn't have to--gigs that many of my full-time-performer friends depend on. I know that I don't have a supplementary way of earning consistent income, and I don't produce enough shows to give me a big enough regular paycheck.

I suppose my own loyalty is to having a good work-life balance. I figured that if I don't see any one obligation as too important, I might be able to keep myself well-rounded and attentive to the greatest needs I have as they arise. Yeah, that sounds profound. I'll go with that.

"In fact, I think I'll even get two friends to help me rub one out to
my own philosophizing."
But I salute my friends and fellow performers who do, because it's not easy. And I do think that in addition to the strong performance skills and required business acumen, there's a required level of self-awareness. I'd love to hear from you about your own pursuits into full-time artistry, feel free to comment or message--and thank you again for reading.

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