"How do we get out into the community and start booking ourselves?"
While I gave the question the best answer I had at the time, I felt like there was a lot more to talk about on the subject. Yes, being put on stage is a great first step and is a wonderful way to make an impression with people who produce shows who might be in the audience. After all, six of the performers at my first amateur showcase went on to book other engagements.
But the more I talked to other producers in the burlesque scene both locally and far-reaching, I kept coming across prevalent attitudes, beliefs, and conditionals that I'm confident most new performers don't know.
While discussing post-show networking with fellow Sir Danny Drake, he told me something that stuck with me; "If I meet you after the show, introduce myself, shake your hand, compliment your act, and your response is 'I've been drinking and I probably won't remember your name,' it's a safe bet that I immediately don't want to work with you."
A first impression is that important.
|..so you'd better make it a good one.|
Another thing that performers of all experience levels tend to forget is that producers and fellow performers vouch for the ones they like. All too often, I hear about how one performer did/said/dumped glitter on/farted near someone who had some pull in the local burlesque scene, and now that person is universally banned from performing based on the power of rumor and the unwillingness of anyone to bring up the subject directly with the offending party.
Whether or not that's fair depends on the circumstances, but it unequivocally mandates that good behavior is important.
The other side of that is something I'm proud to have experience with. If you end up booking gigs with a variety of different shows and producers, people will begin recommending you to others. For the record, there's really nothing more flattering than being contacted by a new producer who only knows you by reputation. If you're recommended because enough people think of you as reliable, friendly, and a good contributor, you're bound to find yourself in new locations with crazy props and outfits on your saucy bits that you never before thought possible.
|Like soccer balls!|
And then you get the performers who have inexplicably awful attitudes. One of my producer friends and the official MC of Sirlesque, Allix Mortis, is constantly on the receiving end of emails from performers who feel the need to be extremely unprofessional in how they reach out.
"There's a give and take in any professional relationship - no one is entitled to be in any particular show and a producer at the end of the day is accountable - both financially and artistically - for their show," Allix told me.
Now I don't intend to disparage burlesque as an artform here, but if 70% of all available gigs in any given town are on a carpeted stage in the back of a dive bar, you don't get to be a diva about not being booked. Having a childish attitude won't impress anyone.
Some basics, if you're thinking about reaching out to a producer asking to get booked;
#1 - Be polite and professional with how you reach out. Again, first impressions count for a lot. I asked Allix about the kinds of opening inquiries and emails they get from different performers;
"What matters to me when someone approaches me about being cast in a show is that they're polite, give me a sense of who they are, and let me know that they know a bit about my show."
"I've received form responses (and you can always tell when someone is just copy/pasting to a bunch of producers), informal notes with lolspeak and emojis, and messages that also presume that I'll just accept the person. ("In your show I"m going to do...")"
"In my book the worst things you can do when writing someone about a casting are: be rude or give away that you don't know anything about their show."
|"I've never been to or heard of your show, but I assume it's just like a Gilad workout video?"|
#2 - You are in no way entitled to be a part of any show. You don't get in automatically because you asked, and you aren't allowed to throw a temper tantrum if you don't get your way. This goes for new performers, but should especially never happen with performers who have been performing for some time. Allix explained;
"If the producer doesn't have a spot for you, be gracious. Name calling or trash talk or 'you're missing out' (all things I've received, or, witnessed) are really uncalled for. Not everyone is right for every show - castings are also often done months or weeks in advance."
#3 - A producer doesn't owe it to you to create a show for you to be in, just because you happen to be in town.
This is an odd one to have to mention, but sometimes there's an expectation that the burlesque community in the city you're travelling to is going to reconfigure itself to fit your travel plans. I don't know if this comes from a sense of misguided celebrity, or because of unchecked entitlement, but some folks act this way every now and again.
#4 - Be gracious, even if there isn't a spot for you.
Allix mentioned this one earlier, but it's worth having its own bullet on the list. Producers book people they like and who have made a positive impression on them, and it's super important not to take it personally.
|"AAAAUGH!! YOU'VE CRUSHED MY SPIRIT! Bwuuuuubuuuu..."|
It might be really tempting for people who have been performing a while to want to show off their feathers, but accolades are only impressive if someone else is reading them about you (or proclaiming them passionately to the audience you're about to perform for!). As producers, we all talk about performers who have reached out to us--but we talk more about the performers we love and who we plan to reach out to again. It's way more fun.
I make it a point to thank everyone who performs for me, and to thank producers who book me into shows. When you get right down to it, it's a cosmic, crazy, and improbable thing that we get to do this kind of performance, and that people are willing to pay to see it. As a producer and as a performer, it's important not to take that for granted.