Discourse on competitions, merit and voting

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about competitions, merit, and voting. Today, I hit my “burlesque pet-peeve” peek. I’ve hit it before, but not having any bit of a platform (not like my blog is much more of one now) I’ve always decided to keep it to myself or share my ideas in a stitch and bitch circle with my closest burly ladies.

Today, I got a message (a group message on Facebook) asking me to vote for them in a burlesque competition, something like “Send me proof that you voted (a screen shot), and win a prize! First come first served, hurry! It’s a limited time offer” (message somewhat changed to protect the messenger).  I was….to be honest, horrified. This, on the heels of countless emails from people to vote for them to place on a recent countdown list of the best burlesque performers-I ask you the reader if you see anything wrong with this picture?

To be clear, I am a competitive person. I wish I weren’t, but I am the product of parents who competed in  natural-bodybuilding pageants (I know-weird, right?) and over a decade of select sports. I’m not a wishy-washy “can’t we all be the same” kind of hippie when it comes to performing. I don’t think about this as a woman in a kind of feminist statement kind of way. I think about this in a “I want to see a real good show” kind of way-as an athlete- in a sense. I’ve come to realize that this is a blessing and a curse, seeing that it will always make me work harder, gym harder, want to learn more and constantly keep up on people’s careers. I strive to eventually be recognized as one of the best (or hell, the best) amongst the best. I want everyone else to be rad too-it makes it exciting! It’s good to have goals. I don’t know if I will get there, but I will sure as shit try-all while keeping my morals about me.

So my plea is for the campaigning to STOP. I want merit. I want it to be true when a host says “the QUEEN of _____”, or “The BEST in burlesque” about a person, a troupe. I want to see merit win for those who work the hardest, have the best stage presence/performance and put on a good show. I want those countdowns to be so inspiring that it makes all of us clamor to be better. I don’t want to get a prize for voting someone into a competition. I want to feel good for voting for someone into a competition because they are rad and need to be on that stage. Not because they are my best friend, not because I want to get booked in their show, but because they are best for that show.  I want to get into a competition because I am a good performer, I put on a good show, have good promo (and lord am I working on it) and I try to do good things for the community.

Because there were many asking for people to vote for them in the countdown lists, others-that should be on that list, also were asking for votes too. It’s a slippery slope! I personally don’t want my mailboxes full of “vote for me!” campaigns. I don’t want reminder notes asking me to reply to their event of voting for them. I don’t mind people posting (for example) “There’s a voting session for the next top 100 in burlesque! You should get your votes in while you can!” That way, people will know to vote, but they know to vote for whom they want to see on that list.

That way, when those lists come out, there will of course be a few “that person? That person should be in the 20’s, not the 10’s”-or whatever, but it will be a list that people will want to make better shows in order to get on the list one day. I wish I could say-no lists! But I can’t-because I think some competition can be healthy in that our shows get better, and therefore, our audiences get to be entertained, and maybe some of us really can make a living wage at this. I don’t want to be on the top of the list seeing someone who should obviously be above me, way below me. I really want to know that I earned my spot.

I understand that voting showcases have a good thing going for them. They have the ladies promoting their show by campaigning for votes, thus driving people to their site and hopefully, their show. Websites that have countdowns are doing it to get the traffic they want to get more sponsors on their site, more advertising. I’m not saying that these websites are bad-I highly enjoy them. I would enjoy them more if more merit was involved. Are there alternatives? A panel of judges that are revealed after the voting? I don’t know-just maybe an idea. A public vote, and a judged vote by esteemed members? There’s another one. But I know that these aren’t perfect, that they have holes.

I want to make it clear that it’s the campaigning that drives me crazy. Not the websites-they’ve found an EXCELLENT way to drive people to their site.  Everyone loves a contest-we’ve loved them in high school, why not now? Everyone wants to win a contest, right? For those outside of the community, if they hear that so and so was voted #14 in the world in burlesque-they’re going to believe that. Shouldn’t that belief hold truth, and not the votes of a campaign quest?

