Get Paid. Stop Working For Free!

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It all started when I received yet ANOTHER message from a newer performer wanting to get out there in the scene, wanting to do festivals, wanting to headline. Then I wait for it- again they are performing for free because they want the stage time and they want to make friends and influence people. They just want to be a part of something- a sparkly something that makes our hearts feel good and allows us to shake and quake in front of (usually) appreciative people.

I appreciate ambition and drive. I really do- but I desperately want all of these women to know that in order to make sure that headlining spots, paid spots are even available to them in the future, they need to STOP WORKING FOR FREE. Just stop it.

Our art-form has been around for over a hundred years. That’s long enough to know it’s worth something. Shit- women have been stripping longer than that with some sort of compensation/exchange. So first- we all need to acknowledge that our stripping bodies are worth compensation. Secondly- we need to ask ourselves- if we are not getting paid, who is making money off my artfully exposed body?

There are all types of shows, big fancy shows, bar shows, private gigs, newbie showcases, icon soirees, you name it. And in my big fuzzy dreamland, all of these shows PAY. But until we ALL decide that working for free causes more harm than good this is going to remain a dream.


Here are my quick, bullet-point thoughts about this subject, taken from my twitter ranting: 

When you perform for free you tell producers and venues that you don’t value your art.
When you perform for free you tell producers that they can require others to work for free.
When you perform for free you tell producers and venues not to value this art.
When you work for free instead of inquiring about pay you drive down the pay for career performers.
When you work for free now, hoping to get paid later you are missing the point that NOW THE PRODUCER knows you work for free.
When you work for free or very low/way below an average pay, other producers pay attention to this. Some will abuse this (shitty producers making money off of you) and some will be horrified (since usually they are performers too) I know I in the horrified camp. If I know that you have undercut another performer or work for free, I either don’t hire you, or I stop hiring you.

Value this art form if not your own contribution to it. Don’t perform burlesque for free.

Value yourselves and value producers trying to create viable business models. You might not get paid a ton, but get paid something.
What you will allow is what will continue.
If you are complaining about the pay rate and you are also WORKING FOR FREE- you are a part of the problem.
Being entertaining is worth compensation. Venues make money off you when you are entertaining. So get paid something!
Be willing to walk away! Be willing to say no! Be willing to speak up for yourself! Compliments and bar tabs aren’t sustainable.
Either someone’s making $ off you or they are doing bad business. I get that pay in this industry can be low- but stop stripping for FREE.
If you are a performer that has a day job, please remember that you are still contributing to a scene that needs it’s performers to get paid. You might not get your money from performing, but others do.
Stop performing for free unless it’s a worthwhile charity event. For fucks sake someone is making $ off your stripping body.


Here’s the deal- I get it. The economy, blah blah blah. People don’t value live entertainment as much, rant rant rant. I feel you, I do. I perform in NYC and I see it. I hear stories and talk to other performers. Entertainment *is* changing. But it always has.

All of us performers- seasoned and new want to work. I want to work. I want to be performing ALL THE TIME. I want to be creating new acts ALL THE TIME. I want to be a naked dancing lady burlesque machine. I get it. So do a lot of you. It’s agonizing when you miss the stage, when you don’t have gigs on your books, and then someone offers you a “charity” event or a “for exposure” event, or a friend “calls in a favor”….

We have all done these events. Anyone that says that they haven’t are telling you a sexy lie. But what I suggest is that you make these events a 1% of your experience. Charities will often write you a tax write off (at least the charities worth their salt) which can be like getting paid. Without fail always ask for compensation first, and then assess the situation. I know you got bills to pay. I know that you might have to take something lower than your usual fee because you have extra expenses this month. Some of you don’t even call this a job because during the day you are badass Nancy in accounting, or ferocious Jill the lawyer. But please really think about it. Don’t settle for FREE.

Ask yourself, where is the money going? You just artfully took of your clothes for NO MONEY. You rehearsed, hauled your shit to a venue, put on makeup and showed your soul for no money and either the producers or the venue (or both) are getting what you earned for them. Something is fishy…..

