How to Get Started as a Performer in Burlesque

Above: Jo Weldon performing at The Burlesque Hall of Fame.
Photo by Tigz Rice.

Many students come to my classes with the intention to perform professionally. Not all who want to perform want to become fulltime performers, but they'd like to get onstage now and then.

I work in the field of what I call "Independent Burlesque," where most performers are creating individual acts that then get booked into variety or burlesque shows. People also sometimes hear about a theme for a show and then create an act based on that theme, or start producing a show for which they then create acts. There are as many different approaches as there are people to come up with them. However, for this article, let's focus on what most of my students are asking me about, which is how to get booked as a solo performer in a burlesque show that already exists. I'll also be focusing mostly on how things work in New York. Traveling to work is a separate topic, but I'll have an article about that too!

You can do the following steps in a different order, but this is a common format that works for a lot of people.

1) Think about what you like about burlesque and what inspires you and what kinds of acts you'd like to create.

2) Create those acts! Train yourself or take classes. Don't know how? The Burlesque Handbook is a good place to start. You can buy the ebook as soon as you read this article and start immediately -- just do a search for it on your favorite bookstore or library website, or you can order the hard copy and wait a few days. This book has full guidelines on creating a routine and includes tips on how to choose a stage name, select music, develop costumes, do choreography, make pasties, and get gigs.

3) Make sure you have a unique stage name! See this article for more information.

4) Set up social media and email with your stage name. If your stage name is already taken on social media or email, you may not have a unique-enough name.

5) Now that you're a stage name on social media, follow a bunch of burlesque performers and producers who interest you.

6) See if there are shows that include the kind of burlesque you want to do. Research online for burlesque shows in your area. Go to them if you can -- that way you can get a sense of the show and network with the other performers who are bound to be in the audience! Feel free to tell them you're thinking about performing, but don't be pushy or overwhelm them all the details about what inspired you and what you plan to do. Be both enthusiastic and elegant.

7) You can start out as a stage kitten, which is a great way to network and learn backstage.

8) If there aren't any shows that do what you want to do, look for burlesque groups on Facebook in your area and see if any other performers want to develop one. Be sure you know a bit about what's going on in your area before you go about making bold statements like, "I want to do the first burlesque show with live rock music in Seattle!" Um, you'd be far from the first. Just take it easy, be respectful, and don't burn any bridges with ignorance or over-enthusiasm. When in doubt, simply ask, "Is anybody in Seattle doing live music shows?"

9) When you start performing, be easy to work with: send your music on time labeled as requested in the format requested, show up for the gig on time, don't ask questions that are answered in the show emails, and treat everyone with respect backstage, on stage, in the audience, and tip the people who work at the venue. Also, don't get wasted the first time you perform with a given producer or venue, trust me. Many burlesque producers have thanked me for including a chapter on backstage etiquette in The Burlesque Handbook. Having good backstage manners will take you far!

10) Thank producers for every gig. If you tag them on social media and talk sincerely about what a great time you had and how awesome they were and how fabulous the audience and venue were, you'll be making friends.

There are articles on this blog related to all of the things I suggested above. Use the search box at the top of the blog to find articles on every topic, from which shoes to wear to how to make a headdress.

That's enough to get anybody started! Got questions? Different points of view? A topic you'd like me to cover on this blog? Comments are open!

Want more? Check out this presentation on how to get your first gigs in burlesque!

Article by Jo Weldon.


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