**EDIT: I should make it clear that some websites, like 21st Century Burlesque, have voting on their site in order to recognize those who are making a way in burlesque, bringing the community together, and creating a space to learn more about these wonderful figures in our community. I need to make this clear because I do think that this is awesome. The problem was never the intent, it’s more how people behave when these voting polls arise.

I’m interested in people finding a new way of making themselves a name. I couldn’t dare ask people to go back to the old way, back when there were burlesque queens, because I’m certain that sensationalism went along with everything that they did. They were all burlesque queens of something. I suppose though, at least they had a gimmick-and great promo.

Many of us are working to do this for a living. I’m one of them. And I am also very aware of a few truths: 1) money and a promotional machine work for even the most boring of performer 2) in burlesque, like the world, we treat it as it’s all about who you know, we value things that sparkle more, even though that less sparkly thing to it’s left has a better show (but couldn’t afford more rhinestones). 3) We are lucky to have some fantastic queens in our community. Most of them seem to have done it before it got really big though, when you had to work hard to be good so people would pay attention to this little thing called burlesque. But it’s getting bigger now, and we should be trying harder.

Our playing field is uneven. Now, I do think that there are many that are where they should be. Good entertainers, constantly working on their craft, put on a good solid show-I could name many-but for others this isn’t the case. I guess I’m asking those of you, that do want to be in the top, that do want to get into that showcase, competition or contest to reconsider how you decide to try to get in. Wouldn’t you want to be considered one of the best? Or do you want to haggle for votes? Do you really want to spend your time telling people to vote for you? You could be working on your show! You could be creating better press!

I want the burlesque that people see in those big flashy shows to be the best entertainers they could get their hands on. That high-ticket price should mean that they are going to be bombarded by bombastic performers.  This shit shouldn’t look easy, or like I just put it together. Yes-I want the love of burlesque to be accessible. I want anyone to be able to take a class or get on stage in a show made especially for amateurs, or workshop their acts in front of other performers. I don’t agree with DIY hyperbolic performer. I don’t want to read that someone is the best dancer ever, click their video and be very sad that I have done so. I don’t want just anyone to get on a huge beautiful stage and not be able to look like a pro, hold their space, have people wanting to see more. Sure, one day, if they work for it. What’s wrong with working hard?

Part of this responsibility of having more merit I put on 4 areas:

1)    Performers: Always work to up your craft. Strive to be the best of the best, they best you can be. (if you were a runner, would you take steroids? I would liken steroids with campaigning votes or * just * throwing money at it, ie. Rhinestone the bajeezus out of it. (Don’t worry, I want to see a sparkly show, just like the rest of you)

2)    Producers: Always try to hire the talent you would dream of hiring. If you’re a performer, hire people that you think are better performers than you-it’s good for you. It makes you a better performer, and people who work hard deserve a good booking. Pay as much as you think you can. If you’re a newbie and you are producing a show for newbies-that’s awesome! But don’t tell me that I’m going to see amazing talent on your flyers and they look nervous and can barely get their dress off. Tell me that they are exciting new talent! Or up and coming! Let them work hard to get where they want to be, don’t give them shoes that are too big for them to fit in. If you allude that your show is the best or your performers are in a $5 show, I wonder if you aren’t helping to hurt our craft. Think about it. Or if you have great talent, charge a bit more! Your performers deserve more than $20 a show. Heck, new performers deserve more than $20 a show.

3)    Venues/venue owners: Demand better talent, and understand that good talent needs to be paid properly for. If you want a $300 performer, hire a $300 performer and pay their price. It’s performers and producers jobs to show venues that good performers should be paid fairly.

4)    Audience: Understand that if you pay $5 for a show, you probably aren’t going to be seeing “the best in burlesque”. If you didn’t like the show, don’t knock it until you try a better show-be smart.

I’m aware that #4 is wishful thinking. But I thought I’d throw it out there.

Obviously, this all has problems… not everyone is going to agree who’s good. And there’s a slew of other problems, like:

How do we determine our price?

How do you determine other performer’s price?

How do we determine a good solid price for an amateur show? A pro show?

How do we keep campaigning away from burlesque? Is it okay to be there? Should it be different? Is there a way to limit it’s ridiculousness?

