Because this topic and process is a bit more in depth than I had originally planned, you are getting two parts! The second part “Filling Out Applications” will be coming out later this week, with an example application and some of the details needed from performers when filling it out with in-depth insights.
Welcome to the exciting world of sparkle and nudity! So, maybe you’ve been connecting with performers, attending shows, and feel like you have a good layout of the burlesque scene... time to apply!
To start, it is important to know that there is no one definition of burlesque. As producers, navigating all of the different reasons and beliefs that others may have, we have a large responsibility to make our events welcoming, safe and professional for all of our performers, staff, and audience members. If you consider burlesque a hobby, once you start producing, you are officially part of the industry and you have standards that need to be upheld for everyone’s benefit and expectations. This information is mostly directed towards performers who may be new to burlesque or be working with a new-to-them producer and what to expect with timelines and all of your personal performer information. I am focused on information so that you, as a performer, can stay informed with what to expect (for the most part) while organizing your show notes for applications, but this can also be also be useful for producers to see *some* things that they may be missing or like better than their current system. These details are not exhaustive, as producers all have their own producing styles, needs and expectations. Some will have multiple forms, codes of conduct, policies, contracts, templates, continuous communication etc. while others may be very minimal because maybe they don’t need a lot of information. Every community’s needs are unique. And like most things in burlesque... what you experience and what you will need will depend on the producer, show, and a whole lot of weird factors. Here is a general list of important information that you will probably see with most producers and how to make both their – and your – job easier.
Types of Producers and Productions
I loooove producing and learning about the different production styles that people have... because there are so many ways to approach burlesque! And if you are applying to shows, you’ll need to have a basic understanding of the different production styles you’ll likely be navigating. Even with this post, you’ll continually learn of new and different ways producers run their shows and they may give you inspiration for how you run your own shows if you’re a producer or want to be one day. It will also help you to create your own standards with which production styles you prefer to work with and how you want to grow with your burlesque life.
Most producers tend to produce under a specific label or production company, while others may just produce under their own name. There will even be shows that are advertised as being put on by the venue, and the “producer” may be a venue employee and have a title like “event coordinator.” An example of this could look like “Burlesque at the Sparkle Lounge!” Where if it were a show by a producer, it could look like “House of Cheek Productions presents: Burlesque" or "Burlesque! Brought to you by Cherry Cheeks."
Regarding production companies, they can either have one sole producer who does everything from hiring the talent to managing backstage during the show... this is probably the most common that I’ve seen... while others may have either a set or changing team, possibly with multiple producers. The latter tends to be more common with festivals, large-scale events, troupes, and collectives.
Shows can have a theme or be a showcase of the variety of acts. Themed shows tend to be more common, from my experience, but showcases are just as important to burlesque, if not more so. Themes can be as concrete as “animal themed” or a “Rock & Roll show,” or they can have a set guideline like an all BIPOC show, all queer show, or all newbie show. Sometimes themes apply to one show, while some producers will have the same theme for every show (like a monthly rock & roll show). Every type of production, whether it’s themed, creating space, or a showcase, has their place in burlesque. We are a highly diverse community with a variety of needs and pockets for each of us to explore and fall in love with.
In burlesque, the most standard form of production tends to involve producers hiring performers for specific acts. Hence why many application forms often ask for act names and descriptions. While at other – rarer – times, you may see a producer mention that they don’t need to know which act you’ll be performing until the week of the show... or in the very rare occasion... the day of the show. This is not very common in burlesque, but it is important to be aware of to prevent surprises on your end.
How do Producers Cast Shows?
Depending on your performance community, local scene, and the specific show, producers have many different ways they may hire performers. These approaches are usually different with each producer and event. These approaches may also cover troupes, depending on whether they host guest performers or not. Each approach to casting has its positives and negatives, but each can work, depending on its execution. Likewise, with each approach... casting may look like you applying with a specific act, or an “open format” where you can bring whatever you want, as long as it fits within the show’s parameters. The latter tends to be more common with live band shows and shows that have an improvised, audience-based format. No matter which casting process a producer uses, as an applicant, you should hear from them either way whether your act is accepted in the show or maybe doesn't fit. If you don't hear anything about your application, then it is beneficial for you to confirm with the producer.
1. Casting Calls with Applications
This is what is most often seen in burlesque. If your local scene has a group or page to keep performers up to date with shows, producers will often post application forms or do a “casting call” for their upcoming event. Or maybe they’ll post to their personal social media accounts looking for applicants. These calls will often include a link to the application form for performers to fill out. An example of this will be available soon!
2. Casting Calls without Applications
This is not something I am as used to, but I see it quite often. Same as the previous point, when producers may post about a casting call for an upcoming event... in this case they tend to be a lot more informal and casual. Maybe the producer will make a note in their post for performers to comment on that thread or reach out to them by private message or email to express their interest in the show. After some chatting, then bang! You're hired! Probably! This tends to be the most basic approach for performers to apply to shows with minimal effort on their part in sharing information. In this case, the performer has a lot less to navigate with forms and links. Whether a producer does a public casting call with or without an application, their posts will usually include the information they need for performers to apply. And if you're applying to a show, make sure you read what is needed and do your best to provide what is requested in the format requested.
3. Performer Outreach
This is more common for bigger shows and corporate events. Performer outreach involves a producer personally inviting a performer to be in their production, possibly with a specific routine or role. Performers may be seen as a “featured performer” or “headliner,” depending on the show. Or maybe it’s for a themed show and the performer has a well-known act that fits perfectly into that theme. No matter the reason, being personally invited can feel great, but if it is not your ultimate goal, then that is perfectly fine. You can be invited to a show whether you are a seasoned performer or brand new. Like most things in burlesque and this post... it all depends!
