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:
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?
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.