What is the difference between a hobbyist and a career performer-how do you get from one to the other? Is it as easy as calling yourself the Queen of something? Is it who books you? Is it the competitions you won/been in? Do you need to only be doing burlesque-as in no other job outside of this realm?

I obviously don’t have the answers. But I do want to ask the questions, ask people to consider before simply voting for a friend/hiring a friend instead of voting for who you think is the best fit.  I hope that by reading this that you think about what your motivations are as a performer-and how we can make our community a better place.

I think healthy merit-based competition is the best fit. But what do I know? I’d love discourse. Now lets have a conversation! Please comment!

26 thoughts on “Discourse on competitions, merit and voting

  1. Lovely blog!!! I agree with you. It’s SO hard to get paid in LA. (at least what I see barely fair)
    I have been a Burly performer for 8 years now. I don’t want to be rude but I believe I deserve more than 25$. ESPECIALLY when I’ve been performing longer than most producers in LA. Don’t get me wrong, I perform a lot with great people in a lot of awesome shows-but I turn down a lot too.

  2. very insightful post! And someone NEEDED to say it. You took the words and thoughts right outta my mouth. So much I want to comment on, but I’m gonna wait until I get to a computer. This phone is too tiny!

  3. A fantastic and thought-provoking blog post. I have to say I totally agree you about being fed up with the amount of canvassing that goes on especially the wealth of pleading messages I get on Facebook. It’s difficult because I pride myself that I am constantly trying to learn about my craft, and spotting names on lists/competition results to check out on YouTube/StripCHEEZ/Vimeo or even better live is an essential part of staying in touch with what’s out there and learning from the best. So in no way would I want lists/competitions to stop as they are a vital resource for learning especially for newbies. But I do wonder if they are to continue/improve whether there need to be more safeguards against canvassing meaning that popularity rather than quality is getting certain performers into the heights. It means more work but after problems with people using technology to set up false email accounts to vote for Viva Las Vegas, they had to bring in new measures to ensure fairer voting – if you are going to have competitions, you need to think about having safeguards. Luckily there are also competitions like BHoF and at the various festivals around the world to provide balance and possibly justify voting in email-in competitions. It isn’t hard doing a few quick searchs on the Internet to discover the true class of performers who devote their time to honing their craft instead of sitting in front of a computer spamming their followers.

  4. Brilliantly written, Ms Sydni. I can’t agree with you more on almost everything you’ve written. As a producer in Portland, our burgeoning scene is suffering from the growing pains that every artform has as people learn more about it and assume that they can produce and perform with ease.

    Talent begets talent and those who’ve worked to make names for themselves should be lauded as such, while adjectives and hyperbole twhile might make for great copy on a flyer, create false expectations and do not make a positive experience for the audience, making them both less likely to attend another show nor to encourage others to check out burlesque.

    I also believe that titles and monikers such as ‘Queen of’ should be bestowed by talent and merit, not one’s social networking prowess, vote-gathering capabilities or the like. This is a beautiful artform full of talent, not the nomination of prom queen. That being said, every performer should have a tagline which fits their performance style or personality… but as you so brilliantly wrote ‘hyberbolic performers’ are merely shutting themselves out and causing damage to both their credibility and the artform they are trying to become a part of, by claiming to be exclusively the ‘best at’, ‘only’, or ‘most ___’.

    On the flip side, in the smaller markets and areas where burlesque isn’t fully understood or appreciated, there’s an alternate concern with payment being fair and just. As the producer of two $5 monthly burlesque variety shows in Portland, I know that it is sometimes difficult to communicate to the performers that while it isn’t their ‘responsibility’ to do promotions or marketing, it only benefits themselves and the burlesque community. I’m ready to raise my door rates and, in turn, pay the performers a larger cut, but for now it must stay at $5 until the understanding is there that performers’ pay is directly affected by admissions and taking a few moments to enhance the hours of marketing and promotions I’ve tackled is beneficial. This is solely because we are in a growing market that’s between brand new and established.

    Determining pricing for quality, of show and performers, is exceedingly difficult as there will never be a qualitative method. But as burlesque grows, so shall we!

