So I was only on the blummin tellybox last night, wasn’t I?! You might have missed me if you went off to make a quick brew/ glanced down for a second 😉
Last night BBC Inside Out East Midlands dedicated a third of their show to the every increasing burlesque scene in their area.
Scarlett runs fantastic events such as The Gilded Merkin, the soon recently announced LaDeDa Cabaret and (with Charlotte) Dr Sketchy Nottingham, at the latter of which I performed my Poison Ivy act for the last time in December and the BBC were there to film it.
The show will be available via BBC iplayer until next Monday, it’s a fantastic piece and really captures a great snapshot of burlesque.
Does weight come into burlesque? Unfortunately, in my experience yes, just not necessarily the way you’d expect it to.
When I started performing I’d say I was a medium 12, at my biggest I’ve been a small 14 and at my slimmest a standard 10. It’s never been an issue for me, I put weight on because I got married, was happy and pigged out. Being able to scoff what I wanted in my life before then I just didn’t think about it and slowly the pounds went on. BUT it didn’t affect me when I first got up on stage. I was thinking more about the fact that I was about to get semi-naked in front of a room full of strangers. My weight didn’t come into it.
I gradually put on more weight. Late night pizza scoffing on the way back from shows (I never had an appetite before I performed) took their toll a little but (again) I should state it wasn’t anything that really bothered me as far as performing was concerned. In my home life I might have been a little concerned that I had E cup boobs (although my husband certainly wasn’t) and that my waistline was getting bigger but I was still rocking the hourglass and looking hot, so onto the stage I went and did my thing.
As I started to perform more however I was approached after shows by audience members who would say things like “it’s good to see someone curvy up there” or something along the lines of “it’s great to see someone representing real women”. This is where I started to have a bit of an issue with it. It’s the “real women” tag.
As much as I know people weren’t saying these things in a negative way, and in fact it was their way of complimenting me, it didn’t make me feel altogether great. It made me feel like I was being singled out as the big girl on the bill. Not that there’s an issue with being the big girl on the bill, but when you want to be complimented on your performance, costume and character then show after show get the same reaction, it becomes a little disheartening. Sometimes I would graciously accept the compliment and smile; sometimes I would smile but feel a bit sad.
When I turned the big three-oh in 2010 (and after a 3 week travelling trip to Vietnam and consequently then seeing the holiday snaps of a size 14 me) I decided that I didn’t want to enter my 30s and be overweight. So I joined slimming world and over a year and half lost 2 stone, and then I started to go swimming and lost a bit more, and then I started to do workout videos and before you know it I was a size 10 for the first time in over 6 years.
In this time the comments decreased by a vast amount, I felt more comfortable in my skin on-stage (I’d taken to wearing skimpier stuff) and I can hand on heart say my weight change didn’t affect the bookings I got. They increased, but only as my skill as a performer did. I never thought I was or wasn’t being booked due to my weight, it was on merit alone.
Then one time in the last few months of performing (and I would like to say at this point I was a size 10, with a 26inch waist – not necessarily flat – and for comparison to the above, now a C cup) someone said those words to me again: “it’s just so great to see real women like you up on stage” and this time – maybe because I knew I was retiring from performance – I did say “yes but we’re all real women, aren’t we?” then felt as uncomfortable as the poor lady did as she backtracked and ran away. I didn’t mean to be confrontational, I didn’t mean to upset her but it did upset me. Like those three years of diet, exercise and weight loss were nothing because I was still being viewed by this person as the one with a bit of jiggle compared to the slimmer girls I was performing alongside.
It happens on the other side too: around a year before the above a slim friend of mine was described by someone who had reviewed a burlesque performance as “painfully thin”. This performer is one of my favourites, she’s amazing on stage and I have never thought of her size in any way. She’s ridiculously hot and she would be whatever her size.
Something else to consider (and this is from my own experience of being slim – I was a size 8 in my early 20s) is how horrible it is when people decide that you must have an eating disorder because you can’t put weight on. Being criticised for being “too thin” is just as bad as being told you’re overweight.
Let me make it clear: I love burlesque because it celebrates the female (and male) form in all of its glory.