Almost 10 years ago I started in this scene and though I didn’t get paid much, I still got paid. The agonizingly funny thing is that what I got paid 10 years ago is what the average in NYC and Seattle is right now. 10 years is plenty of time to try to push the status quo, but no matter where I’ve visited and who I’ve talked to, they fear producers not booking them when they refuse to work for so little or for free. I say no to a lot of gigs. They pay too low. I know what I ask for isn’t unreasonable. I’m paying attention to the averages, and I’m not trying to break an average shows budget. But I do know my line. And until we ALL start to say “no” more and stand up for ourselves in business the rate won’t increase. Producers won’t try to do better, why should they? Until we decide that we want our sisters and brothers in this business to make more money more than we want to “win” at getting gigs, there won’t be a change.

I know there’s not going to be a big prayer circle where we all show up and talk about our feelings and agree to try to increase the wage in our towns. I’m not insane- I know that there’s always going to be people willing to work for free. Girls Gone Wild proved this years ago. I’m not even suggesting an average pay rate in your city- I know that with the varying levels of skill and hustle this is also an issue.

What I’m suggesting is this:
1. YOU start not working for free. Just start there.
2. Then sit down and decide for YOU what’s worth it to leave your house rolling bags full of hundreds of dollars of gear and hours of practice under your belt and do your ever lovin’ best to stick to it. You can even discuss this with your peers.
3. Talk to your peers about pay. Find out how much they are getting paid and suggest to them that they also not work for free. START TALKING ABOUT MONEY. Money is not scary. Money is awesome and it pays bills.
4. Work with producers that are trying to build sustainable business models.
5. Work with producers that offer guarantees. I couldn’t possibly say what’s worth it to you- but just a guarantee. Ask producers for a guarantee. Encourage them to offer an guarantee.
6. As you grow as a performer keep reevaluating your fee and start pushing back. Give yourself a desired wage increase every once in a while.
7. Learn to say NO. Learn to stick to your guns. Encourage your peers to do the same. Feel good walking away from a deal that doesn’t value your work.
8. Never be afraid to negotiate. “What pay can you offer me?” “Well, for that fee I can do this act instead of this act”.
9. If they want YOU and they are close to the rate they quoted you, they will try to negotiate with you. You can offer to negotiate with them. I know some shows even save up for who they want. If it’s worth it to you, be a performer that they want to save up for.

***NOTE: In this post I am NOT going to go into the festival model. There’s a lot of thoughts- and it deserves a lot more attention than I have right now. For now I am talking about your basic shows, the ones that happen weekly, monthly, in bars, in hotels, at theaters, all of that.

This art form deserves better. I know I want to give her my all in helping to create something sustainable, and something that has perceived value to venues and producers. This is something that’s not even unique to burlesque- it’s all the performing arts. Many years ago many performers called this their career. And from there it was chipped away and undercut in various ways- undercutting, b-girls, blue films…. but I still have faith we can create something better than what we have right now. Bit by bit we can make a difference. One fancy stripping person at a time.

Just do your best to get paid, okay? Let’s start there. Stop working for free.

Stripper Talk #17: Bullies in Burlesque

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 performer who’s identity I’ve chosen to protect , location undisclosed. Let’s call her “XX”. All of the identities have been removed from this post, including the location of the peoples involved. Statements (taken from correspondence) from the producer has been  highlighted to give as much of the full story as is allowed at this time, and to encourage a conversation that needs to happen in our community, and that is of discrimination and misogyny in burlesque- this episode being “size-ism”. As burlesque becomes more and more popular, we need to take notice of our surroundings in which we’ve become accustomed to- and make sure that all of it’s participants are treated with respect. It’s a slippery slope- allow an inch and some will run a mile on you. 

Dear Sydni,

I am writing to you after being inspired by this video:

This year I stepped down after 6 years of performing burlesque after having a discussion with a producer.  I was pulled aside after a rehearsal and told to lose weight by him and that now there was a new “code of conduct” which addressed this issue.  Ok…  I calmly said that I understood and walked away from the exchange completely shocked.  We live in a free country, people can do what they want and produce whatever show they want, but I got into burlesque not to be a skinny girl on stage, but to be the sexy woman that I am.  Later that week I informed him that I could not follow his new rule and do not agree to the terms we discuss, which were

1.)  Lose more weight 
2.)  If I don’t lose weight I will be booked less 
3.)  I was not allowed to discuss this topic with any of girls. 

