May 15, 2012

It's All in the Presentation & Other Tips

I get many emails from performers visiting NYC who are interested in getting booked so I've compiled some of the best and worst practices I've seen and in doing so I hope this will provide some tips for anyone who is seeking for future bookings.

Introduce Yourself & Familiarize Yourself
If you are a local performer the best way to get your face familiarized is to attend one of the shows you hope to be booked in. Stay for the show and approach the producer afterwards, introduce yourself and express your interest in performing there. Follow up with an email and send video clips and descriptions of your act (I will go into this in more detail later). When a performer introduces themselves to me in person, it helps solidify who they are to me in my mind among a sea of faceless emails and complicated burlesque names. It also helps me to know that the performer already knows what the venue and the venue's clientele are like, and more importantly, what type of acts are booked and what type of stage (or lack of) she will be dealing with.

For instance my Thursday night show "Spanking the Lower East Side" at Nurse Bettie is extremely space-challenged. The bar is small with a maximum capacity of 70. There is a tiny small square stage that measures maybe 4' x 4' and to further complicate things, there is no dressing room. We have the back corner of the bar and pull close two curtains as a makeshift "private" area for ourselves. There is only one bathroom so using that to get oneself ready is out of the question. I even had to create a Do's & Don'ts document with critical information such as, "Don't bring your roller to this show" for new performers.
Nurse Bettie - tight squeeze on the stage
Friday night's show "Room69" at Hotel Chantelle offers another set of challenges. For one, there is no stage. The show is "in the round" and audience interaction is highly encouraged. Not always the best place for newer performers who are not comfortable improvising part of their act or need to be in position before the music starts otherwise it throws them completely off, or engaging with the crowd and owning the bigger floor space.

Hotel Chantelle - no stage, in the round. Photo by Francine Daveta.
Obviously all of the above applies only to local performers. I personally like it when traveling performers contact me and show that they know which shows I am currently producing. It's always good to show the producer that you are familiar with the shows they produce and that you did your homework to familiarize yourself with their work. Make it easy for me and I'll make it easy for you.

Make It Easy
Speaking of making it easy, a short and sweet PDF of performer information goes a LONG way in getting booked. What I dislike most is receiving emails with no pictures, no video links, and simply, "I really would like to perform at your show etc etc. My acts are XYZ." One can talk the talk, but I need to see you walk that walk! Images and clips are critical. I DO look at everything everyone sends me, and video clips are especially important. It doesn't need to be fancy or lit magnificently. I look for the following qualities:
  • Stage Presence (Does the performer command the room? Does she exude confidence, joy, playfulness or intrigue the moment she's on stage? Does she say "Look at me" with her body?)
  • Movement (Fluidity in movement, hand gestures, eye contact with the audience)
  • Costume (There are some shows where I can be more lenient about costume quality, but some venues ask for more - and for those places I will NEVER book civilian clothes with some rhinestones passing as a costume)
  • Overall Presentation (Does her hair, makeup, shoes, costume all work together?)
Also please don't write a lengthy email, just 2-3 short paragraphs will suffice. And 3 good video links that represent your best work are better than 20 links. Make it easy for me to watch your clips or visit your web site. Embed your links in your email. Please don't say, "You can find me on Facebook where I have pictures and videos." If I have to go on your Facebook and dig around to find a clip or comb through a million pictures to figure out what your act looks like, you are not making it easy when I have 20 other inquiry emails to read through.

Spell & Grammar Check Your Email
English is my third language. My native language is Chinese Mandarin. My second language is Spanish when we lived in Bolivia. So if I can spell correctly and type with proper punctuation marks and sentence breaks, there is no reason a native English speaker can't especially when we all have access to spell and grammar check.

Sending out an email with misspelled words, long run on sentences that read like visual diarrhea, no sentence breaks, train of thought derailed and wrecked, oh and my favorite, using ghetto ass slang in the email all reflect poorly on the sender. It makes me think they are stupid. If not stupid then it makes me think they are unorganized (perhaps they will show up late?), messy (does she know how to do her hair and makeup?), and a hot mess (is her tampon string hanging out? is she going to be a handful backstage and flip out on stage?). When in doubt ask yourself, would I use this tone of voice or these choice of words at a prospective job interview? When in doubt, err on the professional side. You don't need to say "Holla!" or "Hit me back" to people you've never met before. Your personality will shine through your professionalism.

Your Burlesque CV/Resume
You don't need a big fancy web site to get booked, but I will address the most cost efficient way to create a web site for yourself with some working knowledge of the publishing software in the next section. For now, a good CV is all you need just like applying to any job. When I was in college I made some extra pocket money helping people put together their resumes so here is a general template for a solid burlesque CV's (Curriculum Vitae) that is a combination of the best ones I've seen for their information organization and communication efficiency. Don't forget to keep the PDF under 4mbs! Most servers will kick back file attachments that are too big. And you never know where the receiver will be when trying to download an extremely large document.

