Real Talk with Burlesque Producers: How to Get Booked for More Shows!

By on August 17, 2015

The best way to improve as a performer is to get as much stage time as possible. However, this can be difficult for new performers who are still developing their skills or who are intimidated by the idea of “networking” or “schmoozing” for gigs. The truth is, getting booked to perform again and again is all about relationship building, so if you want to perform regularly, you’ll need to put some energy into getting to know your local producers.

We asked some of our burlesque expert contributors who are also experienced show producers to give you an insider’s view of how producers would like you to approach getting booked. A lot of this may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how few new performers actually follow these guidelines, so if you take this advice to heart, it will set you ahead of the crowd!


Before Asking for Bookings, Do Some Research

The best way to get out and start building relationships with your local producers is to get dolled up and go to their shows. This way you know what the venue is like, the aesthetic of the other acts, and you can speak to the show producers intelligently about their shows. While you’re there, introduce yourself to the producers, the staff, and the other performers. You might mention that you’re a burlesque performer, if you’re new to the stage or new in town, but don’t necessarily ask for work right away. Getting to know them a bit first can make a big difference.

 

 

Reaching Out to Burlesque Producers

Once they know you and are used to seeing you at their show, supporting the show, that’s when you’ll want to reach out and start the conversation about getting booked. Personally, I wouldn’t bring it up while you’re at their show. Producing a show is really hectic, especially if the producer is also performing in the show, which they very often are. I would reach out a day or two after one of their shows, compliment the show and their part in it, and then tell them that you’d love to participate in the show, and ask them what their hiring protocols are. Each producer has a system that they’ve developed to make their jobs easier and their shows run smoothly, so find out how they prefer to do things.

 

Red Hot Annie - Chicago

Red Hot Annie – Chicago

So you at this point, let’s say you’ve got your act together and you’re ready to perform, and you’re kind of wondering, “Where am I going to perform? How am I going to get this first gig?” This is one of those places where being the first person to say “hi” is a really great philosophy. Being that person who is willing to break out your email list, go on people’s websites and contact people, saying, “I am so and so and I want to be a burlesque dancer in your show,” is really important if you’re going to get any momentum within performance.
~Red Hot Annie – Chicago

 

Make Sure You Have Everything You Need to Make a Good Impression

 

If You’re Having Trouble Getting Booked…

Be Humble

“The main thing is being aware of who is doing shows in town and then getting their contact information, perhaps sending them a ‘Hi, I’m So-and-so,’ email, and then I think being aware of politics is probably smart, but is very difficult at the beginning. I can look back on when I first started burlesque, and I really thought that I knew it all. And I came into the entire scene with just this like, shooting from the hip, bad ass bitch, sort of approach, and I think it really bit me in the ass in the short term. And in the long run, I think everybody recovers from sort of newbie mistakes. But I think there were relationships that I think could have benefitted from being more aware of the long term goals of performing. And also, I think I would have learned more from being more humble.”
~ Red Hot Annie – Chicago

Play Nice

Most of the producers I know are really protective of their shows and consider the people they work with again and again to be sort of a family. It’s often more like joining a non-exclusive troupe than simply being hired for a night.

Viva Valezz - Pittsburgh

Viva Valezz – Pittsburgh

“I think it’s all about being a genuinely hard working, humble person who is willing to do just about anything. I know that’s a hard combination for some folks, especially attention seeking folks, but you have to pay your dues. You have to be willing to not be the mega star the minute that you step on stage, because you’re not the best family member. Basically the troupe is a family. You can be as talented and gorgeous and outgoing as anything, but if you don’t fit in with our family then its not going to work.”That’s why I help them get their feet wet in the group. I have them stage kitten, stage manage, work props, work the door, just do things where they’re having to fit in with the family. As a producer, you have to find people who you’re going to get along with, who are going to show respect for each other, who are going to work equally as hard as each other.”
~ Viva Valezz – Pittsburgh

 

If You’re STILL Having Trouble Getting Booked, Don’t Give Up!

“Obviously, you want to be savvy about it. Burlesque, just like any art form, and especially any performance art form, is full of politics, and it’s full of complicated things. So having someone who is a mentor and really cares about your well-being is a great way to sort of navigate that area of booking. Also, a mentor might be able to connect you with a good gig to do.”
~ Red Hot Annie – Chicago

 

Once You’re Booked to Perform…

Be Reliable

Help Promote the Show!

What is your draw? Can you guarantee sales at the door or butts in the seats? Do you have a mailing list, and if you do, how responsive is it? When you send out an email about a gig, how many of your list subscribers actually show up?

While many producers are happy to work with new performers still making a name for themselves, if you’ve developed a name and have a following, many producers will be much more enthusiastic about hiring you. So develop your following on social media and DO start a mailing list, if you don’t have one. This is very important!

 

And Finally, Don’t Be Afraid to Think Outside Burlesque

Another great way to get bookings that a lot of performers overlook is to perform outside of burlesque shows. Get to know your local music bookers and promoters (the same way as getting to know burlesque producers as we’ve described here) and offer to perform at their shows between band sets.

You can also reach out to local bands! I’ve choreographed numbers to songs played by various bands and performed with them. If you do this, make sure the bands want to play nice! I performed with a band several years ago where one of the musicians kept competing with me for attention during my act. I was like, “Really? You’re playing 20 songs tonight, and you can’t give me this one?” I never performed with them again.

I’ve also performed at art openings, independent film viewings, and other completely non-burlesque events, so get creative!

Some of these gigs came through people I knew in the burlesque scene. Others came from people I knew in other scenes from art modeling, going to swing dance events, or out to hear bands. They also come through my website, because I have had a really strong web presence for many years. That makes a huge difference in helping people find you and reach out to you.

Has this been helpful? Do you have any other questions about how to get booked to perform burlesque? Let us know in the comments!

All videos and quotes on this site are small segments from 60-minute Q&A Sessions in the Tease! Bang! Boom! Burlesque Mentoring Program. Access to the complete, unedited footage is available exclusively to members of our program. Click here to learn more!

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The founder of Tease! Bang! Boom!, Bombshell Betty began performing in 1996, toured internationally with her first burlesque troupe in 2001-2002, and founded her burlesque school in 2004 in San Francisco. She has released a burlesque training DVD and 2+ hours of free burlesque training videos, published the pinup modeling book “Plain Jane to Pinup Queen” in 2008, and has toured the US performing and teaching classes and workshops.

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