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Beginning Burlesque: Getting Involved

***This is part of my “Beginning Burlesque” series regarding show production from the performer’s perspective to help newer performers understand the various dynamics and timelines of burlesque performances. This series is intended to inform performers who have already started their burlesque journey, whether they have recently graduated a burlesque class or are currently working with a mentor. Each article starts from the point of starting to find gigs through to show day, with other related articles to help build your skills and knowledge around your own practice as a performer. Be aware that there are multiple ways to navigate the burlesque industry, whether it’s various performance styles or how you approach burlesque overall. The points I plan to discuss are based on how I personally approach burlesque and what I’ve commonly seen from others to be the most helpful. But there are many performers and producers who have found their own ways to make burlesque work for them. Play! Experiment! Have fun! ***

If you’re already learning burlesque and building on your skills, now you probably want to get your name out there to producers for shows and events... but how? We are currently in a very interesting place with a current global pandemic and no live shows happening. Some of these points are not ideas most will be actively working on with the present event situation, but it is a great place to start if you’re reading this when events are back or to even adapt some of these practices to the online environment. So, you’ve graduated your first burlesque class or maybe you’re learning on your own and are ready to make your way to the stage. But if you don’t know how to find applications or who your local producers are, where do you start? I've discussed some of the points in this article previously, both with “10 Ways to Develop Your Burlesque” and “Beginning Burlesque: Where to Begin?” These three separate posts complement each other to help prepare you for applying to shows and eventually getting your first gig. Now is the time to focus on your community to help build your own presence and to learn of the many already existing community members. Here we go!

1. Join and Follow Local Social Media Groups and Pages

This will probably be your first step. Join your local community’s online resources. In our local scene, we have a website with all the local show, event, producer, application, and workshop listings for each month so performers can easily find everything in one place. We also have various social media groups and accounts for performers to have conversations, ask questions, and share resources and information. Some communities may have a local directory like this, others may not. If your local scene does not have a directory, then you might be able to find other groups or online resources by searching Google or social media for various things like “Victoria Burlesque,” “Vancouver Events,” “Seattle Strip Tease,” “Ontario Cabaret,” “Canadian Burlesque Festivals,” “yyj Burlesque,” or “Burlesque costuming” etc. If you find a social media group, then you will have a large list of resources to pull from. Producers also often post in these groups regarding casting calls, staffing, and event production for performers and community members to see.

And while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself! If you join a new-to-you production or community group, then that is often an easy and welcoming space for you to give a quick introduction. Whether you’re new to burlesque or recently moved to that location, it’s a great stepping stone to get your name and face on people’s radar while growing your connections.

2. Attend Shows

If you want to perform in burlesque, producers and other performers want to see that their performers are supporting their shows and are interested beyond getting their own stage time. You don’t have to attend every show that is going on. Depending on your local scene, there may be only one monthly show by the same producer or there could be multiple weekly shows produced by multiple producers... plus you have your own life and possible projects going on. If you’re from a community with multiple shows, that’s a lot to keep up with, and you can quickly burn yourself out even just as an audience member. Personally, I try to plan which shows that I attend as each month comes up so I can prioritize shows while taking care of my own energy levels and self-care.

On top of supporting the producers who you want to perform with, attending a variety of shows from different producers will give you a great insight into the various atmospheres, production styles, and who you’re interested in working with. You may find quickly that some shows do not mesh with your personal preferences (style, atmosphere, production style, diversity levels etc.) while others may scream as being *THE* show for you.

3. Attend Shows and Events in Makeup

Burlesque is a unique world where the audience is instantly pulled into the experience, right from their arrival. It changes the experience drastically when you’re at a show as a patron and are visually surrounded by the community beyond the stage. It can be life changing being a part of something that is so different from our daily lives, if even for just one night.

If you attend events as your burlesque persona, you are helping to contribute to that whimsical atmosphere while making yourself more recognizable to other performers and producers who may be at the show. Attending a show made up can also help you get used to introducing yourself as your burlesque persona. Instead of the common awkward hesitation of going “Hi, I’m... I’m not sure which name to use,” I find being in makeup and burlesque attire can make it easier to associate yourself with your new name. Of course, you may still stumble over how to introduce yourself, but you will get used to your new name soon enough. Once you start to be comfortable with your name and where your persona is growing, eventually you may want to attend shows more casual depending on your energy levels, and that’s okay.