Your Name 
(Include your tag line if any, phone number, email address, web site URL or other social media presence)
Burlesque Bio/Statement
(This is the place to write your witty repartee. Three to four sentences that quickly describes your background such as "...with a BA in Theater and ten years of dance experience" or "armed with a self-taught passion for performance and theater", and then describe your style is such as, "Calamity Chang can be seen on stage covered with rhinestones and lush feathers stripteasing to vintage Asian music and other exotic classics...")
Solo Acts
(List all your solo acts one by one, paragraph by paragraph. Describe the style, the song/band name and length of song, costume appearance, props used, set up required, and final reveal costume. 
If you have pictures of each of the acts, include them along with the video URL)

Duet/Group Acts
(Same as above and please credit other performers and troupes where credit is due in these acts especially if the original concept is not yours)

 Press (optional)
(List up to 5 most recent press mentions. If it's something that you didn't scan, just pull the quote from the publication, list the publication name, writer's name, and date of publication. Like the bibliography information you used to do for college papers)

Performance History
(If you have performed in festivals, list them here. Or if you are a newer performer, list the shows and producers you have performed with thus far. This acts as the "reference" section in a typical resume)
Performance Images (optional)
(I personally like to see on the last page a big montage of the performer's live action photos. These are not professional photos but snap shots taken during shows. It makes the resume come to live, and who doesn't like seeing a ton of photos of the same thing all together?

The good news is, once you have this done you can send it out to a lot of people over and over until you need to update it. It is especially good to have when you are doing a private gig or a big holiday gig and the venue wants to approve the acts first. For example, here are two one-pagers that Stormy Leather and I submitted to The Beehive's New Year's Eve party in Boston, MA.

A sample of how to present your solo acts in CV-form for burlesque performers

A sample of how to present your solo acts in CV-form for burlesque performers

Your Burlesque Web Site
As I said before, you do not need to have a fancy web site to get booked. It's nice to have it because you can compile all your work in one place. But it's expensive to have a good web site that represents your style and aesthetic properly. It almost always mean you need to work with a good art director who can truly reflect your sensibility online. My background is in digital media. I've spent all my 13 years in NYC working as an art director in major advertising agencies. I design everything from logos (my least favorite), to full blown out web sites, Facebook applications, iPhone/iPad apps, to banner ads. The cost of having a web site is NOT cheap. Many people have asked me if I would be interested in designing their burlesque sites. It is not that I am not interested in helping but I know what burlesque performers can afford, and $200-800 is not going to get you a good web site. Especially since once the site is up, you have no way to update it on your own.

This is the most important advice I want to give on this subject. If you decide to get yourself a web site and trust me, you will at some point, don't dig yourself in a hole with a designer who is going to leave the country and leave you no way of updating the information on your own.

This is why I advice performers to look into a myriad of other online options out there where you pay a minimal monthly fee to pick a template you like, upload your pictures, write your information, and make other customization choices to your site where you can edit, change, or revise it whenever you want from your own computer with your own password and log-in name. People are visiting your site to A) look at pictures of you B) find out more about you C) want to see where you perform next. You don't need a "cinematic experience" or an "immersive sound environment" - burlesque sites are what we in the industry call, "brochure sites." Information. Information. Information.

Lastly, do NOT get a full Flash web site. Flash is becoming obsolete because smart phones don't support Flash. The only time I create anything for Flash now-a-days at my day job is for banner ads and the face of online advertising is changing as I write. Who knows where Flash will be used in the next fiscal year? Based on my own web site's statistics, many people are looking at my site on smart phones (probably hiding from their wives or work people) so it is absolutely essential for your site to be smart phone-friendly. If anyone tries to convince you to get a Flash site cause it moves and makes noises, just say NO.

So some of the DIY sites I recommend are:
  • - a big favorite among photographers who want their photos to be showcased XL much like burlesque performers. This site requires more advanced knowledge of how to use their software like customization your own site. But its WORTH it!
  • - just discovered this group, comes highly recommended by my photographer and blogging fanatics
  • - WordPress remains the most accessible and powerful free platform to me for our purposes
  • - another new one that I just started poking around in out of curiousity
Anyway, so that concludes this post. I love booking out-of-town performers so hopefully this post will help expedite the booking process so everyone is happy!


  1. gee...its really gotten far more media reliant then when i started. being tech challenged at 53 (although i try), its no wonder I dont get booked, I don't meet all these new requirements....

  2. Hi Little Stormy! You are online reading my blog and commenting, so you are NOT as tech challenged as you claim you are. Ha!

    Most of the advice is geared towards people who are touring and traveling to NYC seeking for bookings. It's impossible for me to book performers without seeing something!

  3. Two more sites to use for DIY web sites: and!

  4. How many solo acts are too many to list? I have dozens, but not all of them are fully realized yet. Obviously I wouldn't include the ones that still need a lot of work. In reference to the optional photo montage at the end, should it only include performance photos of solo acts listed then I suppose?

    1. Hi Allura, if you are sending a first-time inquiry, I would only list your top 3 BEST solo acts that you have been performing for a while and polished. If you are including video clips of the acts, you don't really need to make a photo montage OR photos unless you want to showcase the costume or a detail about your act (ie: fire eating, sword swallowing or some other gestural gimmick that is really amazing). The photo montage is best used (I find) for venues or private party bookings when they want to see you in a range of looks. Hope this helps!

  5. Thanks for this article, and all your tips. You get the ideas across, to build confidence without being intimidating. I really enjoyed reading this, it's very positive, useful and I feel like I have a better grasp after reading it.