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.

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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.

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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.

Determined to Suck #2

Oh man. I totally didn’t want to make good on my new project today. But it’s my intention to paint a thing every day, and maybe write about it (or my feelings around it), so here we gooooooooo……

I have a show that I host tonight so painting seems somehow more important today than yesterday. When I moved from Seattle to New York I was so excited to be performing more (and I am performing more that’s for sure) that I forgot to take into account how different audiences are between the two coasts. At my gig in Chelsea- for instance, the audience can go from “somewhat amused” that there are dancers entertaining them to “NONE FUCKS GIVEN”. It doesn’t matter how beautiful you are, how graceful you are….sometimes it’s just a fucking crapshoot. The audience is mostly privileged, upper middle class, mostly caucasian. Occasionally we’ll get someone famous in there, but I’m always happy to see them because they usually pay the most attention (you know- performers love watching other performers).

It’s a floor show so you’re dancing close enough to touch, smell and definitely interact with the audience. On my more personally successful evenings I am fully eye-fucking everyone, fully present and in general feeling like a sexy badass. But on the nights I can’t quite lock into those feelings (because hey- no one is perfect, jeez), holy shit can it get rough. After all I am human interacting with humans that may or may not (it’s a crapshoot) give any cares to the fact that a performer is baring it all on in a tiny beautiful bar in circumstances that are almost completely unique to New York City.  

On the many nights that I do connect, hit the right note, fall into the performance zone I feel energized it’s magnificent. There’s nothing like it. I feel like I gave something lovely to the universe and was rewarded with a little bit of her appreciation. If I could I would just sweep out the back door full of that glow and go tuck myself into bed happy that I’ve done my job. But that’s not how it goes….

I’m learning how to interact with the public after I am done dancing or hosting. I’m not super great at it. Take away my music or my microphone and I’m just a girl that desperately would love a Harry Potter invisibility cloak. I’m a true introvert that has somehow fallen into a love affair with burlesque and showgirl life. I’m 6’8″ in heels, golden skinned, lots of tattoos….lots to take in that’s not society’s heteronormative standard of beauty. So I get mostly stared at, whispered about behind my back, the sometimes compliment and the occasional extremely rude question. It’s a lot to take after you shed your clothes and eye fucked people, you know? But it’s par for the course while I reside inside this mortal shell. So I deal with it. Most of the time I can even maintain a sense of humor. 

This is usually the time when I start going back over my performance. Could I have been better? What about that moment? Did I stutter or falter there? Oof. They’re still staring a me! Is there lipstick on my chin? Did I sashay away with charm? God I hope so…..the perfectionist is winning again. And she’s a damn liar! I’m pretty certain that no matter if I was THE most famous burlesque performer in the world I would still have those thoughts. We’re mortal! We just did a thing! Performed for people who have all those pesky thoughts in their heads while watching us….but their opinions are none of my business, right? right?!?

Sometimes in these moments I think of Barbara Streisand. Talented and introverted. 

I consider myself a confident person- confident in my abilities and my presentation. I’ve done a lot of work to get to this point…but we all still need a bit of therapy. My therapy of choice remains art but in a discipline I have no business exploring- watercolor. It’s only day two but I’m giddy with how it’s going. 

So today, before I go back into the fray, into the thing that makes my heart sing (and on very rare occasions cringe), I decided to paint a pussy….cat. A cat. Pervs. 

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So….yeah. I tried. It’s definitely feline, but maybe more bobcat perhaps? Fuck. I dunno. I giggled for a lot of it. Pussy jokes aside it was nice to just feel the paint brush in the paint. I still have no idea what I’m doing, but it’s good to feel that way I guess, without trying to fix it right away for feel guilty for embarrassed for not knowing what I’m doing. 

I’m happy to be performing tonight no matter what the experience gives me. I learn a little more about people and more about myself every time I go. The joy in having a regular gig goes beyond getting regular money- it’s like a controlled naked science experiment. Most of the time there’s a lot of fun to be had in it. But you can always learn something. 

Btw, I just find random pictures on the internet and decide to paint them. I guess I’m on a cat kick. At least this cat won’t know that I just painted a shitty watercolor portrait of her. At least there’s that. I am grateful for this pussy’s help in liberating me a little bit more from pesky perfectionism. Huzzah! 

Love,
Syd

The Emergence of: #Determined to Suck

I haven’t written a blog in awhile. I have to say it’s been a nice break- one that’s been needed. 

Between the last blog and now I’ve relocated to Brooklyn from Seattle, taken on an Associate Producer role with Wasabassco, headlined 3 festivals, competed again for Queen of Burlesque in Vegas and joined a band, Empire Beats. In my “off” time I study esotericism, try to be a good wife and love on my sweet dogs. The last 7 months have been intense. I’ve been trying to keep up, be better, do better, be EVERYTHING. 