4. Volunteer/Work Shows

Remember that point about supporting producers and their events? Here is your big opportunity! If you are able to directly work with producers and their shows, it gives them the chance to get to know you while learning how you work, both within your assigned position and backstage with others. This will also give you a great insight with the behind the scenes and what to expect when you perform with that producer. A lot of shows are highly community based and depend on various performers and supporters to help them run. You can work as a volunteer or staff member whether you are brand new or have been in the scene for a while. Many of us still work for shows beyond performing after many years of being a part of it all.

Depending on the producer, some events may be all volunteer run, while others may have paid staff. I am going to go further into paid opportunities and volunteering in another blog post in the future. For now, keep in mind that each producer will run their shows differently and it’s okay for you to ask them whether your position is paid or volunteer if they haven’t already stated the details.

5. Reach Out to Local Performers and producers

I’ve mentioned connecting with other performers a couple of times before, but it’s such a big start for many performers. Whether you’re brand new or want to expand and perform in new cities, reaching out to other performers is one of the best things you can do for your networking.

If you are planning to ask a lot of questions and have a big conversation around burlesque beyond the odd naturally prompted question, I encourage that you offer to pay for the knowledge in some form. There will be performers who are happy to share their insights and contribute to your journey no charge, while others may expect some form of payment, as in-depth conversations can quickly become a performer consultation. Payment can look like a monetary amount per hour, while other times it may look like you buying them a coffee or meal. Or maybe it’s a trade share, their knowledge for you volunteering one of their events in the future. There are multiple ways to show your appreciation for their support and insight so you both benefit.

Not even sure about how to find producers or performers? Try your local venues! If you are brand new to a city or town, try connecting with your local theatres, pubs, and event centres (basically anywhere that hosts events) to see if they have ever hosted burlesque and if they may know who to connect with. Burlesque reaches to many communities and spaces, don't be afraid to look around until you find it.

6. Stay Active on Social Media

There have been many... many... performers who have rapidly grown their presence through social media. Without meaning to, some have made themselves appear like long time highly experienced performers before they even hit the stage. Some people have a natural sense of social media and are easily able to sell themselves through their branding or social media presence alone.

Follow other performers on social media and study how they advertise themselves or their shows. Take inspiration for how you decide to manage your own social media and posts.

How you participate on social media will vary. You can create a new performer profile/account. Or maybe that’s too much and you’d rather just post everything to your regular profile. Do you want an Instagram or Twitter account? Do you want to be present on all social media platforms or just a couple? Whatever you decide, try to make sure you *are* posting or interacting with various comment threads somewhat frequently to help you with both online algorithms and to keep you in people’s minds. It will take some time to get used to and to figure out what works for you, but don’t be afraid to experiment.

I recommend creating a new burlesque specific profile, so that other performers and producers don’t need to remember both your legal and performer names. Having a burlesque-specific account helps make you searchable when producers send out updates or create groups for their upcoming shows. It can also make it easier for you to filter out what you want to post while creating your fully unique persona.

7. Understand that Burlesque is Bigger Than Your Current Local Scene

This is a big one for all performers: brand new or not. Being conscious and working on the steps already mentioned is something that you will need to re-apply to your burlesque experience each time you progress into a new area of burlesque. Whether you are starting to perform outside of your own scene or are starting to apply to festivals, these steps are pretty universal and a basic platform for performers to build their connections and get into other scenes. Want to teach at Burlycon one day? Apply to volunteer! Want to perform in a new city? Reach out to producers and performers! Want to connect to the larger burlesque community and expand your costuming, networking, history, or other performance related skills? Join online groups! Rinse and repeat!

8. Keep Pushing

It may take more than one application or attempt for you to land your first performance, and that’s normal. Even if it may look like your peers from classes are getting a lot of opportunities right away, they are only a few from your entire class. There are a LOT of burlesque performers, whether it comes to different local scenes or the overall global industry. Producers have a lot of performers to keep in contact with to curate their shows while trying to build community. If you have not been given a spot in a show, keep applying and you will get your time to shine either on your first stage or maybe with that new-to-you producer/event. If you ever feel defeated, don’t be afraid to reach out for support. Other performers are our community and we are there for one another when we start to doubt ourselves or may be lost. Find your community within the community, and you will gain the support needed when you are feeling lost. We have all been where you currently are. You are not alone. Until you get on the spot lit stage, keep participating where you can and reaching out. One day soon you will light up the stage! I believe in you.

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