Stripper Talk #6: I’m not getting paid my rate

Author of Stripper Talk, Sydni Deveraux

Hello world! It’s Stripper Talk time again! This is a place where I field questions and answer them to the best of my ability, hopefully giving anyone who’s interested in burlesque some insight.

This week’s question comes from a performing friend who would like to remain anonymous: 

Hey Sydni,

I would like to remain anonymous.
I haven’t been performing nearly as much this year because most of the shows in (withheld to protect) won’t pay me my rate.

In previous blogs you’ve written about NOT performing for anything less than your rate for several reasons.

I find myself performing less and less because I refuse to be paid $25.
I’m kind of at a cross road between not performing hardly at all because no one  will pay me my rate or performing for WAY less than I deserve because if I don’t, I rarely get to let my caged burlesque animal out. I’m not really finding any middle ground.
I realize the economy is bad but my rate is not outrageous.

What do you think?



Hi Anonymous,

It’s a shitty situation you’re in, lady, and I can tell you that many of the ladies over here in Seattle share the same issue.

I think perhaps, I would prescribe some research:

1. Have you compared your rate to others in your area that are at your performance level?
2. Have you asked whether these performers often perform for less than their set rate? 3. How often are they performing?
If they have…
4. Have you asked them whether they are aware that it’s undercutting and hurting a communities capability for increasing the working wage within your performance level?
5. Has anyone told you that you’re asking for too much or that your rate was unreasonable? I’m assuming that you have already, but it’s good to ask.
6. Have you asked flat out “Why won’t you pay me my rate”?

The answers from these questions might be able to help you find your next step. Some possible steps are 1) Lowering your rate if you really want to perform (not recommended) 2) Changing your communities mind about pay rates 3) only performing in shows that will pay you your rate 4) Going to another community to perform/ Getting out onto a bigger scene/ Widening your burlesque pool.

I would suggest a combination of 2-4, personally, with of course, a healthy dose of hard work. No one can argue with your wage if you’re entertaining, well-behaved and polished, though this still might mean that you’re not getting the gigs, which is a bigger indication of a problem with your community. It’s possible that really, they just can’t afford you. Which also means that if your rate is as “reasonable” as you say, it sounds like they might need help understanding why their pay rate should increase. Of course, this might not be a possibility- perhaps they are simply working within the budget their venue allows for them, or they just don’t have their business right.

Some performers and producers (especially venues) just don’t get it. The idea of performance economics can leave them frustrated. It takes money to make money, but many are trying to circumvent that. Some don’t understand or care about community or taking a moral high road, taking into consideration that their actions (especially when it comes to money and being entertaining) really do effect others.

You have to already know that you’r occurrence of gigs might decrease as your wage goes up, all over the country. Thing is- is we’re in a world that wants everything awesome for LESS money. Rarely does the common person consider quality in relation to money spent, and a venue owner or producer often is thinking of their bottom line.

Conversely, a performer who is simply attention seeking and doesn’t care about what their actions in a community has to do with anyone else, will consistently perform for a lot less than those at their level (or sometimes even free). I wish more performers behaved like you, holding out, waiting for someone to court you, as you (and we all) deserve.

If everyone started charging around the same decent money at your level, quality would then really start to matter to a producer/venue. I talk about this often with my students. I tell them to do all their research, decide on a number that they aren’t willing to go below, decide if their wage is undercutting anyone, and then stick to their guns. It would mean that eventually in an ideal world, get what you pay for. I don’t like it when I hear of a $200 performer taking a $50 gig. Why train a venue/producer that it’s acceptable? It’s not. When I am asked to perform for less than my wage, I thank them for asking and clearly state to them that they haven’t met my rate, and suggest some performers that are at the level that they can afford. That way they understand what they’re getting, I can pass along a trustworthy referral, and another performer actually gets paid their wage. It’s pretty groovy. Eventually if and when they can afford you and they see it worth it to invest, they will.

I don’t know your level of involvement in your local community, but it’s good to also start conversations with producers and performers that you often work with about money. If it’s not being talked about, it should. $25 is not acceptable, no matter where you are. Performing for free is a danger to the entire business. There are too many women willing to take their tops off in a packed  bar for a shot of well rum, I don’t want to be associated with them.