4. Contracted Performers
Depending on your local scene and where you are as a performer, this may be something you see often or never. From an audience perspective, being a contracted performer can be seen as a repeating/regular performer at a recurring show or venue. Being a contracted performer can either look like a venue or producer reaching out to hire the performer... or the performer working hard to connect with producers to build their portfolio and eventually... a repeating contract.
5. Adjudication-based Applications
Adjudication is most common for applying to burlesque festivals. Rather than having one producer or troupe reviewing your application, a team of adjudicators from a variety of experience levels and backgrounds are involved. Festivals tend to have hundreds of applicants to sort through, so a team helps to narrow down the top acts for the artistic direction team to review and curate the final showcases. This process also tends to involve more details and timelines... Applications go out, people apply, adjudicators review and rate applicants, artistic direction team reviews top applications for final casting, producers send performer invitations and results out, performers either accept or deny their invitation to perform, and the rest of the process continues from there.
Preparing Yourself for Applying!
Alright, now you have a basic understanding of the different types of casting styles... time to prepare yourself! Because formal applications are one of the most common processes in burlesque, I am going to stick to discussing them for the rest of this post. Each producer and show will have unique preferences with their applications. Most will prefer simple answers that are to the point. Where specific shows may require more in depth and genuine candid answers (I.e. Why do you feel this act will fit into this show? Or why do you want to perform with this troupe?) Personally, I am an over-organizer. I have a spreadsheet with all of my acts, video links and different notes for each, so I can have everything in one place and I can copy and paste as I apply to shows or send in my notes when requested. This isn’t always the best approach, and I don’t always recommend it unless you are someone who loves spreadsheets, being organized, and are too lazy to fill in the same notes for every show (me... it’s me), but it can be a great tool if that is also you. I often still edit my responses somewhat to fit within what I think is needed for the show. Some people prefer re-typing their details for each application, while others may have everything listed on their website or in a word document to copy and paste from.
Most applications will be open for a week or two, while some may be open until the show is filled. Again, it depends on the show how long applications are open. Usually bigger shows and festivals have longer application periods which will also include an adjudication or reflection period for producers and adjudicators to review all of the applications. Smaller community shows tend to have one producer who looks at everything and will curate the show from there.
"Filling Out Applications" will go a bit more in depth with information needed, but for now... here is some information that producers may request for you to be aware of:
Basic personal/performer information
Act description and details
Video of act
Your rate of expected pay
Personal reasons for wanting to be in the production
Any extra notes/questions you may have for the producer
Are you open to making adjustments to your act to fit within show's perimeters?
The above points are common on almost every application form. Below are some points that may be requested depending on the producer and the show. Some of these next questions are usually limited to bigger events or festivals (Like, requesting technical requirements, for example) to help producers limit information to navigate until the show. Most smaller or monthly community shows will ask for this information after performers are hired, which will be discussed further in a future post.
Talking with Producers
Applications can be intimidating at times, especially if you're new or see questions that you're not used to seeing. Don’t be afraid to talk to the producers or troupes who are casting their shows. It is our job to make our shows - including the application process - accessible and to help potential guests where we can. Ask if the show will be paid if it's not stated. If your life has been busy and you might not be able to fill out an application by the due date, see if you can send it in within the week after the show (though, try not to get into this habit if you can avoid it). If you're unsure with how the producer is making their event accessible, diverse or inclusive, don't be afraid to ask specifics of how they are creating the space needed. If you don't have access to a computer, let the producer know that you're interested and see if there is another way you can apply. Some performers require having an assistant or aid with them to help them prepare backstage. You can (and should) let the producer know if you will have an extra person so their name can also be added to the producer's list of people who will be backstage. If you're really uncomfortable reaching out to the producer, even talking to other performers with their experience in applying to shows or working with that producer can help you greatly. Or maybe you have a friend who can review your application answers for input if you're really unsure if you're providing what is needed.
Locking It In
There are a lot of non-concrete examples given so far with a lot of "ifs" and "maybes," so here is one producer example to help pull everything together... I, Cherry Cheeks, am the sole producer and coordinator of House of Cheek Productions. My events tend to be showcases with corporate events and the odd community show, as well as, the larger annual event “Shade: A Night of Colourful Burlesque.” Because of the large scale of many of my shows, I have a plethora of application forms, contracts, production policies, and payment options that I utilize based on the specific show. My application forms (to be seen in the next blog post) also tend to be quite extensive and detailed to help limit applicant confusion and to help me curate a show that fits within House of Cheeks' morals and goals. My corporate events tend to involve performer outreach and contracted performers, while my community shows will involve a mix of applications with performer outreach (mainly for headliners and featured performers). If I’m reaching out to performers, sometimes I may reach out to performers who I love to work with and who I think will fit within the guidelines of the show, while other times, maybe the hiring corporate company requested that specific performer in the show. As well, depending on the show and budget I am given from companies that may hire House of Cheek, I will usually ask performers for their rates and may negotiate to find a payment and benefits that work for both of us. If a performer does not have their own rate per act, then I have my own set fee that I will offer them. My productions and producer style are one of many possible ways to run a show.
Like most people, I have my own thoughts around production and what approaches I prefer to work with or sometimes the standards that I think every producer should acknowledge... but the reality is that not everyone has the same standards and that’s okay (usually). Each producer has their own way of approaching their events with what works for them. Instead, the best that I can do is to offer insights to performers so they can be informed when they apply to shows. There are so many different types of shows and different reasons performers are a part of the burlesque world that I can't list them all. You are going to find new areas or approaches that will help you on your journey and hopefully will make your approach easier. In the meantime, I hope having an understanding of the different types of application processes will prepare you for when you are filling out applications. Happy reflecting!