That’s why my unlikely project “#Determined to Suck” has come up for me. I need to let myself suck at stuff. Since I was a wee child, kindergarten age, I’ve been struck by the nasty bug of perfectionism. My teachers used to write my mother about it and about the tantrums I would throw if I didn’t get a math problem right. It never got much better, though I stopped outwardly crying and stomping and mostly stuffed it all inside. 

For the last four years of my almost 10 year performing career I have treated every instance of performing as an indicator as to whether I was a worthwhile human being or not. For the previous six I was in the beginning just too jazzed about burlesque to think about being better yet, and then I was drunk for a lot of it. I’m sure that some of you artists that are reading my blog right now will feel a kinship with me over some of this. We all also know that it’s not healthy. But as a human that picked the arts and creativity as my career path from a very early age it’s a natural evolution unless you do something to stop it, or you’ve had a healthier childhood than I (and I hope you have). 

Last week as I was at my second ever gig with my band- a 250 person wedding- I found myself in a little conversation with our sound tech, Seth. He seemed to me to be an artistic overachiever- playing instruments and working with artists in studios, I was floored by his enthusiasm to play multiple roles in the artistic path and with one of them (I think it was painting) he said “I totally suck at it”. When I affirmed to him that maybe with time it would get better, he made it clear that it was fantastic to suck at things. And that stuck with me. 

So- I’ve been thinking about it since then. And today I asked myself what would be a fun, not super-expensive thing to suck at? Watercolors, I thought would do the trick. I love pretty colors, the possibility of different brushes and that I could take as much or as little time as I wanted to create a piece of terrible terrible art. 

It is my intention with this project to let myself suck at it. And to have fun doing so, often- I hope even every day. I spend too much time trying to make just the right decisions for my performing career (especially when I’m creating a new act as I am right now) and beat myself up for every little flaw that in my estimation I’ve grown stagnant in a way.

I’ll be painting in my art room that I share with my husband, Scott- who happens to be a ridiculously great artist, so the contrast will always be there. It will be unlikely that I will ever be able to convince myself that I am good at this. Ha! 

So, though my blog before has focused on advice- and I still very much give it when someone asks (you can still email me questions to Glitterwonderland (at) gmail), I re-dedicate my blog to the exploration of being successful as a creative entity in this world, writing about the journey, it’s hits and misses, and in general trying to allow myself to be perfectly imperfect.

So here’s my first attempt at being okay with sucking: Eartha Kitt as Catwoman.

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More blogs on being a “weirdo declaring her humanity publicly despite being a perfectionist” later. I’m sure at sometime during the middle the night I will wake up and want to erase this. Liberation is challenging, I say. 

Love,
Syd

(www.glitterwonderland.com)

Working as a Warrior for Love

Last night, while I was taking a bath contemplating my existence I kept coming back to “love is the answer”. Now I’m not trying to be all John Lennon about it, or even Ghandi- but I truly believe this to be true. In virtually every interaction I’ve had with myself or with another, if I sprinkle some love in- it goes 150% easier than if I hadn’t. Now, I’m not saying that we need to be respectful to someone abusing us, but instead that we be loving to ourselves by creating a barrier from them energetically, laying firm ground rules and expectations, and also knowing when you’re being the difficult one and need to let someone in.

We all have different stories, and in some part of our lives we have all dealt with situations that others would be terrified of, cannot relate to, can have compassion for, or will never understand. And these reactions are all okay because it’s our story and not theirs. How they react or think about us is not our business. As we walk through life in every interaction it is as if we assume people know that we are having a shitty day, or that we were emotionally abused, or that we are going through a monumental shift in our lives. In some of my interactions with New Yorkers, they simply assume that I’m from around there and know the area, and it’s the same for other things too, like abuse or feeling like an outcast.

We only know the world that’s going on in our heads and if we don’t take the time to focus on the situation as if we know nothing about that other person’s inner life (as we should, in my opinion) we will continue to have all the conflict and confusion in our day to day lives. Treat others as you wish to be treated (if you loved yourself ferociously). Perhaps the golden rule is no longer enough with the pervasive lack of self-love we see around us in the world. Perhaps its time that we do better with how we treat others, even in those instances that we can’t do it for ourselves.

In working as a warrior for love I feel constantly challenged- people say ignorant things and I have to assess whether it’s an opportunity for education or whether I simply need to walk away. Sometimes the education IS walking away. In trying to do this every day I have to step out of my house with the decision to try and love myself voraciously so that I can help others learn that for themselves too. So that woman who just threw me a little shade on the street gets a smile. Because if I threw it back it would just be too easy on her. When the fantastic performer with low self-esteem goes on a self-depreciating rampage backstage I often choose not to acknowledge- my commiserating with her isn’t good for either one of us, and rarely does a quick compliment heal any wounds.

