The topic of what should you get paid in burlesque laps like the tide; coming in and out of conversations but nothing ever really gets resolved. So, I decided to do a blog on it!
I'm sure every burlesque performer has queried how much they should ask for in regards to payment. I know I have! So I've broken down what you should ask yourselves when trying to quote for your performances.
These are my own personal thoughts and views on the topic. My own way of sussing out what to charge may be totally different than your own and that's ok! Different strokes for different folks.
So, to start...
It's a no-brainier that a brand new burly baby wouldn't charge as much as an experienced burlesquer, but how do you define that? Experience. Experience doesn't mean the amount of time someone has been performing burlesque (although it does factor in) but also how much training they've done, how much actual performance experience (i.e. treading the stage) they've had in shows, events, etc and how much they've grown as a performer.
DISCLAIMER NO.2: ELITISM VS. EXPERIENCE
A quick note about elitism as opposed to experience, as this is topical in our industry currently.
Elitism is a state of mind that comes from a person and how they personally perceive and conduct themselves. If people think like that, then that's their prerogative and reflects their own (possibly deluded) values of self worth. Elitists see themselves as the 'creme de la creme' of the scene; they snob any one who isn't of their "ranking" and are generally rude and stand-offish, ALL THE TIME, not just in social settings (some of my friends suffer social anxiety and retreat into themselves in social settings, but would be HORRIFIED if someone felt snubbed by them).
If you choose not to associate with particular people in the industry because you personally aren't a fan of them or the way they conduct themselves, that's NOT ELITIST - for me personally, that's just me exercising self care. However, always be polite and civil, there’s no need to be unprofessional. This is an industry and if we want to be treated as professionals we should behave as such. Remember the ol' ego vs confidence rule - there's a VERY slim line between them. Always err to the side of confidence - always be humble.
If you have EXPERIENCE in something, and you offer your expertise or advice (if wanted and/or requested) to someone with less experience than you, that's not being elitist, that's being helpful. I’m making this distinction because I’m not writing this blog from an elitist point of view, but from one of (quite considerable) experience. I don’t claim to know everything but I feel I know enough to write this after so many years in the industry as a producer, teacher and performer.
Now, moving along...
My band of best burly babes and I were talking about this subject and how experience came into play with sussing out what to charge. So upon a lot of back and fourth conversation, we came up with categories on how to define the varying levels of experience in burlesque. I've listed them with explanations underneath. Starting from the bottom..
Throughout ALL of these categories, every burlesquer, no matter their experience, should always continue to learn, develop and grow. Professionals included.
A Rookie is a burlesquer with 0-1 years experience in performing burlesque. During this time, they're honing their craft, learning from burlesque schools, private lessons, resources such as YouTube and developing their burlesque persona. A Rookie burlesquer, regardless of their experience, should get paid something - if not with cash, then with something with the same value such as a private burlesque lesson.
NOTE: If you're a Rookie and performing in your Rookie/graduating revue, you shouldn't expect payment as this is part and parcel of your course.
An Amateur burlesquer has 1-3 years experience. They've done some training, they've got a couple of routines under their belt and are continuing to develop and grow as a burlesque artist. Payment wise, I'd say the same in regards to the Rookie.
A burlesque artist who identifies in this category is someone who has been performing for at least 2 years and purely sees burlesque as a hobby. Not as a job, not even a part time or casual job, a hobby. They do not perform for money, rather they purely perform for the thrill. As per the two categories above, regardless of their affiliation to burlesque, they should still ask for compensation. Note - some performers may stay at this level for their entire involvement in burlesque, and that's totally ok!
There is two differences between a Hobbyist and a Professional Hobbyist. One is that the Professional Hobbyist performs casually (i.e. this is not their full time job, maybe not even their part time job) but they do expect to get paid for their performances. They will have also been performing for at least upwards of 3+ years. That payment will reflect their experience in the industry. They will expect money as payment rather than other forms of compensation. Two, they'll have an overall professional manner and market themselves as such. They will generally have at least a designated FB page and/or Instagram account for their burlesque persona as well as possibly a designated email address. Again, like the Hobbyist, a performer may stay at this level for their entire involvement in burlesque.
The jump from Professional Hobbyist to Professional is quite substantial, and for the following reasons. A Professional Performer sees burlesque entertainment as their part time or full time job. They, like Professional Hobbyists, conduct themselves professionally, have social media platforms covered for their persona, but on top of this they will most likely have a website and YouTube channel too along with a designated email. They'll tend to have a certain level of polish, have at least 4+ years in the industry and have evolved their own particular style, brand and acts which they are known for. They will sometimes also have merchandise you can buy either online or at shows, which may include (but are not subjected to) posters, clothing, used nylon stockings, etc. Professionals will continue (like all the other categories - hopefully) to put money into their professional development and create high quality, polished acts with costumes, etc to match. Professionals will always expect payment for their acts and will charge according to their experience.
Ok, so there's the different categories. You may agree or disagree, but that's what we came up with.
