Rejection: that sharp sting that we all deal with in life. As performers, we work incredibly hard to be successful, get paid, be accepted, welcome others, and to better ourselves and our community. Burlesque feels like an industry where all expression is welcome, everyone belongs, and anything is possible. So much so, that it can sometimes take extra work to process our emotions when we are not accepted into something, whether that is a festival or even a community show. But what if, as performers, we embrace rejection? What if instead of worrying about being enough for something or analyzing the reasons as to why we weren’t accepted, we just use it to fuel our passion? Whether we are receiving or giving it, being turned away from performance opportunities is a part of burlesque.
Burlesque is an industry. Like any industry, you are going to be told “not this time” more than once. The burlesque community is so large and full performers who want to get their names out there. It makes sense that not everyone can make it into every festival or show that they apply to right away or every time. Sometimes your routine isn’t ready for that particular show yet. Maybe your routine just doesn’t fit into that production’s theme, style, or brand. Often there are producers who have a select roster of performers that they will work with, while others may be thorough with rotating stage time among their community. And sometimes producers have the tough decision of choosing between two incredibly strong or similar routines, but only have space for one. Maybe you were that one number that came down to a coin flip. Or maybe neither one of you made it into the festival because of this conflict. There is a plethora of reasons why a producer may have to be selective of their casting. It’s ok to be told no, and it’s ok for you to feel down about it. We all go through not being accepted into shows or festivals, even by some producers who we’ve worked with multiple times. But keep in mind, being told that you weren’t accepted into a show is not a “never,” but rather a “hopefully you’ll get your opportunity next time.” There is a popular article by Kim Lao, “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year,” where she talks about the importance of acknowledging rejection and aiming for it in life. There have been many performers who work hard to put themselves out there, regardless of whether they believe they’ll make it into a festival or not. Sometimes you may expect it to be a long shot to make it into a festival or show, but you need to try anyway. Otherwise, the answer will always be “no.”
So how do we work through not being accepted into a show or festival? Personally, I make an effort to give myself time for any news to sink in, whether I have been accepted into a show or not. I let myself feel any emotions that come up: joy, excitement, disappointment, fears, concerns. And then I give myself any self-care that I may need. Most of the time, I am good at working through my emotions and moving forward, but if there are ever times when I have difficulty, I connect with my community. I share my feelings... I build up my excitement for the performers who I will see on that stage... and I work on my routines and self to make it ready one day, whenever that may be. And if I REALLY want to be a part of the show, regardless, I see if there's space for me to volunteer and still support the production. This is my process with both rejection and acceptance. I tell myself that setting parameters on what makes it onto a stage is what keeps our art thriving. It is the fuel to feed our fires to always improve upon what we have already created for ourselves. And it keeps our artform entertaining for the audience to keep coming back. Producers need to curate shows that work for the both audience and their atmosphere, and sometimes that means that they need to be selective of who or what will accomplish that goal. Because of this, we can rarely expect to be in a show, just because we’re a main performer, a headliner, or friends with the producer. What we should start to expect, is the possibility of being told “maybe next time,” and learn to not take it personally. Rejection is what helps us to grow.
Rejection is a two-way street: sometimes we have to give it. The moment a performer decides to produce a show they are often bombarded by other performers (and possibly friends) who may want or expect to be either performing or helping with that show. A lot of the time, these are performers with good intentions who want to help the producer have a successful show. But the reality is, once you decide to produce a show, you are the owner of a production, and it is your responsibility to decide how that production will be executed. Can you afford the headliner you want? Do you need more variety of styles in your show? Is your cast missing diversity and representation? Do all the routines fit together? Does this set list create a casual gathering atmosphere? Or a ground breaking event? These are only a few of the questions that producers ask themselves. Depending on your motives for the show, you will need to learn to say no to a lot of people. This is the hardest one for a lot of us, it’s hard enough to hear “no,” but saying it to our friends or idols can be twice as difficult.
It can be difficult to take in news that is not what we are hoping for. Conveniently, most of the time, being turned away is due to applying to festivals with hundreds of applicants, but that doesn’t always make it any easier. If you are ever turned away, it is not a reflection of you as a performer. You can change your style, you can work as hard as you need, you can be the best of the best, but sometimes it just isn’t your time. Use the time that you have to work on your performance and routines, use it to network, continue to connect with your community, learn your history and become a well-rounded performer, not only on the stage. Rejection can be a sharp sting, but it can also be an opportunity to give you the time to better understand your performance and the burlesque community. Use it to help you grow and trust that your time will come.