When people first start to perform, it is easy to focus on the fun and creativity involved in burlesque performance, but after a while it becomes necessary to start thinking like a business person as well. Personally, I find the business side of burlesque just as creative and fun as the other aspects, it’s just a matter of starting to think about things a little differently.
For instance, when you’re first performing, the biggest focus is on getting your performance together and presenting it smoothly and professionally. But show producers know that performing well is not enough! Performers also need to help fill the seats, so it is equally as important to establish your audience and start building your fan base. Now, when I say “fan base” I do not mean droves of screaming teenagers like those that chased the Beatles around. I mean people who will make the effort to go to your show when they see that you are on the lineup. Your job is to connect with these people and make sure that they have info about your shows! Here are a few ways to build your audience and help promote, promote, promote!
Build your web presence.
Eventually, you will want to have a professional website. In the meantime, you should at least start building your web presence with online accounts. Sign up for Myspace, Tribe, Facebook, and others, but only sign up for as many accounts as you will check regularly, I would say at least every couple of weeks. A dead profile doesn’t really help you network.
Once you’ve pimped your profile, make sure you keep an up to date calendar of your upcoming events and reach out to contact people about them! Network, network, network!
Another great way to build your visability is with a blog. Make sure that your blog is related to your performing in some way and is interesting to a wide variety of folks. Some of my favorite performer blogs: Mynx d’Meanor, Audra Wolfmann (aka Odessa Lil), and the rest listed in the Blog Roll to the right. Don’t have much to say? Take photos at your shows, while creating costumes, out and about and keep a photo blog!
Create and distribute marketing materials.
Design and print postcards! Get glossy business cards with your photo on them! And very importantly… give them out. Give them to everyone you meet. Leave small stacks of them in coffee shops, at laundromats, in clothing stores, everywhere you go! People will pick them up, and even if they don’t, they will see them. Marketing is all about repetition, getting your name out to people again and again. They may not pay attention to you at first, but after they’ve seen your name around for a few months, they’ll start to notice… and then they’ll pick up your cards.
Even if you don’t have a website yet, buy your favorite URL and forward it to your most active online profile or your blog. Put your URL on your business cards and postcards.
Create a Mailing List
Your mailing list will be one of your most important promotional tools! This is your list of people who specifically want information about when and where you’re performing. These people already know who you are and like you. All you have to do is collect their information and stay in touch with them. Of course, there are a lot of Etiquette Do’s and Don’ts about managing your mailing list that you’ll need to keep in mind so that you don’t annoy and alienate these people who, so far, like you – No one likes a spammer! – so I will dedicate an entire upcoming post to how to create and manage your mailing list rather than skim the subject here.
For an artform that is as underground and subculturally focused as burlesque, it is important not to over look the benefits of “outreach” efforts and working to create more awareness of your art in your community. Talk to people. Tell them about burlesque. Create your own 30-second explanation of “This is Burlesque” that you can bring out at parties, in line at the coffee shop, at the post office, wherever you go. In most of the country, and even in places like San Francisco and New York, where burlesque scenes are large and thriving, more people have never heard of burlesque or have erroneous ideas of what burlesque is than have ever been to a burlesque show. And it stands to reason that the more people that know about burlesque, the more people there will be at the shows. Help build the scene AND your own fan base by creating a buzz about burlesque in your town.
In addition to talking about burlesque, get creative! Do some G-Rated Burlesque Street Performance while handing out flyers for your next show. Book yourself to perform at art shows, street fairs, craft shows, poetry slams, band shows… everywhere! Do guerilla burlesque! Show up where people least expect you… and always be armed with flyers and business cards. Promoting the scene like this will benefit YOU by getting your name (and act) out there, while benefiting THE SCENE by building more awareness of the art. Everybody wins!
We’re In This Together!
Think of every show as a collaboration. Don’t leave it to the show promoter to fill the house every time. Everyone needs to contribute! Kingfish of San Francisco’s Hubba Hubba Revue (which is the biggest monthly show in SF if not the biggest monthly burlesque show in the country/world) refers to it this way: “Who’s helping roll the boulder up the hill, and who’s just sitting on top letting others push it up?”
Don’t be intimidated. All it takes is everyone making a little effort. If everyone performing in a show brings out 2-5 paying people on top of the producer’s usual draw, every show would be a success! The performers would have a large, enthusiastic crowd to perform for and the producers would have enough people coming in the door so that they can pay the performers decently and hopefully make a little money themselves. Because keep in mind that most show producers are doing the work of putting on shows for the love of it, often losing money on shows, and the people who help make the shows successful are the ones who are asked back to perform again and again.
And believe me when I say show producers can tell which performers are bringing people in! We see (or don’t see) your promotion, and the crowd will tell us who they are there to see. So get out there and shamelessly promote! Build your name! Get out there. It’s good for you, good for the local and global scene, and good for your friendly neighborhood show producers.