For years Brown Paper Tickets has worked with and learned from burlesque industry professionals. We’ve interviewed numerous burly pros to uncover words of advice, tips or pearls for those just starting burlesque.
From novice performers to stars like Michelle L’amour, many have been featured on our blog in the past. Enjoy a compilation of their top tips for event organizers, burly performers or burlesque-curious. Find suggestions for putting on a burlesque festival, wisdom for new performers, touring ideas, guidance for starting your own troupe and even pointers for emcees.
Take your shows from so-so to superb courtesy of 19 wise pearls from the wild, saucy world of burlesque.
1. Take time to learn. Treat burlesque as the art that it is. It takes time to grow and develop into the burlesque star you want to be. Patience, my dear.” ~ Michelle L’amour (Chicago, IL)
2. “[Take] inventory of what you like to see in shows. Determine what really does it for you. It could be pinup, 90’s music videos, politics, food…it could really be anything. If you have a message you’d like to convey, come up with a creative way to show it. Think about what you’d like to share with your audience or who/what you’d like to be when you grow up. Base your personal style on what is really you. Also, watch a million burlesque videos, go to as many shows as you can. Watch burlesque with an open heart and an open mind.” ~ Coco Lectric (Austin, TX)
3. “Go to burlesque shows. Watch lots of different performers with different styles. Take some dance classes, or burlesque workshops, learn some basic moves and have some poses. Volunteer to be stage kitten at burlesque shows, watch burlesque legends on YouTube. Find a mentor, learn how to use a sewing machine, a hot glue gun and a staple gun. Start stock piling crystals, sequins and glitter, get on stage with a veteran performer and join a group. Get a support network.” ~ Lola Rose (Washington DC)
4. “It’s important to remind people that come from a dance background that burlesque isn’t only about dance talent. Burlesque is about the tease, the story, about entertaining and leaving a little something to the imagination. Of course, it always helps to ‘have a gimmick’ – if you can bring your talent in dance, theater, comedy, magic or costuming with you to the burlesque stage, you’re already one step ahead. To me, it’s about being unique, about being you… but of course, the most glittery version of you.” ~ St. Stella (Toronto, ON)
5. “Make your costume bangin’ from the dress to the undies to the pasties. Whatever you wear needs to scream burlesque. Don’t underestimate the power of face. Tell your story with your face. Bring that attitude. There’s nothing worse than watching a performer who is just going through the motions. You gotta be sexy all the time even when you ain’t.” ~ Ben Wisdom (New Orleans, LA)
6. “Know yourself. Be yourself. Practice one more time.” ~ Mama Dixie (Tuscaloosa, AB)
7. “Your first show is going to be a success. All of your friends and all of your performers are going to help out for free or pay to come and see it. You can get away with banking on that goodwill once, maybe twice if you’re very, very lucky. Don’t be crushed when your third show crashes and burns. It gets better.” ~ Scratch (Boston, MA)
8. “Put a good, hard-working and motivated team to work on the event with you. This will help support you. Learn from your mistakes and don’t get frustrated. This will keep you sane. Be clear with yourself about what your intention and goals are for the event you are planning. This will help guide you.” ~ Cha Cha Velour (Las Vegas, NV)
9. “While I don’t produce shows or perform as my primary source of income, I still give it the same level of care and professionalism. It isn’t unusual for me to spend 20-30 hours a week working on show stuff; it really is an around-the-clock process. And you have to have the ability to anticipate and plan for as many bad turns as you can and be able to roll with the punches when one comes along that you didn’t anticipate. That’s the mark of a real professional – when something bad unexpectedly happens, you don’t dwell on it. You just put your thinking cap on and say, “Okay, what are we gonna do now?” ~ Mistress Kali (New Orleans, LA)
10. “There are a lot of great venues in [Seattle] and a ton of shows. Find a way to distinguish your show from the others. Use Brown Paper Tickets and G&H Printing; they are both awesome and helpful, and make marketing affordable. Don’t be afraid to join the community. We want to perform in and come to your shows — we just need to know they are happening. Social media is your friend. Think outside the box, be sensitive and caring. And in the words of two of my favorite TV personalities ‘Make it Work’ and ‘Don’t F*ck it Up.’ ~ Whisper De Corvo (Seattle, WA)
