Thursday, August 27, 2015

Trolling Cold-Email Marketing Solicitors

I've discovered a new passion of mine, and it is glorious.

Recently, I've been getting a slew of cold emails from marketing people who think I'm some important business executive, usually soliciting me for advertising and/or website optimization. If the cold email is patently baseless (e.g. wrong website, wrong employer, thinks my name is something it's not), I've been rebutting them in a supportive but critical way.

Let me explain.

Dale Stones' alter-ego in real life works in sales, and understands what goes into the cold-sales process. On a daily basis, he sends out emails himself in order to secure future business. When I receive emails from people in the same position, I always give them the attention they deserve, especially since I may find some usefulness regarding the content within. But sometimes, a rep sends me an email and gets it so dreadfully wrong that I can't help but respond in a comically critical way. Here's a recent one I got;

Email #1

I sent along a photo, too;

I'd be psyched to get this in my inbox.

In the email, the guy got my company wrong, didn't know my name, and had a complete misunderstanding of what I do. Frankly, I'm not sure how he made the connection to me from the bistro he wanted to sell to. Truly mind-boggling.

Here's another one;

Email #2

I've also attached the photos I sent back;

This is the photo that features a tool prominently.

What I found fascinating about this email was that the guy sent me an email asking about a site that wasn't even close to the website I actually curate. That's truly bizarre, if for no other reason than because misspelling a website on the internet is dangerous. Almost everything re-directs to porn. Since I am not porn, I thought it might be a good idea to give this guy in particular a very loose correlation to what he thought he was searching for.

Also, he obviously did not do a google search for my website, as Sirlesque's search results are damned specific. He would've seen a bunch of mostly-naked dudes and said "yeah, these guys definitely know a lot about search engine functionality. And also butts. They know a lot about butts."

Instead, he did a search for a website that sells transmissions. These things only mildly overlap.

I believe there will be more emails, if the past is any indication. Stay tuned for additional coverage--this is my new favorite sport.

Also of importance; I have not received any responses to my follow ups.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Burlesque as a Business

Alternatease, Boston's Annual Neo-Burlesque Festival just wrapped for the weekend, and what a weekend it was. I love getting the chance to celebrate neo-burlesque with like-minded performers, and ALL of them brought the weird. There were too many good ones to name, but the ones that stuck out the most for me were Cherie Nuit's fanny-pack-ridden travelogue strip, Bustee Keaton's Ayn Rand masterpiece, and the Lipstick Criminals, who won Top Banana with their finger-light mega-art extravagance.

Alternatease Ta Ta's Competition - Photo by Hans Wedland
It all got me thinking about what goes into the production aspect of burlesque. For a weekend festival to have gone so smoothly, so many things had to go just so. There was precision in the way that it was handled, and I wanted to discuss the inner workings of production in the burlesque world with one of my own burlesque idols, Jane Doe. Not only is Jane Doe one of the three producers on the team responsible for making Alternatease happen for three years running, but she's one of the fiercest, most committed performers I've ever met across any discipline.

Jane Doe - Photo by Roger Gordy

Dale Stones - "So what makes a good producer? What are your unconditional beliefs or guarantees?"

Jane Doe - "Communication (clear and frequent, but not excessive) – I think it’s important to let the people you book know what’s going on, when they’re expected to be where, that they know about anything that’s different than usual, etc. But you also don’t want them to have to read a different book-length email every day. Bullet points are your friend. Be available and responsible. Make sure your cast and crew have your phone number AND your email so they can get you if they need you.

Flexibility – Shit can and will go wrong. Ticket sales may suck. People will get sick, props will change, acts that you didn’t think would be messy end up trashing the stage. Just try and roll with it. Once it’s done, all you can do is figure out how to move forward.

Honesty – Everything works better if everyone is honest. Across the board.

Kindness & manners – Full disclosure: rudeness is my pet peeve. Manners are free, and kindness goes a loooong way. Your cast, crew, and audience are everything. They should feel welcome, and wanted, and special. If you have all the hallmarks of a good producer but you’re an asshole, no one is going to want to work with you.

DS - "And what do you feel are your responsibilities versus those of the contracted performers, and the venue?"

JD - "You should be the point of contact with the venue. It’s one thing to ask the performers for help with logistical/tech-related questions on their acts (obviously they know their own work the best), but if you’re getting pushback on something, you should be the one dealing with that, and communicating anything necessary to the performer yourself."

DS - "Could you go into detail about a situation where your terms weren't honored, what happened, and what you learned from that?"

JD - "I was booked for a private party at a local night club, and had in fact given up another paying gig on the same night. After confirming multiple times both in person and via email, I found out during a casual conversation with another performer that they were cancelling the burlesque portion of the evening. I texted the booker directly to ask him what was going on, since he hadn’t even contacted me, and I absolutely would’ve just showed up at my agreed-upon and confirmed call time. He responded with what essentially amounted to “Oops. Things have changed.”

Even though we had confirmed multiple times via email, I realized after the fact that we had never put the rate in writing. As a result, I didn’t have many options in the way of recourse, and ended up just losing money on the evening. So now, if I don’t know a producer, I’m super adamant about making sure that I have absolutely everything in writing."

