Applying for Burlesque Festivals

Black Mariah by
Black Mariah by

Festivals and Competition

Part of the “Ask a Burlesque Entertainer” Series with Black Mariah

I have been applying to festivals and I am not having much luck getting into them. Any tips on raising my chances for getting my application accepted into festivals? “Cindy”, Texas

Festivals are becoming more and more competitive as the number of Burlesque performers and the popularity of burlesque itself reaches unheard of levels! If you are applying to festivals and not having much luck getting in, don’t fret, and certainly don’t get down on yourself as a performer! Rejection is hard, but you can use the experience to learn and reflect on yourself as a performer. This is how we grow!

First, when you find a festival or burlesque competition of which you would like to apply, go to the website and read through everything. Consider your expenses to participate beginning with the application fee if any. Currently, there aren’t any festivals which will offer to cover travel expenses for their applicants. If the travel is simply not something you could make right now, don’t apply. Acceptance to the festival without the finances to complete the journey is simply irresponsible. There are no burlesque fairy godmothers and although many festivals may offer an honorarium, the honorarium is generally about the amount of the local pay for a performance, and usually not enough to cover even your hotel expenses.

Next, read through the festival’s website entirely. Beginning with the festival’s “about” section and continue onto the showcase description to get an idea of what type of performances the producers are looking to book. Look for clue terms like “Classic” or “traditional”, even “vaudevillian”, “neo-burlesque”. Some festivals focus on particular styles of burlesque, while other welcome any style and even leave room for supporting acts a la true Vaudevillian showcase. When you find exactly what the festival is focused on, consider if you have a routine which fits into the festival’s focus.

Read through the application and make sure you have and send everything that is required to apply. Make a checklist! Core requirements for submission will always be a high res photo (300 dpi is high res), the application filled out entirely, and a bio of you or your group, as well as an MP3 of your music. I cannot stress the importance of filling out your application entirely and sending the files requested EXACTLY as the producers ask for them. Leaving information blank without a reason or ignoring required files gives the impression that you don’t care enough to give the information, or worse, that you or your intended routine isn’t ready. There will be tons of applications filled out completely with routines finished and ready to perform. Leaving questions blank or required items off of the application will only make other complete applications a better candidate.

Many festivals are requiring video of your intended performance now. Video is getting much easier to capture and upload with the invention of the oh-so-chic and portable “flash video camcorders” video camera with moderate memory and can place the video on a computer with just a USB cable. No software required. If you are having trouble getting video in a reasonable, upload capable format, then investing $200 or less in one of these cameras will make your life much easier. There is much debate over the success of applicants based on the environment the video is shot. As a recent producer of a show, I can say for certain that as long as the routine is complete, the costume and prop is present and working, and the sound is reasonable, a good producer can get a good idea if you are festival material. Live shows are thought to be preferred for submissions by many due to the crowd reaction and the energy a performer inevitably turns on when in front of an audience. In theory, this sounds correct, but so much can interfere with a live video that could hinder, rather than help your chances. Crowd cheers can interfere with the sound clarity, that guy, at any show, who’s head magically appears in front of the lens in the one good video you have of your routine, blackouts and club light that changes intensity can make the camera focus hit or miss, or even technical problems with a show, just to name a few. Unless you know some video software savvy individuals who are willing to help you shoot on pro equipment, edit video or dub sound on the cheap, just submit the best video you have of you performing your routine to the best of your ability. If you film the routine in a studio, perform the number as if it were a live show, with full hair and make-up, all props and costumes present and in use for the video.

Also, filming location should be at the most professional level you can afford. A dance studio is ideal if you cannot manage a live stage shoot with an audience. If you have an open space in your home, that is fine as well as long as there are no other distractions in the video which will not be in your routine. Pets, furniture, ringing telephones, noise from appliances (TVs), commentary from the videographer or any vocalization from off camera, and especially CHILDREN are undesirable inclusions to a submission video.

Look at applying for festivals as though you were applying for a high paying job. Dress your best, bring a portfolio of the most amazing routines, and give them everything they ask for. If you give the producers everything they need to consider you, you can wait for the answer with confidence. If you still aren’t accepted as a performer, re-evaluate your submission and your performance portfolio and work for the next year on making your submission routines better and more desirable to a producer.

Lastly, should you be accepted into a festival, make sure you submit everything asked by the required deadlines. If for some reason, you are unable to meet your deadline, call or email the producer to let them know the hold up and the next opportunity you will be able to send your file. Communication with your producer is crucial for repeat booking.

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