    Again, wonderful article, Ms. Sydni!

    • Zora,

      As a producer, I’ve done shows in which the performer agrees to promote the show at least twice (or something) in exchange for their booking (via contract or written agreement). I’m not quite sure just how big it is in Portland these days, but I know people want to work, and I know that there’s a few producers up here that will only book you if you promote. Except for my Pink Door show (which always sells out)-I ask this of my performers, and do my best to only work with strong performers who *ALSO* will promote. Unfortunately, this narrows down my playing field, but I want a packed show, and for them to get paid the max they deserve. 🙂

  5. Three cheers, Sydni! You so well put into words some thoughts that I have regarding monetary respect for burlesque!

    I agree one-hundred percent that ticket prices should (and generally do) reflect the quality of a show, and I haven’t hesitated to gradually eek up the admission costs for my productions as my applied standard for booked talent rises. A set admission rate communicates (not only to the potential audience, but also to the performers that are booked in the show) what degree of quality is expected from the stage.

    In taking on burlesque production, one takes on a huge responsibility! You are then helping to shape an entire audience’s take on burly artistry– whether your audience is 15 people or 1,500, this is to be taken very seriously. Half-assed bookings, lineups thrown together at the last moment, or overly dramatizing the talent you’ve selected for your show, DO hurt all of us– and I thank you for having the bravery to point that out. All it takes is one less-than-stellar showcase to make a newcoming audience member say later: “Burlesque? I went to a burlesque show once. Meh.” And then not return to see what this global community is truly capable of.

  6. LOL i need to add nothing else. I have been feeling this way forever. I am supposed to do a show called “THICK” but haven’t gotten it off the ground yet because I’m not going to pay my performers $20, they deserve waaay more than that. I don’t like to engage in these voting situations (except NYBF because it’s all in the name of fun) because I want to earn my stripes by what I do and how people HONESTLY feel about me, not because it’s a popularity contest. I hate that we have $5 shows because I feel burlesque is worth so much more than that. I feel it deserves to be on the big stages and not in bars, even though I perform in bars and love many bar shows, I’m just saying we are worth large venues (whether they have a bar or not) with a massive stage, lights and a great sound system. We deserve to at least supplement some of our income with this work!

    i can go on and on. Everything you said is exactly right. great post!

  7. I agree that there is a lot of confusion in our world, specifically because the entertainment value of our craft is always completely relative to the taste of the audience viewing it. It’s art. That being said, in Theatre, it’s generally considered to be unprofessional and taboo to read your own reviews prior to the close of the run of your show, or repeat those reviews to other cast members. The opinions of outside observers should not be considered to be a guiding force in the implementation of the craft, rather a hindrance. The artistic directors of the show are the only ones who a cast member should be listing to, and following their orders and desires for the production. Now, here we are in an art-form wherein we are at once the performer, director and artistic team of each of our own pieces. How do we filter out what outside influences to respond to, or not to respond to? It comes down to having an incredibly strong artistic vision to create your own art regardless of mass-appeal. Wanting to present your vision despite an audience’s response. I encourage that in our craft, since I believe performance art is an integral element in the new burlesque. But does that make you marketable? Probably not. And as we all wish to continue pursuing our art, obtaining gigs is essential. Herein lies the quandry, and the competition element. It’s human nature to seek approval, which is why the elements of competition appeal to us. But the extent that the arts in our current culture have been overtaken by the idea of competitions AS entertainment, is staggering and upsetting to me.
    More on negative reinforcements in my blog: http://burgundysbits.blogspot.com/

    One more note regarding the pricing of shows…don’t forget that the ticket price doesn’t necessarily directly reflect the performers’ pay in many instances. Here in Vancouver, there are a number of shows that have low or no cover, yet pay their performers extremely well (100-200 each) due to corporate liquor sponsorships. Conversely, there are much higher-priced shows that pay their performers nothing, citing the experience of being in the show as the performers’ pay. Each city is different. Also, burlesque was originally working class entertainment. I feel strongly about maintaining that perceived value to the audience whenever possible.

