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!