DS - "All good stuff! Thank you."

JD - "Thanks Dale!"

Jane Doe, front right, organizing outings like a boss.
I didn't have time to cover every topic with Jane Doe, as she was in elbows-deep making sure Alternatease went off without a hitch.

I did want to discuss the issue of money specifically (in the production circuit specifically, not including festivals), as it is one that often times gets glossed over when discussing the details of an upcoming show or production involving artists. On the producer's side, the reasons could range from initial costs which exceed expectation to personal financial instability, to even lack of confidence in being able to market a show to a large enough crowd, just to list a couple of examples. I think it's important to take a stand on a few key topics about money in performance, and here are mine;

I believe that every contract performer I pay should be given a guarantee. Often, a performer has to gauge his or her willingness to perform in your show based on their own budget. If someone has to incur more expenses than the producer is willing to compensate for, the performer suffers if they decide to book the gig. If the performer you want to book has a close budget, this often means losing you that performer for your show. Add to that, if you're counting on a well-known performer being a highlight in your lineup, not offering a confident guarantee means that those performer's fans might not decide to attend, losing you money.

On top of that, giving a confident guarantee means that you're now motivated to make sure your show does well. The thing that makes credit so menacing is that you're expected to pay it back. Investing in producing a good show is no exception, and people give you a good show when they know their efforts are being valued--and confidence in who you're booking makes all the difference.

I won't keep secrets about what I pay people. If people know what you're paying and you keep your rates and promises consistent, people will treat you as a professional. If nobody knows when or even IF you're paying them, they'll be hesitant to work with you in the future, or even trust you. Plus, I used to work in the restaurant business. People talk to each other about what they make all the time. So you don't want to seem dodgy for paying two people doing the same job wildly different rates. Or, if you do--you'd better be able to justify why.

You should also be able to document what you pay people and when, because getting a full-arm ham-fisting from Uncle Sam may be a great burlesque act concept, but it's a sobering problem off-stage; you don't want to be unable to prove that you paid people or that you didn't earn income from performing and producing ever in your life. The IRS doesn't like that.

*Actual footage of an IRS audit.

Going back 5 years, I wish I'd been more organized and up-to-date on my tax stuff, because the amount I've had to pay in penalties and previous-years' taxes has cost me thousands upon thousands of dollars. And I'm not sure I'm even done paying yet. That shit sucks.

I will pay more than the guarantee if the show does well, never less. I was speaking to a musician friend of mine recently, and he told me the story of how he showed up to a gig, played a 3-hour set, and was given a check for less than half of what was agreed upon. When that happens after you've been given a guarantee, you know you're dealing with a criminal with no remorse.

The fact is, the performer's options in this unfortunate scenario are limited. With written agreements, you can sue for the amount, but the time and resources involved in legal recourse may not be worth the effort. I've known people who will openly trash the booking agent's reputation on social media or warn other performers about working with that person, but the only real outcome is that someone gets screwed.

But if ticket sales happen to do really well? Share some extra wealth with your performers so that they feel rewarded for the amount of hard work and promoting they did. Cirque of the Dead was a great example of this in action, and I was very gracious that the Boston Circus Guild decided to do this. Consequently, I absolutely want to perform for them at the next Cirque.

If my show does poorly, too bad; I will pay what I promised. My show? My risk.

More money will convince you to do photo ops like this one.

While different people have different ideas of how to run their own shows, I believe transparency is the one thing every producer should have. In a performance community where word travels especially quickly, one can't be too careful about what they promise to people they work with. Above all, that reputation will precede you, and people will hear about what went well--doubly so for what went poorly.

Above all, I think Jane Doe had it perfectly when she said "manners are free, and kindness goes a long way." Respect is everything, and I do respect her a great deal. And I understand that kindness and manners are not on everybody's list. I think these are the people we should look out for, and warn each other against.

...and also this creepy character.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Why I hate the term "Boylesque"

"So...what do you guys do?"


"What is that exactly?"

"It's like burlesque, but with men."

"What's burlesque?"

"You know what? Fuck it, we're strippers."

It's always a conversation like this that happens with a distant friend, a great aunt, or that one time with the general manager of Uno's that makes me a little bit frustrated. It's not that it's at all problematic to own what you do at a very base level ("I'm a stripper. What of it?"), but it's annoying that the name which the community has unilaterally selected to represent our discipline does nothing to convey what it is I do.

"Do you know what we do? No? Me neither."

So why do I hate the term "Boylesque?"

Initially, it makes me feel uncomfortable to hear the word. When a medieval-looking character on HGO's Contest of Chair Sitting ends a quip with "And don't you threaten me, boy!" It's always meant as condescending. The very fact that the NYC Boylesque Festival uses the name of the discipline in the title sounds almost to me like it's an activity at a carnival, or a male version of whatever it is that Honey Boo Boo does.

Building on that, it makes it sound like the participants are juvenile, or possibly actual children. It has a playfulness to it that goes beyond the burlesque prerequisite of not taking one's self too seriously--it makes the participants sound almost vulnerable in some way. "Boylesque" feels like a hobby that you might share with the one cool uncle who understands, but not your parents, and definitely not with your crush because they might laugh at you when they walk by you in the lunch line.