Much of the work I do is simply witnessing or holding space. On the moving train a man begs loudly for money, telling us his life story. We are trapped and many people frantically search for their headphones or physically turn their backs. While it is not my job to give him money (sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t), I just witness it. After all this is a human doing something that I perceive as being heart-wrenchingly hard: begging strangers for help and watching them recoil in disgust or fear.  

Being backstage I realized that a performer that drives me bananas is likely dealing with emotional trauma from their parents not understanding them. Now- does that make her drive me less crazy? No- I think that we all have our stories and we need to learn how to be decent, loving human beings despite the bullshit- but it did help me to understand that truly their crazy-making behavior is something deeper than wanting to be the center of attention or loving to be manipulative, that rather they are working through their issues in a way I wouldn’t necessarily prefer. This realization gives me another level of protection around my heart and psyche when I encounter them- and it also gives me a touch of empathy too.

However, my favorite work is congratulating. Being happy for others that are taking the steps to work on their shit. I have a dear friend who knows that they have anger issues- and every time they have a “flare up” I see it get a little easier, and I see their acknowledgement of their issue and how they have to choose to deal with others get better. Its a gorgeous sight to watch. Witnessing a friend or family member go through cancer and it’s resulting therapies can trample your heart into a billion pieces, but seeing their strength and resilience through one of the most terrifying things that can happen in this world can make you so much more thankful that they are alive. Right now I’m witnessing so many of my friends take the scary dive into doing what they are passionate about- and if you’ve ever made that leap you know just how scary that first step (and sometimes the first 1000 steps) can be.

It’s time we make the choice to be a warrior for love in response to our backgrounds and stories, and watch the ensuing blossoming of our souls, and the world around us.

Despite my background of emotional abuse by a stepparent my aim is to be as loving as I can be to myself and others, even though her treatment of me can trigger my desire to be in fear and to recoil at the idea of having loving or even open female interactions. Sometimes my story wants me to stay at home petting my puppies instead of going to a birthday party that will have new people to meet or having lunch with a new friend. Despite being cheated on blatantly and repeatedly by a lover I decided to let subsequent loves in and work through the terror of being vulnerable. This work does not stop. This is the work of every day. These things are not easy, and I recognize that to some my issues seem like a cakewalk and to others a horrible proposition.

You fall on stage and you get back up- you don’t stay curled up on the floor faking a Nancy Kerrigan response. It is part of our paths as human beings on this planet to get back up despite the emotional, spiritual and physical beatings we have endured- we are resilient. Our hearts, when we exercise them by trying to love more and be more compassionate to others simply grows in it’s capability to love. And it can be oh so tough, but it is unbelievably rewarding to the soul.

Love is more than the ooey-gooey stuff that you save for your loved ones, it is deep and full of moments of witnessing, empathy, compassion and vulnerability. I recommend working on just one at a time and watching your heart blossom in ways you could never imagine.

So as you bathe or shower the remnants of your day away, or you drink your morning coffee in repose, vow to exercise your heart despite the hardships of your stories and situations. Vow to be a warrior for love.

I love you, and I believe in your capability to do this- even if it’s just for today.

Sydni

Stripper Talk: Burlesque Advice for Newbies

So you want to join the burlesque ranks of the best and the brightest? Sounds groovy, but you need to work to get some work! Working hard at this art form is what you need to stick out in the community- a community saturated with fledgling as well as established performers all over the world.

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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!

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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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Get thee to a mentor!

***Below are my personal opinions on mentorship. I have a big mouth, and this is my blog. Be warned.***

As I sit here, as I often do after reading my books and autobiographies about success and successful people, all I really wanted to share is: GET THEE TO A MENTOR!

When I began burlesque 6 years ago I had forgotten what it was like to have a mentor, as my previous mentor had been in high school by the name of Scott Brown and he was most likely the most influential teacher (and my vocal jazz teacher) I have ever had. I had forgotten because I got all tied up in the glitz and glam of the whole thing, and not the bones and blood of it.

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BurlyCon 2008 to 2010-a retrospective.

Taken by POC Photo.

I have been a part of planning BurlyCon in different ways since it’s beginning 3 years ago, and just like a fine wine-it gets better with age. In the last 2 years (just 2 years!) the number of attendees has DOUBLED in size, a testimony that burlesque is here to stay, is constantly evolving, and many people from all over the country are aching to take classes from their peers and legends.

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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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