  8. Burgundy-thanks so much for your information on shows in Vancouver. As liquor sponsorships are very few, I forgot to factor that in.

    Also, you are a ridiculously smart and well business-minded woman. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  9. You have touched on a lot of my burlesque pet peeves!

    My current pet peeve is that many producers are calling their lineup “the best”, “the finest”, that whole idea, when it is not the case. Which is not only misleading to the audience (bad …bad bad for burlesque!) but a slap in the face to people who really are devoted to their craft and truly excelling. Not that you can’t say you have a wicked lineup. I just feel saying you have “the best” of anything is not so friendly for a lot of reasons. I’ve come across some people who have described their night as something that our city has never seen before….. which is not only blatantly false, as that kind of night actually currently exists and existed before them and puts on more productions, but to say it NEVER has been seen before is just such obvious hype it discredits us all. As if live jazz and burlesque never existed before in Vancouver. Please. Cuz no one wants to dance to live music! Never have! 😉

    As a comment on whether or not burlesque should be your only job if you are pursuing it- it doesn’t have to be. I love teaching music to little kids and I hope that I have the opportunity to continue to do that through life. My love of performing and my love of music and my craft comes first- but teaching a love of performing and music to wee ones is a close second, and it helps me in my own craft.
    I know many individuals that can successfully balance other jobs as well as being a full time performer. Often their other jobs relate to their art in some way, whether immediately obvious or not.

    Regarding prices of shows- I currently am in the dicey situation where the venue is in charge of the price. And the venue has a dream of never charging cover (Fail. I won’t even get into the long winded version of that.) and having world class shows exist for people to just walk in on.

    Neat dream. As it is not up to our group to set a cover charge, what it comes down to is us negotiating a contract and set performer price. Which wasn’t terribly hard to figure out- we’re an eight piece group that rehearses about twice a week, needs a rehearsal space, and have crazy costumes. We’re all professional dancers/singers/musicians who have put a lot of time and effort into all of our crafts.

    So, the venue had to get creative- they found liquor sponsors to represent our members. Problem MOSTLY solved. The problem remaining- IMO- is that not charging cover gives a certain idea of value about a show. But again, it’s not something that you can always control. So you have to control your set price. How do you determine that price? By how much you practice, by how much you perform, by what shows you have been a part of, how much you have improved, what your costumes look like (sorry, but if it’s something thrown together from La Senza then well…yeah.) etc.

    Being sponsored can be tricky too. For the monthly show I am sponsored by Jameson. All the girls were supposed to be photographed with a bottle of their sponsor’s liquor, and a drink. I had wanted to be promoting the Jameson Special Reserve label- something that I would, in fact, drink after a show. When the sponsor wouldn’t go for that because the venue has a history of not selling that item very well, my “compromise” was this- not to be photographed with the bottle, and just with the cocktail. Frankly I don’t think it goes with my image to be holding a 26 of whiskey- the kind that people take shots of. Blech! The compromise has worked great- AND as a bonus, because I don’t have a bottle in my photos, I am able to use those photos for other gigs as they aren’t specifically branded. Ta-da, spending less money as a performer, always a plus side.

    Anyways, my point is just to have a guarantee. To source out sponsors (the kind of sponsors that you don’t question being associated with, because certain associations can affect your image later, and therefore your price and whatnot) and to know who you’re working with and what their history is. Sometimes it’s worth it to do a show where you know you won’t be making money (because a producer is a bit shady) because the lineup is of a bunch of super stellar people, the audience is a different crowd, and you have a chance to perform alongside someone really fantastic. Basically you get to watch a show and get paid a small sum to do so. It can be worth it. But, often, it’s not. And performers need to stop selling themselves short. The more we demand what we’re worth, the more people will wake up and pay it. Because it will become a standard.

    The end. I’m cutting myself off.

  10. That’s awesome, Burgundy posting that right before me about cost and sponsorship.

    I am lucky to be able to pick her brain once a week in her class. I didn’t have many questions about burlesque until being in her class, and now I have A MILLION! Love it.

  11. First, I understand and empathize with the feelings and emotions here.

    But no one said life would be fair. We live in a capitalist society and pay people by what the market will bear, not necessarily what they think they deserve.