His response was this correspondence: (edited down for length)

“…I wanted it to be a process that we embrace together, with the end result being a healthier, slimmer performer. I want to see the return of the XX on the stage that I originally cast in the show. That’s it….

I represent the audience and what they desire to see onstage. In every aspect of the show….Ignoring social norms of what is attractive is pure selfishness on the part of the performer. That’s a quick way to end up with a show that no one wants to see…. If you ignore the audience’s expectations, then they will ignore you and your show. 

At the end of the day, you are fighting me about this because a.) your feelings are hurt by my honesty about a situation that we both know to be true, and b.) it dredges up all sorts of hurtful self image issues that you are applying to yourself. If you were to step back and look at the situation rationally,  you would agree that this isn’t the body image that you want to represent yourself with or that you want to put onstage. You want to be healtier, more attractive, stronger, faster, leaner. You want the same things that I want for you. You just don’t like hearing it from me. 

So, I’ll ask you again. Will you work with me on this? Will you continue to do what you are already doing, slim down, get healthier and be accountable for this with me? Or would you rather tell me to fuck off just because it feels good to do that, in this particular moment?


Which was then followed immediately with this correspondence:

“Let’s be clear about this. You are currently the biggest girl in the show. That’s why I had the first discussion with you.”

I do not have height restrictions for the show, because no performer can control that. And the pool of available talent in the city is not large enough for me to put that restriction in place. A performer CAN control their weight. That’s why I am addressing this issue. 

…Vegas standards are much stricter than anything that we put forward in this show. Nobody in Vegas would have the prolonged discussion that I am having with you. They would have just fired you a long time ago and hired someone else.”

And my response was:

“Hi Producer,

Since we’re being clear, I understand that it is your responsibility, if anyone’s, to approach me when a change like this is needed. However, I completely disagree with the direction you’re leading this troupe in. When you pitched the show to me, it was a collaboration of gypsy artists, not a weight restricting showgirl strip club. You never pitched a show that would have restrictions on the burlesque performers. 

On that note, I am not the largest girl. I wear a size 4. *S is a 6. Fact.  I have absolutely no issues with *S size. Perhaps the reason she doesn’t count in your lineup of who’s the largest is dependent on a longer working relationship, again, since we’re being clear. 

If you were to step back and look at the situation rationally, you’d recognize that your motives for this are skewed, at best. 

I’m not telling you to fuck off. It doesn’t feel good to have to have this exchange with you. I told you when we spoke that I’m now 3 lbs. away from my weight on my license, which was 135 lbs. When I started this show, I was 141. It hurts me that you’re approaching me based on your personal opinion, not fact. 

I’ll see you at the show tonight. 


None of the girls I spoke with heard of this new rule, nor did they agree with it.  Of course, that night was the last night I performed with the troupe.

I was going to walk away from this and never look back, but some part of me feels like I need to tear this open for everyone to see.  He had bullied girls about this and that- but about my weight… that was the last straw.  Is this where burlesque is headed?  This homogenized version for the masses to digest?  Is this the future of this art form?  What the hell should I do?  Do I bring this to the community?  My options for performing are slim now that I don’t have a “home” show, so I’m taking this time to figure out what does this is all mean for me.  But please, I would love to hear your opinion.


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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”

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A Producers Take: Producing Burlesque Shows

**It has been pointed out that I should clearly mention that I am a SEATTLE based performer and producer (though I travel as a performer both nationally and internationally) and my opinions on producing have mostly come from my experience in Seattle. This piece is meant to start a conversation, not to be an end all to producing. There are many ways to see a community and to create a piece of art. Happy teasing, ya’ll!


Producing shows is a point of pride for me, and because of my successes and failures over the past 3 years of producing burlesque shows I thought that it would be useful to some to write about some of my opinions about producing a good, entertaining and successful show.

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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.