11. “Producing a show is a skill set that should be mastered before even attempting a large-scale festival. If you can’t turn a profit on a small show, you won’t make it up in volume. You have multiple shows, classes and workshops, vending, volunteers to manage and much more to balance. Make sure you have a great sales team in place, a real plan for the weekend with goals and targets, a good marketing strategy and support from an awesome ticketing company. But mostly, produce because you love it. When the passion is there, the audience finds you.” ~ Lili Von Schtupp (Los Angeles, CA)
12. “It makes me so happy to see more and more cities hosting burlesque festivals. Establishing the San Antonio Burlesque Festival helped make our local burlesque community become a lot stronger. There was a big sense of unity and pride after the festival. As far as advice goes, if you are a performer taking the role of a producer, remember to keep your personal preferences in mind when producing but don’t let it rule your decision making. Really focus on the overall picture and try to give your audience the best show possible.” ~ Jasper St. James (San Antonio, TX)
13. “It’s a lot of work. Seriously. Make sure you have a solid team you are working with, and get a good promoter. You will have many obstacles that fall in your lap, so it’s important to stay calm and breathe. Just remember that. Oh, and have fun.” ~ Valencia Starling (Detroit, MI)
14. “Being in a troupe takes more work than most people realize. We work hard to put out five different and unique shows each year that include new solos, duets, and group acts. As a soloist or hobbyist, it’s a easier to create numbers and then figure out what shows you may fit in, as opposed to tailoring acts for a show. It has taken a long time to get to this place, but we now have a great group of committed performers willing to work together toward a common goal and put in all the work needed for booking, producing, advertising, etc.” ~Ginger Snaps (Austin, TX)
15. “Make sure to make it clear who is making a final call. If you want a good troupe, you need good leadership and the ability to make tough decisions. This can mean saying no to a friend or disagreeing with a dance move or costume choice. In my opinion, one of the biggest differences in making a themed show with a bunch of independent performers and a troupe show has to do with content. It must be cohesive and feel like everything is planned and intertwined. Having a clear leader helps from getting the group stuck since everyone is always very different. Have fun with it and make sure you like who you are with.” ~Holly Dai (Portland, OR)
16. “The best advice I can give producers taking their show on the road is to give themselves enough time. Plan in advance, and plenty early! There is a LOT to consider when taking a professional show out on the road for several weeks. Lots of different factors come into play. Each venue books differently, each burlesque community performs and works differently, and there are a heck of a lot of logistics to figure out. Luckily, I am OCD when it comes to business preparedness and I’ve got a form, document or contract for everything. Definitely dot your I’s and cross your T’s as the more concrete you can get everything in advance, the less surprises and unaccounted for factors will arise later. You are always on the go, so if you don’t have the organization and infrastructure to back it up, you’re setting yourself up for failure.” ~ Deanna Danger (Richmond, VA)
17. “The most valuable piece of advice I can give to a burlesque troupe that wants to go on the road is taking the time to understand the dynamics of the city you are considering and getting to know the local pool of performers is really important. Building those great relationships before is really key to having a full venue when you arrive.” ~ Donna Touch (Chicago, IL)
Applying to Festivals
18. “I can’t stress how important a good quality video is to us in our application process. We get close to 400 applications each year. Many performers send us video that we simply can’t see or hear, or send us a studio version where there is no audience reaction. Even though these videos tend to be higher quality, it is ideal for us to hear and see the audience reaction as well as view a high quality video.” ~ Jen Gapay (New York, NY)
19. “For burlesque emcees: shut up. I had to learn that the hard way. Be concise, funny, and charming. Then get that next act out there ASAP. The audience will love you a whole lot more for it.” ~ Ben Wisdom (New Orleans, LA)
Photo credit: Audrey Penven