    As for the voting, I hate it. I sent out about 10 notices for the 2st century thing and it was nice to see so many great people get recognition, but I know some are on there simply because they campaigned. Is that bad? I don’t think so. If you want something bad enough you better be hard wired to fight for it. Is it annoying when you are the facebook friend, yes!

    Fan clubs and autographed photos were created by the celebrities to gain attention to get better parts in movies and more press coverage and fans, thus generating more income. It’s part of the process of being a celebrity, like it or not.

    As for pay, that is very simple, its a math path probelm.

    As a producer, a show generates X funds and Y is budgeted for the performers. That is the budget for talent, period.

    As a performer, you have the right to not take a booking below your pay grade.

    If the market can’t bear a $50-60 ticket, it can’t pay a $300 performer. It’s math. That has nothing to do with talent or perceived value.

    Think about the money a show needs to generate to pay $300 a performer

    9 performers at $300 =$2700.
    Add an MC, $300
    Plus audio, lighting, stage girls and the back stage people $1000
    Thats $4000
    If you have a 100 seat theater, that is a $40 a ticket before adding production costs, marketing costs, insurance, venue rental misc expenses and taxes. Much less adding a full band for another $1200.

    And that doesn’t include money for the producer who risks the funds. People get paid no matter what the door does.

    And that is hoping you sell out.

    If you want to make more money build your name, build your supporters and build your own show. Get backers and sponsors and pay your people what they deserve.

    And good luck!


  12. Sydni, great post. It makes me so happy to see performers discussing the nitty girtty — and sometimes, not so pretty — elements of our community. Bravo for having the balls to open up the discussion.

    I have to say, it infuriates me when I get called a “hobbyist” because I have a day job (not that you’ve implied that, but it’s been said by other full-time performer/producers). I have many other passions I like to pursue in life — and it just so happens that my day job is one of them. And some of my absolute favorite performers are accountants, nurses, teachers, even lawyers!

    I don’t mind the little $5 shows. We have several here in SF and I enjoy them as much as I enjoy the big shows. I also think those smaller shows are critical to building a diverse scene, and drawing in new audiences. And I like using those smaller shows to refine acts or try out new, experimental stuff.

    Great stuff, keep it coming!

    • Hmmm….Sparkly’s comment brings me to think more about Seattle’s scene. The show I produce, Burlesque Behind the Pink Door, charges $15 a ticket, with the max being 60, I think attending the show. Thus, my top range of pay is $125 (it’s a three tiered system set up by the venue). I book a good show, with solid and headlining performers- and I feel challenged by the few shows in Seattle that either 1) charge $15 for a show with newbies, that are touted as burlesque superstars/the best or 2) $5 shows with the same-newbies touted as the best. Both drive me bananas, because their advertising is so overrated that I often encounter a person who’s been to those shows and won’t attend any of my recommendations because the quality was sub-par.

      What should people do? I can’t say to a producer how to run their show, but this is something that happens more and more as newbies are vying for stage time.

      I know it’s not a matter of price, and many of you ladies have really put it well. How, in a saturated market do we work around this?

      How do we get producers to think about paying a fair wage to good solid performers instead of those who will perform for very low wage, thus undercutting the community?

  13. great post, Sydni!
    Being out of the “scene” so long, its hardly the same place that it was 5 years ago…..
    It is good for me to read posts like this because I eventually want to get back into things.

    Let the newbies have the 5$ stage shows. let them pay dues. I plan to go right back in THAT circuit when I start performing again until I earn my ndues on the “new” stage.

    Always tote in your flyers, “you get what you pay for”. They wanna see a $5 girly show, they can, but that is not the audience you need to be attracting. you want people who love art, girls, and real tease.they will pay the bigger bucks. Print color flyers. put these flyers up in respetible art houses and venues suitable for your performers.

    Look, we all know that there is always a marked for “knock-offs” in purses, clothes and entertainment….

    Luckily there are people who only want the real thing… market your shows to them….

