Burlesque Etiquette with Jo Weldon
When I first wrote this article, I created a list similar to the one I had used in “How to Annoy Producers.” However, that didn’t quite work; based on the responses I got from performers when I asked them what etiquette mistakes producers make. It became more of a “business practices” forum than an etiquette forum, but hey, fair enough. Etiquette is all about respect, consideration, and awareness of other people’s comfort and business etiquette demands the name. So let’s go there.
First of all, any producer who thinks they are getting away with hitting on performers (if they hit on you, that’s a whole other thing), avoiding payment to performers, or taking advantage of new performers’ ignorance is wrong. You are being talked about and slowly blacklisted, and whether you know about it yet or not, you will.
As you read the following, it’s fair to remember that there are all kinds of exceptions, especially among friends, and some people simply have different preferences and levels of annoyance. Just about every producer, no matter how seasoned, makes some of these mistakes sometimes. However, be mindful of personal feelings even in business situations. It’s just good business to be respectful and polite.
Okay. Now, to what makes performers feel disrespected:
The number one complaint was about dressing rooms. This may be partly because I’m in New York, where there is such a dearth of real estate. However, the fact remains, it is rude to surprise the performers by having them dress in a bathroom while the bar patrons go in and out of that same bathroom. If you think this never happens, you haven’t worked in New York! Performers complained about lack of space, lack of privacy, lack of mirrors, lack of light, extreme heat and cold, and dirty conditions. Wow! So producers, if you want to preserve your respect and build your reputation, make sure that the performers have a clean private well-lit mirrored space in which to prepare. If you don’t have those resources, simply make it clear to them when you book them for the show so they can prepare for the conditions–that is where you show your respect to them. And if a performer chooses not to work with such conditions, respect it and don’t think of them as a diva. Everyone has different reasons for performing, and some performers are less social than others; some simply have such delicate costumes they can’t use those dressing rooms. It’s not personal.
The second most frequent complaint, oddly, was about producers who “say they want to book you but never do.” Personally, I think that it’s simply difficult for a producer to in fact know who they might want to book over the course of time. Their show may change; the performers’ style may change. But producers, be fair. If you are positive you are never going to book someone, don’t enthuse about putting them in your next upcoming show which is already booked solid. Let the performer get on with their business relationships with other producers.
The third most frequent complaint was about pay. The circumstance of booking a show depends largely on the producer’s relationship to the performers. Is it a friendly neighborhood show? Is it a large production where the producer is fronting a lot of money with no guarantee of full return? Is it an established weekly show with a steady audience, or is it a new show that needs performers who can support by doing just a split of the door? The primary etiquette concern here is to be honest with the performers. Tell them what and when you are paying, and tell them when you book them; then pay them that amount in a timely fashion. Respond promptly to all emails about money, even if the answer is “I don’t know.”
Another frequent complaint was about producers booking without giving information. When you book a performer, give them as much information as possible: date, time, venue, venue address, ticket price, pay, call time. Will there be a stage? A kitten? A curtain? A DJ? What music format do they need? Who else is in the show?
And it’s an odd little thing, but all performers are very sensitive about stage time. It may not be polite to talk to one performer who you don’t intend to book about how excited you are to book another performer. I’m just sayin.
Further, there was a particular loathing for not being warned about photographers being in the dressing room. And for using a performer’s photo without permission, or to promote a show s/he’s not in.
Here are a few things I have found rude:
1. Telling me it’s good exposure. Dude, I’m already pretty exposed.
The etiquette solution? Pay me, or be the New York Times.
2. Trying to get me to help them book someone else when I’ve never been in one of their shows before and can’t really give them a reference.
The etiquette solution? Contact that person on your own and don’t drop my name.
3. Trying to get me to co-produce (work on booking, promotion, venue scouting, etc. without credit or pay.
The etiquette solution? Ask me if I want to help produce and offer me credit or pay.
4 Expecting me to do the same kind of pro bono work for them I would do for people I know well.
The etiquette solution? Wait till you know me better.
5 Not asking people what music they are using and what kind of number they are doing, ensuring duplication.
The etiquette solution? Ask people what they’re doing, for heaven’s sake. Are you kidding me, two people doing white fan dances to “Feelin Good” in the same show?
6 Posting “blind strikes” on social media. An example would be, “Certain people better not be booking the same performers I’m booking” or any other statement that clearly implies to whom they’re referring.
The etiquette solution? Grow some ovaries and get a face-to-face, and keep it discreet unless this person is a clear and present menace to the community.
7 Asking performers to perform in a benefit for them to do something that performer is paying to do themselves; or in a benefit that doesn’t really serve the cause as much as it serves attaching the producer’s name to that cause.
The etiquette solution? Involve an established charity that serves the cause. Or, pay the performers to perform in the benefit. You heard me. Yes, people get paid to perform in benefits, even if it’s just cab fare.
8 Asking me while I’m on my way out the door for the show if I can do two numbers and then being peeved when I can’t (I don’t mind getting together another number at the last minute when I can).
The etiquette solution? If I can’t do it, say thank you and move on. And if someone cancelled and I’m covering with an additional number, you have a little extra cash you can offer me, do you not?
9 Doing a six-hour show with no way for us to get drinks or snacks through the entire event.
The etiquette solution? Have water and some non-messy snacks available.
10 Insisting I wear a big fancy white costume and asking me to get dressed in a dark dirty room.
The etiquette solution? Warn me about the dressing room and ask me what I have that’s appropriate.
Overall, as you can see, we get cranky when we’re disrespected! We really want to just have fun, but we do work hard on our numbers and in order to keep going, we need support and good manners!