Stripper Talk #10: what do you think about a free show?

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 the Luvely Rae in New York City! 

“Hi Sydni,

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on “free shows”. More and more producers in my neighborhood (New York City) are offering “free” burlesque shows. I recently had a customer ask why I haven’t considered going this route, which I went into a 15 minute discourse on how a “free” show is never really free and even though most of those producers are getting a cut of the bar to cover performer pay, I think audiences should understand that performers aren’t performing for free and should be paid. After all you don’t go to the movies or to a Broadway show and expect to get in for free.  What are your thoughts? Do free shows help the community by making the art for accessible to audiences or hurt the industry. I once heard a performer say in an interview that “the girls just do it for fun.” That it wasn’t about the money. I disagree with that statement, but so many times I hear new performers chatting about a show “that’s good experience”.  Should audiences expect to pay to see burlesque?


The Luvely Rae”

Hi The Luvely Rae!

Oy. So very “Oy vey”. The short answer about what I think about a free show is that I don’t think a show should ever be free. I do think it hurts the industry. Burlesque is an art, full of gorgeous and talented artists, not an exhibition of exhibitionist people just “doing it for fun”. However, I know that there are exceptions to my distrust of “free shows”- such as fundraisers where guests come and bid on auction items and a performer entertains during intermission, birthday parties in rented out venues, and corporate events.

A problem with a free show is the implication that we as a performer are performing for free or that the value of our performance is less because it is a free show. Have you asked the producers of those “free” shows if they have more patrons at their show vs. shows that do charge? Are they paying the performers a comparable fee to other shows?  The value in charging a fee for a show is that a customer gets an implied value from paying the set amount.

When I go to a $5 show vs. a $15 dollar show, I am assuming that the $15 dollar show be better produced with (hopefully) better performers. Though this sometimes isn’t true- for instance, lots of newbie shows pop up here in Seattle charging $15 dollars creating a situation here where better produced shows that have stronger more experienced talent that also charge $15 are all on the same playing field.  This is creating a weird scene here where audiences don’t know what they’re getting anymore. (A whole other bag of bananas, but I digress- since I know that people can charge WHATEVER they like despite anyone else’s feelings. Buyer beware.)

As I sit here, I asked my sweet husband whether he would go to a free burlesque show, and he said that he would not. When I asked him to keep chatting about it, he said that he would assume one or all of these things:

a) that the performers were inexperienced and wanted to get on the stage no matter what they were doing to the pay situation in any given community.

b) the bar is fucking the performers over, expecting to collect all of their money from the bar and not giving the performers the money they’re due, and he wouldn’t want to support that.

c) the performers don’t ever expect to be paid.

d) the bar is just using the performers as a promotional tool instead of featuring the performers.

If the performers are very well known in the community and performing for a charity event we support, we both agree that it would seem like a good value to go to the “free” show and donate to the charity while enjoying the show. We’ve both gone to a “free” event with performances that were sub par and we viewed the charity as not understanding the value of investing in a good performance in order to have better fund raising capabilities.

When people see something high class, and pay high class dollars for it, the implied value is created. If people see a high class show for absolutely free the value of the performance is diminished psychologically in the eyes of the average person, which could effect how future shows pay due to supply and demand and what audiences are willing to pay. A free show might expose some new people to the art form, but at what price to how we’re able to make money for our art in the future?

Also considering that burlesque is an art dealing in sex, it makes things incredibly tricky. As someone who supports the idea of happy, healthy sex workers in the world, I think that women should value themselves more and charge accordingly. If an audience member could even comprehend just how much it takes to put on an act (which is only slightly implied in the ticket price) with costuming, time rehearsing, music editing, makeup, gym time, transportation, etc., maybe a free show wouldn’t be so dangerous. However, they don’t. Many think that we just pop over to a store, pick out a costume, prance around on stage (because if they’re good they make it look easy) all because we have an exhibitionist streak that needs to be expressed.

Until people value art more, and sex in art more, burlesque should ALWAYS charge, in my opinion, (charities and special events aside so long as they’re very well produced). Also performers should always charge a comparable fee to their talent. This way, if venues really want good talent, they will find a way to afford it. More performers would potentially be able to make a reasonable living instead of choosing rhinestones over eating lunch.

I wonder if free shows would exist if we all had a fee that we ALWAYS charged, no matter what….

I was once in a show that charged $2. Seriously. It was only a couple of years ago and it was with some ridiculous talent- we were a bit horrified because what we were bringing to their stage is definitely worth more than $2 to any person who is even merely interested in burlesque. If you think about it that way, some might think twice about performing in a “free show”.

There’s my food for thought! Thank you for writing in!

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

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