So You Want to Produce a Burlesque Show, V. 2, Part 1 (Business of Burlesque)

Above: The poster for my 2019 birthday party show at Coney Island USA. Poster design by David L Byrd.

I always encourage my students to produce their own burlesque shows! They make new friends in class and build new audiences at student showcases -- their fresh energy is just what burlesque needs to stay exciting and relevant.

Here are a few tips to get you started. There are many, many ways to produce burlesque shows, so if you read this and disagree with it, at least it will have given you an idea of what you don't want to do! If you have questions about a particular type of show, please ask in the comments. Also feel free to share your experiences as a producer, performer, or venue if you have different expectations or preferences than I'm describing here.

Before you even start producing, visualize and manifest your show. Make a poster for it, even if it's just a sketch on a pad. Make a private online or print vision board with pictures of how you want it to look. Make a name for it -- and google the hell out of that name to make sure it's unique so you can promote it easily. Go ahead and get an instagram and twitter (yes, twitter -- twitter doesn't edit nudity and ig does, so you'll have a backup link, and it will help you learn to keep your posts pithy) account for it.

1) Find a venue. Go scouting.
1a) Not all venues want burlesque shows. See if they've been hosting them, or events that make you think burlesque would be a good fit. Or, if they're friends of yours, just ask them.
1b) Seek a good fit. Look for one that has the vibe you're after -- whether that's sexy, queer, elegant, raunchy, etc., or a mix of everything you love.
1c) Consider where the dressing room, stage, and audience will be.

2) Prepare to pay performers.
My article on standards of pay is coming soon.
2a) As a producer, you have to have the money to pay performers. Don't wait till you get the ticket money and pay them what you can. Have the money in hand before you do the show. Don't tell them they'll make it up in tips.
2b) The kitten and emcee are also performers who have to be paid. Venues may requires money for the DJ, etc.

3) Prepare to approach the venue.
3a) Think about what you have to offer the venue. Will you be adding ambiance? Can you bring new people to their place? Can you help them make more money, whether that's through selling tickets, food, or drinks?
3b) Make a document, hopefully a colorful PDF with pictures (use pictures only with permission, do not put pictures of Dita Von Teese or Cardi B in your doc unless they and their photographer agree to it, and always include photo credit) showing that you know and admire the venue, how your show would work in their space regarding the dressing room, stage, and audience placement.
3c) Understand that every venue works differently regarding ticketing, drink sales, etc. Know how you're going to make money. Some venues will pay you all your expenses and producer fee up front; some will want you to generate a certain amount of bar sales before you get paid; some will promote for you, and some won't. All of these are reasonable standard practices. Know what you need. Don't take less or offer to work for free to get the gig. This is a business proposition as well as an artistic endeavor.

4) Approach the venue and tell them what you can do for them.

5) If they are interested, they will tell you what they can do for you.

After that, you decide if the deal works for you! Then you can book your performers and make your show poster for real.

Questions? Comments? Differences of opinion? Comment below!


Unknown said…
Thank you Jo for sharing this great article and helpful tips! We agree with everything you’ve written and have found a perfect venue and are excited. We are in the process of getting all our pitch materials together in a professional way to submit next week and will keep you posted!

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