  14. All awesome points!!! Lili is a great business person too! And I LOVE her show. I don’t mind doing a lower paid show when it’s done right. And she was the 1st to welcome me to the LA scene with open arms.
    Sparkly has a great point too!
    I do a billion things as my “career.”
    A great blog and refreshing discussion with talented performers that I respect.
    Thanks guys! Always open to all points of view.

  15. So many excellent issues. Thanks for bringing all of this into a public forum Sydni!

    I have thoughts on all the various topics brought up here (I think too much) but only enough time to talk about the initial peeve: the online voting drives.

    I agree, they can be really annoying. However, I think that this is not the fault of the campaign but some individuals who are not campaigning with grace and dignity. For the most part the people who have contacted me about the Best of Burlesque, VLV, and other voting issues have been respectful and have not flooded my inbox with frantic pleas or bribes. I would like to think that those ploys are not particularly successful (though I’m sure that a certain amount of hounding does get results, I voted for my friend’s boyfriend in some acting competition almost every day just to get them both of my back). But usually, I know that when I vote, it is for those performers I think really deserve it rather than the ones who have the most time to spend on the internet.

    That said, there really do seem to be an inordinate number of competitions in burlesque. How many Queens of Burlesque competitions does one fairly small genre need? Granted, I’m still throwing in for the crown, but I wonder if a little more cooperation would benefit us all. More festivals, fewer competitions, or the titles start to become meaningless. Let’s elevate the art for its own sake!

    As for the monetary side of things… need to write about that when I’m not running out the door.

    • “That said, there really do seem to be an inordinate number of competitions in burlesque. How many Queens of Burlesque competitions does one fairly small genre need? ”

      WORD. Though I’d still love to be titled Queen of New Orleans Burlesque Festival or Miss Exotic World, I think I now want to be the Empress of something….(joke)

  16. Thank you for such a well written piece. I produce a burlesque show for that primarily showcases newer talent and countless times, I’ve had performers ask me after only 3 months of performing, “When are you going to book me as a pro?” Some gals get it, when I explain why 3 months of performing doesn’t necessarily put them in a position to advise others. Some gals don’t get it, and never speak to me again. It would be unfair to the performer if I introduced her as the best of the best, unfair to my audience that might have gone elsewhere on a Tuesday night in NY, and unfair to myself as a producer (loose the trust of your audience, loose your audience).
    Because there is such a anyone can do it, do it yourself mentality to burlesque, many performers stop working on improving their craft and focus on who to befriend to get the next gig. Who can help you get to the top faster. Anyone ever stop to think about what’s at the top? What it takes to stay on top? If you are earning your reputation as a great performer based off merit then you won’t have any problem, continuing to work hard to stay on top.
    I like the merit 1-4. All are very true and I see so many new performers and producers make mistakes that could be avoided if they just read your 1-4.
    Oh, I do have to add that sometimes audiences have the most unrealistic expectations. Dude, you paid $10 to see my show in a small bar on the lower east side. Don’t get pissed that we don’t have an aerial silk performer like the do at the free show in Brooklyn. Um, hello, the free show in Brooklyn isn’t really free. They are pushing those cocktails hard and the producers not only own the venue, but have very deep pockets.
    Keep dancing ladies!

  17. So many things here I agree with (esp. Venus’ comment).

    There is no fair way to judge any performance: are more rhinestones an equivalent to high kicks? So any competition suffers from judgement, like the competition that ask people to vote on a still photo of the performer, so what we are really voting on is who has the best photographer, or what about crummy video that might invite a criticism of techniques when the audience had a good time. Trying to quantify art is always tricky.

    But, in laymen’s terms, awards validate you in the eyes of others. It’s marketing shorthand to people outside your community that someone thinks you’re the tops, even though they may not know who that entity is. (Think about movie ads that have some fabulous reviewer quote, but upon closer inspection you’be never heard of the reviewed or the paper.) As long as you never take competition more seriously than as a way to improve your craft.

    As to the price of shows, if I’m producing in a theater with guaranteed seats, unobstructed views and a live band, I’m going to charge more than if I’m only having a few dancers at a bar with bad sightlines that give me a percentage of the bar sales. Believe me, I’ve seen expensive shows that were technically flawless and had no soul, and I’ve seen rinky-sink vaudeville shows that had a small cover and it was a raucous good time.