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Backstage Ettiquette…(with real world implications)

Oh man.

I’ve been in some good, some bad and some great shows. I’ve performed in shows featuring Catherine D’Lish, Miss Indigo Blue, Michelle L’amour and others. I’ve been the feature in lesser-known (but still a blast) shows, and simply a performer in others. No matter what the show is, or who the hell I am on the totem pole of burlesque, I try to handle myself in exactly the same way. With courtesy and grace.

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Opinion Piece: Do’s and Don’ts of burlesque

These are simply the opinions of one glittery burlesquer.

Originally written in 2008 it is revised (hey, my opinions can change!), but to some, still helpful.

Since 2005 I’ve been in countless shows, produced countless shows and seen countless shows. I’ve been backstage with shining stars, newbies that just want to get it right and established performers that seem to have no clue. Often, when I’m approached by a new performer, they want to know what they can do better, or what they’re doing “wrong”…..

Not everyone likes the same thing, and while many of my opinions are shared- I speak for no one but myself. However- here’s a few things that I would like to let you know- and I hope that it can be useful for you!

1. Get a name and make it yours. Make it unique. If you are trying to rip off a more famous performer than yourself with your name, that really sucks. If you’re making a raunchy, disrespectful joke on a legend’s name- I think it reflects upon you poorly. Know that people have noticed, and it might be why you’re not getting more work. If you have the name of someone else that has come before you and they approach you about it- don’t be rude, change yours to something else. There are a million Cherry’s, Kitty’s, L’somethings, D’somethings, Von Somethings….don’t you want to really stand out? Some names are coincidences and that can’t be helped, but really- please do your research.

2. If you decide to be a peeler, please look at yourself from all angles in the mirrors.
*Cut off your tags please!
*Please gussy up your underwear a bit. Plain ‘ol panties tend to look bad.
*the tinier the better! Hottie McNaughty and I were having a conversation one night about this. She’s not into the thong, but she is into butt cleavage. I’m a big fan of tiny thong underwear. We both agree that there should be some element of risque in your panties. Maybe they just fit really well….hug your delicious curves!
*Check out yourself from the rear. Are those underwear flattering?
*Wearing a corset/fishnets/certain kind of bra/fringe every act can be boring. Keep an eye on that. Make sure you keep it interesting.
*You don’t have to have tassels on the pasties. Not twirling? Don’t worry about tassels!
*Just because you might be a more voluptuous girl doesn’t mean you have to wear huge granny panties. For a great reference, please go to youtube and watch videos of Dirty Martini. I want to do Dirty things to Dirty Martini. She’s simply fabulous.

Sorry, you can’t buy this. Granted, not everyone has me on their favorite burlesque gal list, but I’ve been told since I was 15 that I have stage presence. What I’ve witnessed over the years of being obsessed with watching live performances, is that you can’t buy it. You either have it, or don’t. This does not mean that having stage presence will make your act especially interesting unless you make it so. Conversely, I’ve seen amazing dancers have no stage presence, and unfortunately, maybe they should just teach. It’s that French je ne sai quoi thing, ya know?

4. If your going to do the “Classic” striptease thing, at least be really good at it. Practice, practice, practice! Nerd out on it. Really, get into the meat and potatoes of the movement, the attitude, everything. I recommend watching videos of Catherine D’Lish, Immodesty Blaize, Dirty Martini, Michelle L’Amour, Roxi D’Lite (to name just a small few) and then perhaps considering giving up altogether (joking! just keep working on it!). This isn’t about taking ourselves too seriously on stage- but this is about taking it seriously enough when you’re working on it to make it believable when you’re on stage.

5. Emote! People-please stop with the Cock in the Mouth face (CITM) throughout your whole act. It looks contrived. Try smiling! Try closing your mouth! What about a flirtatious smirk? I personally suggest practicing face expressions in the mirror while mimicking your act to the music. This is how you will find out if you are a culprit of CITM.

6. If you are embarrassed to be on stage, we will be embarrassed for you. This makes an awkward situation. If you can’t be fierce when you step on the stage, THEN CONSIDER STAYING OFF THE STAGE UNTIL YOU’RE READY. Go take some great classes from some of the greats, (there’s probably someone near you- please use the internet), do some soul searching as to whether you’ve really found your calling and then stick to your guns.

