So You Want to Produce a Burlesque Show

So You Want To Produce a Burlesque Show
By Jo Weldon, producer at Coney Island USA, The Burlesque Hall of Fame, and BurlyCon

Above: This mouthwatering flyer is from a past show produced through The New York School of Burlesque's Driver's Seat program, a mentoring service for new producers.

When I started doing burlesque, half the shows were just a bunch of friends throwing down in a semi-legal basement bar. There was no social media, no yelp, and no email.
These days most venues need more, so I’m supplying some food for thought if you’re thinking about producing. While I live for a neighborhood bar show and will perform for below my regular rate with a group of friends who are out to celebrate our art form and build a decoted audience and not centered on making money, there is an additional side to producing burlesque now for a wider crowd that affords us the opportunity to actually profit off of our skills and efforts. It's not hard, though it takes effort -- you can do it! It's totally possible to pay your performers more if you do the work, and to make a profit yourself.

FYI, This is NOT about booking or marketing your show, but about approaching a venue where you’d like to bring a show.
Before you contact a venue about doing a show:
1) Know their venue and audience. Is this a good venue for you? Does it have the audience, the stage, the dressing space you need?
2) Know what kind of show you are going to produce and be prepared to describe it clearly.
3) Be prepared to show them what they get out of it –it’s not just about how good you are, it’s about how the show is beneficial to them and their audience.
4) Be clear which style of Burlesque is in your show, since there are wide variations.
5) Have promo photos videos of performers with whom you actually work, and be transparent and authentic about the show you intend to produce. Be clear with them about how much effort you expect the venue to put into promotion, and make sure they understand what you will be doing to promote.
6) Budget high and remember you need to pay a stage kitten. Keep in mind you may also need to hire a DJ or other staff -- be prepared to ask about all the expenses up front. If the bar requests a high bar minimum, you have the right to ask them to lower it. If you have sponsors, make sure the venue is okay with sponsors' requests for signage or alcohol promotion onsite -- many sponsors will sponsor only "in kind," that is by donating their goods, rather than supporting with cash. You should always arrive at the show with the performers' guarantees in hand, rather than expecting to pay them later out of the door. Make sure they are okay with raffles and tip collection if you intend those to be part of your show. (Speaking of getting paid, if you like this article, see the links at the end 😉)
7) Be ready to help them visualize burlesque in their venue. Is it appropriate to mock up a photo-edit or sketch of your show in their venue? They might get a clearer understanding from it.
8) Understand the laws they have to deal with and show respect for them. They may not know the local laws with regard to burlesque so be sure that you do.
9) Be prepared to describe your experience with producing and to show press if you have it. Be very clear with them about how you intend to market your show, and any expectations you have of their involvement in marketing.
10) Be a pro. Make sure your social media is in good order so that if they do a web search on you, you look professional and personable, and as if you’re thinking about what your audience is seeing. Have a website and a press kit that back up what you say about yourself. Have a producer email and phone number ready for them. Answer all calls, emails, and other notifications quickly and professionally. Use email whenever possible to create a virtual paper trail to clear up any misunderstandings – if you’re in burlesque, there’s always that chance Facebook will shut you down, so FB messages aren’t the most reliable go-to.
Bonus tip: consider dressing for the venue when you show up to meet with them. Most managers love to have stylish people in their venue.

Many people in burlesque talk about getting paid enough to make the art form sustainable for people who want to invest time, money, and effort into their careers, which is super important, but some imply that it's just a matter of putting their foot down and refusing to take less because of what we've invested. The truth is that we have to show our value to get paid -- the reason, say, a star baseball player might get paid 5 million is because the people paying them expect to make 25 million. If people aren't making money, you can't expect get paid; if people ARE making money and you're not getting paid, you're being exploited. Producers take the risk and deserve to make money, but they can't ask performers to share that risk unless there's a shared benefit. We can't get blood out of stone. In order to get what we’re worth, we have to prove we can produce value for venues and our audiences. Be ready to show them you’ve got what they need. Value comes in many forms; I wrote an article how to create value so we get paid more for 21st Century Burlesque called “The Value of Burlesque” that was part of a group of articles about making more money in burlesque written by Sydni Devereaux, Dangrrr Doll, and me.
If you have questions, first take a look at the articles on 21st Century Burlesque at . If you operate a venue or have experience producing, I welcome your suggestions and corrections. Let me know what’s worked for you!

If you've benefited from this or other articles I've posted, you can show your appreciation by buying me a cup of coffee or a treat from my wishlist.

Originally posted at


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