Change doesn’t happen by having issue, change happens by taking action and having ideas for a solution. This means maybe you need to start a revolution where you are in the world- it’s constantly happening up here in Seattle and we aren’t resting on our laurels anytime soon. Many of us up here are starting to treat our business much like a circus arts or special theater arts person would, infusing more perceived “worth”. That way a producer knows how to deal with us, and they can understand the many levels that exist within our art. The influx of new performers and producers means that there needs to be a constant education to them and those who hold the money about quality over quantity.

I wish you luck in dealing with this really challenging situation.

Sydni Deveraux

*Would you like your burlesque question answered in Stripper Talk? Email me at GlitterWonderland@gmail.comWant to see more of me? Check out

3 thoughts on “Stripper Talk #6: I’m not getting paid my rate

  1. Hey Sydni,
    I agree with a lot of what you have to say, but there are I disagree on the $25 issue. I have worked hard to raise our performer guarantee from nothing to $25. This is really for newer performers, and it is for 1 act. I have friends that I used to be able to book at a higher rate, but with the increasing number of “free” shows in our area we aren’t seeing the same houses that we used to. Some of these friends will lower their rate to do my show and with tips they end up making $30-$40. Then I will turn around and book them for another show where I can definitely meet their rate. I have had new producers ask me to work for “tips”, I politely explained why I would not be able to perform for just tips and we met in the middle in terms of money (he later rehired me at my rate). I also know a performer who has an “introductory rate” that she offers to producers who haven’t booked her before. I always thought it was a great idea.

  2. I wonder what would happen if we all absolutely REFUSED to perform for less than we are worth.

    As for the $25 issue, the performer who wrote in is from California and is established and seasoned, and certainly deserves more than $25 a show.

    For a second though- think about what $25 pays for in this country. It’s very little. Maybe 3/4 a tank of gas? Can that get you to and from some venues, for instance? If you consider that most performers are at the venue from anywhere from 2-5 hours, at the 5 hour mark they are making less than MINIMUM WAGE to perform. This is a problem.

    As a classic (or traditional) burlesque performer- I know and you know that creating costumes can run into the thousands of dollars. Let’s be generous though and say the hundreds. If my costume costs $600 to create, not to mention the hours of rehearsals, and dollars in makeup, nails, hair, body waxing, stockings etc., then $25 isn’t going to cut it. I’m not saying I need to be paid $600 to get onto a stage, but I would need to perform my act at least 24 times to get my investment back. This is just a bad return. People expecting me or any other seasoned performer to bring their act to the stage for $25 (in my area) is unacceptable. I don’t pay to play. Performers that are performing for free are paying to play on stage. They pay in gas, costuming, makeup, maybe a cocktail or two, and in the time they could be spending doing something else.

    I, like pretty much every other performer out there perform because it’s the only way to make everything alright in my world. However, I won’t perform for free or less than the established rate in my city for other performers of my caliber because it’s a slap in the face to everyone who is trying to make sure that people see art as worth more than a free show and a warm beer. It takes a lot of effort to do what we all do, and I want to be able to actually create something worth viewing.

    Free shows are very dangerous. I think that you should always have to pay to see a burlesque show. Holiday party? Different. Corporate gig? Different. Private events are different. But when I walk into a bar or theater for nothing and then I see newer burlesque entertainment on stage, I see that all it’s doing is training audience to expect less (in quality) and to want to see it all for free. Diminished value is a problem. When I see a seasoned performer performing at a fee show this is troubling too. I’m inside of the community, so I know that this performer is getting paid, but the audience isn’t footing the bill, per se. However, the common audience member thinks that this is something some “girls think is a fun thing to do” and don’t perceive worth.

    I think if you’re happy with how things are being run in your area, you should stick to it. I personally wonder about the burlesque bubble popping with too many performers performing for too little money. This comment isn’t so much about how you’re running things where you are or about the exact dollar fee of $25, but about the dangers of charging less, offering less or thinking that a small amount to see naked women entertain audiences for less can be good for any of us.

  3. I forgot to say that it’s great that you’ve done the hard work to raise the rate from and $0 guarantee to a $25. I know what it’s like to negotiate with venues and to deal with performers that are too pricey for a particular show. Keep up the good work! 🙂

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