7. Be courteous. BE ON TIME! sure, sometimes you have to be late, but either prearrange it or have your producer on speed dial. There are a few chronically late performers in this town, and they are fucking with the start times of shows. So be on time! And producers: start punishing.

8. Do your damn hair please. Okay? Thanks. This means brushing, curling, pinning setting etc. Your costume DOES INCLUDE your hair. Invest in quality wigs if your hair won’t do what you want it to. I learned that the hard way. Miss Indigo Blue was so good as to point that out to me when I was just starting out.

9. MAKEUP: if you aren’t wearing eyelashes, I’m disappointed in you. Actually, a lot of us are. We can’t see your pretty eyes from back here! you look unfinished! (Ok- I’ll concede- if you’re allergic to the glue, get creative with eyeliner). Take a makeup class. More is *usually* better on stage. Even stage actors, and performance artists will employ the use of a lot of makeup. Making your face pop while staying true to yourself is totally possible. Just watch the blush. *shudder*. Even if your look is pedestrian, we still need to be able to see you from the back of the room. (HOT TIP: Check out books by the late, great Kevyn Aucoin)

PS: yes, I do think you do need lipstick and liner (even if it’s nude). It makes the occasional intentional CITM face look amazing.

10. Shoes. Yes…..we are looking at your feet. Make them pretty! Check your heel height, the arch, the thickness in the shaft (heh- shaft.) All of these things alter the appearance of your step and the sexiness of your legs. Practice walking in your heels. Spend a day in them! Get a drag queen to teach you her walking tips! Watch Showgirls!

*this does not include those of you trained dancers that use ballroom or character shoes. I get it, they’re more sturdy for the awesome stuff you’re about to do. -Just remember-rhinestones and appliques can totally go on shoes too. Spice em up!

11. Watch a ton of burlesque. Submerge yourself in it. Swim in it! Breathe it.

12. You don’t have to have a ton of money to put into your costume (though it is nice), you need to pay attention to how it fits, color combinations, and the tiny touches-the embellishments and alterations. It’s how it looks, not how much it costs. But unfortunately, I’ve seen some acts that just look thrown together. If you’re no good at putting together a costume, hire someone to do it for you, ask another burlesque gal for advice. Seriously, it’s better this way. We are creating an illusion for the audience, do your part of the equation.

13. If you can’t get past your body flaws for the 3-7 minutes you’re on stage, none of us are. If you’re walking on the stage thinking about how chubby you feel, it’s going to show on your face. You’re going to look uncomfortable, and that’s when people are going to go to the bar or grab a cigarette. True story.

14. Don’t get hammered before or during your show. Don’t worry-I’ve tested this out in the past for you. It aint pretty, and you are ripping off the audience. Some performers like to have a cocktail before, and that’s great and fine- but consider whether it’s actually making you a better performer….and if there’s other ways to get there (and stay present on stage).

15. If you can’t twirl, just don’t. Please. Unless it’s for the funny. Then go for it!

16. Community is important. Try to be a part of it! Some of us are outspoken, and some aren’t. Remember that this is also a business too- and that there should be a level of professionalism that happens, especially if you want consistent work.

17. Speaking of consistent work- if you want to be hired for a show locally, you should go check out the show and introduce yourself to the producer. Shake their hand, give them your card and ask them if it would be ok to email them your information (including performance links and resume) in hopes of working with them. Simply emailing them with an expectation of work is not only a bit rude, but it’s also not professional. As a producer I’ve received lot’s of “My name is Cherry D Von Teese, I’m local! I haven’t been to your show yet- but you should hire me! thanks!” and I’ll be honest- I don’t even respond.

18. Know the difference between Facebook and Email- Business deals and transactions, in my opinion should be on EMAIL. Asking someone where they got their shoes- FACEBOOK.

19. If it’s not fun- don’t do it. You have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself.

20. Go to festivals! Take classes! Read books! Watch videos! and PRACTICE!