Shapes and sizes for me do not come into it, and I can say for the most part that those I have spoken to performers and promoters alike are looking at the performance as a whole, not the size of performer but their skill as a performer. If you have the skill your size doesn’t matter, if you move like a pro you know the right angles and you will look perfect from every one of them.
So why are some audience members so transfixed on people’s size? Why in fact do people think that it’s legitimate to comment on how someone looks rather than what they’re doing when they’re on stage? After some though I came to the following conclusion: it’s not really their fault.
We are bombarded with photos of women daily; newspapers, magazines, websites all telling us we should look like this, or this, or be this way or that and unfortunately sometimes this is in the most horrid way possible (don’t get me started on the daily fail’s sidebar of shame).
As summer is coming up I am sure it won’t be long until I see the usual photos of Marilyn next to some size 8 woman on a beach with the caption “remember when real women looked like this” or last years “fuck society – this is more attractive then this” (points to Marilyn first, then points to slim girl on beach).
The same thing will come up, Marilyn was a size 14. Maybe she was in vintage sizes, but being someone who makes their own clothes a vintage 14 is a modern 10, it’s a 26 waist, a 34 bust and a 36 hip. Why does the label of a “real” woman equate to comparing someone who is bigger than a 10 to someone who is a 10 or smaller? Surely we should all just be accepting of the size we are without the comparison.
So what is a real woman? I’m pretty sure to be a “real” woman you just have to exist, rather than be imaginary. The “real” tag is one of the worst things be bandied about since the phrase “girl power” took the world by force in the 90s and trivialised the achievements of women. It’s a marketing ploy to make those of us who aren’t slim feel better and be critical to those who are. Do people think about how it must feel for a slimmer person to see these posts and know that they’re suddenly being ousted as “not a real woman” because they exercise/diet/are naturally slim? I have as many friends who are naturally slim as not, and their size, weight and shape is none of my concern.
So I’d just ask this: can we please just stop? Can we think of something other than peoples weight to focus on? At the end of the day there’s enough of that crap in the media. So how about we compliment people on the size of their achievements and successes and not the size of body – and next time you’re at a burlesque show and would like to compliment a performer tell them what you loved about their act rather than bringing up their size.
The above is based on my personal experiences of performing from 2008 – 2013
Ah, the F word. There’s a lot of mystery around the amount performers charge for their services. It is often a taboo subject, I have had people whisper to me how much they are getting paid and feel incredibly guilty about it, like they’re telling me their deepest darkest secret. So here are some things to think about when quoting your fees.
Where to start
If there’s a charge on the door you should be paid something. If a promoter can’t even shout you a tenner for your travel then why should you work with them? Your time is worth something. You may be eager to tread the boards and show the world what you’ve got but looking to the back of the room and seeing the promoter stuffing cash in their pocket when no one is getting paid is a terrible thing and shouldn’t be tolerated. If they don’t pay you something now, chances are they wont book you and pay for you again.
I think I was lucky to start out at a time when even though burlesque was gaining popularity there weren’t the unsavoury characters that I have been told of exploiting performers and making money without paying any out. At my first show I was offered my travel but nothing else, with the proviso that if the event was a success I would be invited back (which I was, for a paid spot every year). I was happy to perform for this. I knew that the show had bigger names on that commanded a higher fee and I was truly grateful that someone had taken a chance on me.
I did a few shows after this for door split with no travel which again I was happy to do, knowing that I would be treated equally to all other performers on the bill. These were little shows where I carved my niche and met some of the performers I’m extremely proud to call my friends, an instant camaraderie developed because we had all started about the same time and did many of the same shows.
Really what I’m trying to say is, you need to earn your stripes, figure out what works and what doesn’t and find what you enjoy and what entertains an audience the most. This is the time you cut your teeth and it shouldn’t be about how much you get paid, it should be about becoming a better performer and finding your feet.
I have performed at a few charity shows for no fee and all proceeds were going to charities that were close to my heart. My donation to the charity was my fee and time, providing the entertainment at no cost apart from my travel which was happily paid, and I had assurances that 100% of the profits were going to the charity.
It’s certainly a reasonable request to ask what percentage of the profits are going to the charity the event is been held for. I have heard of shows that are billed as “charity events” when only 10% of their profits are handed over, the rest being pocketed by the promoters after asking all performers for their services for free. Be aware of what you’re being offered and ask questions.