You may notice I didn't put any actual price tags in there. Well, that's because you can't simply apply a stock fee for burlesque. It all depends on who and where you are performing, which leads to my next point..
WHERE & WHO YOU ARE PERFORMING FOR
I'm going to talk about these in categories as it's easier - what you charge depends on your experience + who and where you are performing, so let's have a look:
Now, the kinds of burlesque shows I'm talking about here are the ones run by people within the burlesque industry, not ones created by event companies or by the corporate world.
Real talk - I've been producing shows since 2011. Each city has its own climate, and in the big smoke (aka. Auckland) the theatre and live performance climate has always been tough. A lot of the time, show producers are self funding their shows and depend on the profits of a show to pay their cast and crew. If we break even, we do a happy dance and get the party poppers out. If we make a profit, we crack open the magnum champagne! (jokes - who can afford them anyway?)
Some producers do what's called a "risk share" where every performer in the show, regardless of their experience, will get an equal share of the profits after expenses. This is a fail-safe way for producers to pay people, but they should always do a budget and have some idea as who what the minimum will be. An experienced performer may ask for a retainer, but generally so long as the producer is up front with you and if you are happy to do risk share, than so be it. Sometimes it pays off aannndddd sometimes it doesn't. Personally, I wouldn't do a risk share if I had to travel (I've been caught out before). If I wanted to test out an act and if it was a local production, sure, but I wouldn't be performing one of my more elaborate acts for a minimal fee.
Otherwise, producers offer a set fee. The good thing about set fees is you know what you're getting from the outset, which is nice and handy for budgeting purposes. Taking into account the climate, which I chat about above, a lot of producers really do try to pay the best they can for their performers with the budget they're given. But don't be expecting $500.00+ per act as to put it simply, burlesque producers can't afford it. We do what we do because we're passionate about the industry, producing and showcasing performers as well as our own skill set. For an amateur, you'd be looking at between $50-$100 per performance. For a professional hobbyist or professional, $100-$200 per act. If you get a headlining spot, perhaps $200-$300 per act. That's just a generalized figure and may fluctuate between varying producers.
Bottom line, in burlesque shows, don't expect top dollar. But regardless of experience, do ensure you do get paid.
PRIVATE BOOKINGS & CORPORATES
You've received an email asking for you to perform at x place at x time for x long. Then they ask you "how much?". Well, how long is a piece of string?
Below are the factors you need to take into account when quoting for private or corporate bookings:
- Your experience - If you're promoting yourself as a premium product, but don't have the experience, you're going to stab yourself in the foot with a stiletto heel - and it will hurt. Do NOT over promise and do not say you can do something that isn't within your skill-set. Always be honest and price accordingly. If you are an expert at performing burlesque, and have the experience behind that to prove it, then feel free to charge top dollar. Also, on this subject, if you think you're not comfortable taking on a particular gig, or you think that your skill set isn't suited to what the client wants, that's OK. I often pass gigs on to my fellow performers who I know would be a better fit if I can't actually do what they're asking for (see my notes on saying no at the end of the blog).
- Time - How much time will this booking ask of you - now I don't mean this just in terms of time at the actual event, but in regards to rehearsal, packing, prop moving, travelling, preparation re. hair and make-up and then, of course, actual time you'll need to be at the event and how many performances.
- Travel - This also merges in with time, but how much travel is involved? Will they cover your travel? Or will you need to sort your own? This also factors in accommodation, etc too. If the client will cover travel & expenses, then you don't need to cater that into your quote. If they don't, then you will. Note that this factor is more relevent for performers who are performing out of town.
- Who is booking you - Ultimately, you need to value your worth and review each client as a case by case basis. Regardless of it's a hens party wanting a fun, flirty strip tease act or a corporate body who want 2x highly glamorized burlesque acts with large props for their bosses birthday soiree with some mingling afterwards, you need to be the judge as to what you should charge by taking into account all of the above.
So for these kinds of gigs, start chatting with fellow burlesquers and see what they would charge, then after analyzing the above, think of what you'd be happy with. Ask burlesquers from a range of different experiences so you can get a feel for what various performers charge. You can always be negotiable, but don't allow for a client NOT to pay you what you believe your worth. But again, take into account your experience.
My final thoughts on this..
I know I sound like a broken record here, but please ask for payment or compensation of some sort. If you don't, you devalue the industry and allow for producers outside the scene, private and corporate clients to expect more for less. If we want burlesque to be seen as an important, relative and serious art form, we need to treat it as such.
THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH SAYING NO
Seriously, if someone doesn't want to pay you what you'd like, then politely and professionally tell them no. Simple. Don't do something for free because you're desperate for a gig. Again, that kind of behavior does nothing for the industry and those in it.
This also goes for my point above regarding if you feel you cannot offer what a client wants/needs. Don't take a gig because you are afraid of missing out. There's so much to be gained from sharing opportunities with others and if you feel like another performer fits the mold better, then put them forward instead and graciously decline. But, always leave the door open.
Phew, that was a long one! I hope you find this helpful and informative.