    As to performer’s worth, I certainly believe headliners should get more because they have more talent, professionalism. But the better performers are not the better promoters. If I have a bunch gigs and my own show to promote, I am going to put all my force behind my own show. It’s great when a performer is proud to be in my show, but putting asses in seats is my sole responsibility.

  18. On another note re: online voting competitions…
    I often inform people of an opportunity to celebrate the artists of their choice, and sometimes list a number of personalities I consider to be worthy of consideration and why. However, as a highly respected performer/producer/teacher I take my responsibility to the community as a role model very seriously and I consider it a misuse of my power to ask people to vote specifically for me in a competition with the implication it’s required to remain in my good graces. I know there are countless performers who have absolutely no qualms or shame about doing exactly that, but it makes my skin crawl, so I’ll never be that person UNLESS of course it’s a vote for a faux competiton that’s so completely silly and ironic that people HAVE to know it’s for laughs.

  19. Hi guys,

    I meant to comment on this earlier, and I know most people won’t be checking for comments here any more, but I did just want to say something about our Top 50 poll.

    We are more than aware of campaigns and canvassing. We always state that our poll is not supposed to be about campaigning, and we know that the majority are intelligent and responsible enough to nominate appropriately.

    We did the poll again last year because so many people supported it and encouraged us to repeat it for a second year. But we did put more measures in place to ensure that those who abused the nomination process would not profit from it.

    It is very easy for us to spot mass/repeat voting, voting from repeat IP addresses, and of course we are sent, or are notified of, messages and emails sent out asking for votes. So it’s a bit of a waste of time for people to do this. These nominations are not counted. And if people nominate the same person more than once on their form, it counts as one nomination.

    Of course some of the people who behave in this way do make the list – and that’s what makes it so silly in some cases – they received enough legitimate votes to make the list anyway! Some may think that these individuals should be disqualified from the list if they continue to abuse the system – and if we do the poll again later this year, I think we will start to issue warnings, and perhaps devise a suitable penalty.

    Overall, the Top 50 poll does seem to be appreciated and supported for the reasons we intended. A lot of people tell us that they have discovered new performers or have been encouraged to research and improve, and use the list as a reference. That’s great. As is the communication, discussion and debate it encourages in the global community. And it is lovely to see performers applaud eachother for their hard work and creativity – especially those who make the list for the first time.

    If it got to a point where I felt that the poll was no longer entertaining, celebratory or encouraging, or was essentially corrupt, I would retire it. But as long as the majority seem to enjoy the process, I am happy, for the time being, to continue the tradition.

    H-M x

  20. So well said. I’ve been on a tear about pay lately… the whole “you get what you pay for” angle. Remember: you’re getting paid for your expertise and talent, not your fancy costuming or whatever. If you have expertise, you should be compensated accordingly. (Events for friends or nonprofits are another matter.)

    I’m an entertainer. I don’t do it for a title (but I *do* do it for money); I do it to entertain people. I don’t need a stupid pretty princess title – the competition aspect is tremendously negative to me. It’s the primary reason I don’t participate in festivals. Because, you know, if you don’t win, you’re a loser.

    But really, I – and my collaborators – are in it to put on damned good shows for people, with epic acts that they’re probably never going to have an opportunity to see ever again. We produce them like theater productions, with an end-to-end theme and branding. As we’ve become more polished and the production costs raise, we’ve been raising the ticket price. We’ve had fans tell us that they’d pay even more, but we’re trying to keep it to a price point at which people can still afford a couple drinks and a babysitter. Even with a payroll of 20-25, performers do walk away with a couple or few hundred at the end of the two-night run. We make people happy… they have a good time and while we come out most likely at a net loss of the investment (of costuming, props and estimated hourly wage), we’ve got a track record of accomplishing the goal of producing a hella good show.

    Venus nailed it, though, the whole online voting sham just proves that people can get out the vote. A popularity contest. Or a testament to the reach of their social network. DEFINITELY not an indicator of their actual skillset.

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