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.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION AND COMMENT HERE: http://www.21stcenturyburlesque.com/stripper-talk-with-sydni-deveraux-bullies-in-burlesque/

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:  http://www.upworthy.com/bully-calls-news-anchor-fat-news-anchor-destroys-him-on-live-tv?g=2&c=ucfb1

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?

Respectfully,
Producer”

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. 

XX”

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.

Sincerely,
*XX

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Stripper Talk #14: I want to travel!

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 Bunny! 

” Hi Sydni!

I’d love to read about the best way to go from a local performer to one who travels. While I know it’s not an overnight thing, I’d love to learn those steps that you’ve taken or have observed from others.

Thanks,

Bunny”

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Stripper Talk #13: Body beauty

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.

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I should mention that this particular blog is long but could be longer because of the enormity of the topic. Hopefully this episode with start another conversation on the topic of body positivity in burlesque. I’m hoping to touch more on sub-topics within the idea of “body image in burlesque” in future Stripper Talk sessions. Please comment or send me an email (glitterwonderland@gmail.com) if you have a question or a topic that you’d like covered. 

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This week’s question comes from a performer who would like to remain anonymous.

” I have been attacked by people due to my size, with things like “She’s fat and she needs to lose weight if she’s gonna take off her clothing” and I know am not a professional dancer like some of the girls but I put effort in my performing and costuming. I’m constantly put down by people saying “sizeist” remarks about my body or the way I perform. As of late I just want to quit. I really need help I want to be healthy for me and that be ok.

Does size really matter?

looking to your answer.

with much love and admiration…”

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Stripper Talk #11: Costuming?

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 Cherry Bombshell in New Zealand:

“Hi Sydni,

Firstly, I’d like to say that I think you are an inspiration – love your work and a huge fan of your blog.

I have a question… I’m a newbie to burlesque – did some classes, entered a competition and won – now have my first official gig lined up and another competition to look forward to.

I am buzzing with wonderful ideas for shows, but there is one thing that I find tricky – the costume.

I get stuck because for weeks I will be trying to find a costume that will work with my idea (New Zealand resources are extremely limited), then by the time I have it sussed my costume, the gig deadline is looming and I have to rush to put together a routine, but I’m finding it really hard, dare I say it, almost impossible to plan a routine with an imaginary dress/costume on.

 I keep researching my favorite US performers and they all have exquisite costumes.

I am juggling a full-time job running my own business as well as a blog and in my downtime am trying to build a burlesque performance career. I have trouble deciding which order to do things in – do you think of an idea, find a costume, then plan the routine? Do you have any tips or contacts for sourcing costumes?

Thank you in advance for your tips.

x
Cherry Bombshell”

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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?

Kisses,

The Luvely Rae”

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Stripper Talk #8: I want to do my first 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 Brittany H.

” Dear Sydni,

Ever since I saw my first show in October, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole into that glitter wonderland that is burlesque.  Eventually I’d love to perform in a show when I have more experience.  I guess my question would be how to break into my first show.  I’ve been told some shows require an audition and some a video.  What would be the best option? 

Yours truly,
Brittany H.”
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Stripper Talk #7: Break into Boylesque?

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 D. Xavier:

” What advise can you give a guy thats trying to break into the burlesque scene?”

Hi D. Xavier!

Congratulations on wanting to join the ranks of some of the sexiest men on the planet. I’ve been in wonderment of many of the boylesque sensations performing all over the world, and here in Seattle, Washington, you wouldn’t believe the scene here- it’s dripping of wonderful testosterone. We have, to name just a few, Waxie Moon, The’Luminous Pariah, Paris Original and frequent traveller from Portland, Russell Bruner.

To answer your question, I would advise a lot of research to begin with. There are a lot of ways to break into the boylesque community, and it’s very entwined with the burlesque community, all over the globe. If you don’t know of any boylesque performers in your area, I would ask a lady in the scene to introduce you to a few, and then you need to get cracking! Take burlesque classes, as a lot of the principles are the same- the art of striptease needs no gender, just a lot of sexual energy and a good sense of humor. Write inquiry emails to boylesque stars all over the nation and if there’s a man dancing in your area, why don’t you ask him for lessons or, if you hit it off very well- some mentoring?

Boylesque isn’t all that new, it’s just emerging more as time goes on and the burlesque (all gender identifications and types) scene gets bigger and bigger. You’ll find if you continue your quest and go to festivals that there are more boylesque figures that you can shake your *ahem* at!

Most importantly, you need to get your own style, pick a name that best reflects you, and work hard. Work on movement, character, getting your costumes to appropriately reflect your persona, and then get out there. Perhaps start by asking to help out with a show as a stage hand, get to know your fellow strippers, and also see if there are some newbie showcases in your area or surrounding areas. Whatever you decide to do, be humble, be kind and ask a lot of questions.

It’s an emerging part of our burlesque history and there are a lot of boylesque stars that love to talk about the art. If you have a chance, you should check out Tigger! (he teaches!) the first ever King of Boylesque 2006 (with the Burlesque Hall of Fame www.burlesquehall.com)

Here’s some of my favorite boylesque moments that are found on YouTube:

Best of luck to you!

xo
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 www.GlitterWonderland.com

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?

Thanks,

Anonymous

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Stripper Talk #5: Burlesque and Family

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 questions come from two ladies who seem to have something in common!

“Hey Miss Sydni,

First off I just want to say that I have been soaking up all your advice and admiring all that you do since I met you at the Vancouver burlesque fest this past May 🙂 Since I’m such a tall girl myself im glad I can have a Glamazon like you to look up to in the burlesque community. 🙂

Now here is my question. How do you (or how did you) deal with and talk to family members that STRONGLY opposed to your choice to become an burlesque entertainer? I’ve hit that road block already so early in my burlesque life, that I’m already discouraged. I have fallen so madly in love with burlesque that I wish my family would understand and try to see my point of view. I feel like I am Juliette and that burlesque is my Romeo. Forbidden love *le sigh*

Warmly,
Coconut”

and

Hello Mrs. Deveraux,

 I am a very big fan of vintage 40’s and 50’s everything!  Which lead me into the world of burlesque and I have been taken in by it’s beauty, grace and freedom.  So much so I want to be a performer, I have gone so far as to connect w/ the burlesque community in my area, find and attend shows and even find classes to start working on the craft.  However I was raised in a religious household that would not be too fond of that career choice.  Do you have any advice or could provide some clarity to my situation?  I really would appreciate any input, thank you.

B.Merri

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