You cannot expect to be paid a large amount on the basis of how long you have been performing. It’s not about longevity. It’s about skill, poise, character, costume, props, fan base and experience. Years of performing does not equal years of experience.
You could have been performing for five years but if you’ve only done twenty shows in that time it’s nothing compared to a performer who had travelled internationally every weekend for a year and a half with some of the top names in the business.
But be aware: I know of instances where greedy eyed promoters have seen a new performer, up and coming and gaining popularity and cash signs have rung out before their eyes. The act has been booked for a tiny sum, knowing that they would agree and that they’d bring a lot of paying customers through the door, maximising profit and cashing in on the buzz. Unfortunately this hasn’t been an isolated incident.
I do have to say though, a promoter worth their salt will be happy to pay a reasonable fee and 95% of the events I’ve worked with have done.
After around 6 – 9 months of door split and having built up my CV I applied for castings and was approached about my fees. I didn’t have a clue where to start but considered a few things, the cost and quality of my costumes, rehearsal time, the fan base I was building and my place on the bill.
(If you have a large prop act remember to factor in the extra weight in your car for fuel consumption, the added time of set up and break down, the cost of the prop in the first instance and the cost of rehearsal space if you can’t rehearse at home. Promoters should expect to pay extra for such an act.)
I charged £30 plus travel (first after the newbie slot of the bill).
I went up to £50 plus travel (second after newbie slot on the bill)
Then £80 plus travel (middle billing).
As I started to creep up higher £100 plus travel
And finally £150 plus travel as I went further up the billing and on to perform at some of the UKs top events.
I’m not saying the above amounts are what everyone should be charging, just what I have charged, and I am aware that 2008 prices wont be the same as now (petrol for instance has gone up by a helluva lot as have the cost of high caliber rhinestones).
As I was building up my CV I was being approached by some fantastic events and often they would often book me for a certain amount, this helped immensely with my peace of mind that I was charging the right amount to the right people, but it is very tricky to know what the right amount is.
Being aware of your place in the grand scheme of things and being realistic about your talents is a good start. You might want to be the next *insert famous headline act here* but if you haven’t got the dance/circus/comedy skills they have you aren’t going to be (right now) and you can’t expect to charge as much.
The good thing is though you can be you, you can write yourself into the burlesque history book and be just as good with commitment, training and flair, you just need to build up to it.
I knew I could entertain, I was a good mover, my costumes were up to scratch but I knew I wasn’t in the same league as other performers that were on the bill as me, and that’s not being down on myself, it’s being aware of myself and knowing where I fit in and who I’m on a level with.
When you do start to charge for performances quote a flat fee to everyone, there’s nothing more frustrating for a promoter than someone commanding a high fee and then seeing them on the billing for a smaller show that you know would have booked them for a lot less. A lot of performers run their own shows, they know what other shows offer in the way of payment and you may lose out on future bookings because of it.
If your fee is not accepted then do be flexible but within reason. Don’t go slashing your fee in half just because someone says they can’t pay what you have originally quoted.
It’s good to be busy but do you really want to be the performer who will do anything at any price? In the long run it may damage your reputation and cause issues when you want to be paid more from promoters that have had you for a bargain. Don’t sell yourself short when you don’t have to!
There will of course be exceptions to the rule. The gigs that you do for the fun of it, the Dr Sketchy’s that you know cannot afford to pay a lot but you get to hang out with your friends, the favours you’ll help out a friend with when someone had dropped out last minute, the promoter that you’d do anything for because they helped you on your way at the start of your career and gave you a boost.
I know not everyone will agree with what I’ve written but this is based on my experience from 2008 to 2013 and times they are a changing.
Talk to fellow performers and don’t be shy about telling others what you’re being offered (this isn’t to say marching up to *insert international headline act* and asking what they’re charging would be a good idea – obviously that would be rude). Ask those who are on the same billing as you, and ask others who you know well (that might have been about for a bit longer) what they think about how much you’re charging.
I was lucky enough to find a supportive group of burlesque friends early on who are open and honest about all aspects of burlesque with me and it helped immensely to guide me through those first few years. Open up the discussion with your burlesque family, it’ll be the best thing you ever did.
(photos from every step of my performing career)
Well a little more than a week as I’ve been relaxing and eating too much!