It also does nothing to circumvent or advance the awareness of non-traditional gender roles. You don't have to be "a boy" to do male burlesque, and you shouldn't ever have to be in a position where your discipline decides an aspect of your identity. I might be called a painter because I paint, but I'd be wary of calling myself or anyone else "a boy" because we perform a discipline commonly referred to as "boylesque." In a world where we would all ideally be respectful of gender pronouns and self-identity, the word "boylesque" pigeonholes the performers within and blurs the lines between "sex" and "gender."

Savannah-based Jack N' Thacox appreciates the distinction. "Male burlesque performers must maintain and embellish a socially constructed gender role. Otherwise you are doing drag or genderfuck. I like to be put in a box. I am a man, I am a stripper, and this is my fringe."

He continued with; "My main concern is if this topic is left unattended, the category of boylesque lends itself open to drag performances, when boylesque is an undermined form of entertainment whereas drag is ubiquitous."

Jack N' Thacox

While male-bodied burlesque comes in many styles of execution, I often perform the sub-genre of masculine, comedic performance, and frequently do masculine straight strips as a way to balance out my repertoire. I would hesitate to describe any of these as "boylesque." I often prefer to identify what I perform as simply "burlesque," and allow any follow up questions to proceed down that avenue.

"Oh, I've heard of burlesque. Is what you do different than female burlesque?"

Now this is a good conversation. The answer I often give to the above question is "no, not really," and here's why; while I was taught the basics of burlesque by a female-bodied troupe, the fundamental principles of what it is are identical. There's a required element of striptease, there's often a story, a character, a comedic element, and various amounts of clothing reveal and nudity. and frequently some amount of dance or showmanship. I could be wearing a dress, though I'm usually not, and I may forgo the occasional postures and movements that you'd call "feminine," or I may include them as a specific part of my performance narrative.

I spoke with Mr. Valdez, a performer from The Brotherhood of Burlesque as well as Peaks and Pasties in Colorado Springs, CO. "I feel it promotes Segregation in a community that is supposed to be all inclusive. Tigger put it best at BHOF [Burlesque Hall of Fame]....he had said something to the effect of....why do we have to categorize burlesque, boylesque, queerlesque, draglesque. Why can't we all just realize that we all roll with the same gang?"

Mr. Valdez from The Brotherhood of Burlesque and Peaks and Pasties in Colorado Springs, CO

In essence, there's no difference at all, and I take umbrage with the fact that so many people feel the need to categorize what we do by painting the nursery baby blue with their gender-restrictive taxonomy.

On top of that, the word "boylesque" just isn't sexy. There isn't anything that makes me feel attractive when I'm identified as a "boylesquer." Striptease can certainly be dorky and naive, but it's such a cockblock (to use the pejorative objectively) to ensure that anything you do on stage can't be powerful, sexy, and commanding. Kevin Harrington, one of the graduates of my burlesque amateur showcase, said that to him, the term "boylesque" represents "dudes licking lollipops, taking off their school uniforms, and acting like jail-bait."

If I had the option, I'd rather be referred to by an emcee as an "attractive man" instead of as an "attractive boy." One of those is empowering, and the other one might cause Chris Hansen to show up on your doorstep.

"Hi there, why don't you have a seat. So, you came to a show to see boys?"

I resent the fact that I have to type in "Boylesque" as a label on Blogger to increase the amount of clicks this entry might get. I resent the fact that "King of Boylesque" is a BHOF title that gets awarded to the best male-identifying performer every year, and is the verbal personification of a dollar-store tiara on the head of a seasoned, accomplished performer. I especially resent that the term "boylesque" seems to indicate a special kind of vulnerability when used in marketing. Truthfully, the word just kinda creeps me out.

NYC-based producer and performer Viktor Devonne told me that he agrees "that intrinsically there's not a lot of difference between dude burlesque and lady burlesque but I don't see a lot of lot of folks who use it negatively." Viktor doesn't mind that people use the term freely, and a bonus is that it "looks good on a poster."

Viktor Devonne, Director of the White Elephant Burlesque Society.

He also told me that he "dislikes 'boylesque' being used to indicate any requirement for society's decision as to what "masculinity" is." Indeed, the word presents a classic "point-counterpoint."
Outside of Boston, I've heard the word "boylesque" used as a catch-all for genderfuck-y performance. While I won't presume to champion nor disparage the term on anyone else's behalf, I also don't quite identify with it. To put it on a spectrum, I feel a lot closer to "male striptease" than "boylesque," and "being a stripper" is usually the plain-speak categorization I defend myself against when speaking with the uninitiated. I also don't speak for others who claim that style of performance for themselves, but the general feeling behind the word feels the same to those whom I've asked.

So despite the fact that the term "Boylesque" is an oft-critiqued, unstable categorization for an otherwise all-inclusive performance medium, it doesn't seem like a word that's going away. It's marketable and it's novel, not to mention unique-sounding, but I do believe that without the restrictions that come arm-in-arm with what the word implies, we can only become a more inclusive and expressive community.