8 Tips For Fostering Professionalism In Our Scene

Logo for burlesque performer Dangrrr Doll's column Dangrrr Zone

aka, This Is Why We Cant Have Nice Things

aka, Dont Poke the Showbear

aka, I Will Turn This Car Right Around

aka, Dangrrr Doll Passive Aggressively Calls Out All Your Passive Aggression

Ladies, gentlemen and all,

I’m not going to beat around the bush with a fancy introduction. Lately, it feels like our “community” is like a 12 year old boy’s acne-riddled face; Each time one festering pustule of drama finally starts to dry up and scab over, two more angry whiteheads pop up beside it full of oil and disease, until eventually our entire pubescent facial landscape has become a hideously scarred volcanic apocalypse of doom, germy oil, and absolutely zero excitingly awkward sex.

I’m over it. I for one would like to go see a doctor for some metaphorical prescription skin ointment. Our inner workings can be so convoluted that we’re risking the stagnation of our own scene.

The drama is pervasive. I’m not talking about one instance, I’m talking about many instances. I don’t need or want to call anyone out; focusing on one circumstance hides the guilt of all the others.

We are all guilty of this. Even if it’s not technically our drama, we let it continue to affect our shows and surroundings for fear of not getting booked, hurting the feelings of our friends, or being outcast. “Not My Problem” syndrome is the world’s leading cause of issues growing until they are completely out of hand.

I say this to my colleagues, my friends, my employers, myself: Please take a moment to read the following list and share it, not just because I selfishly want you to promote my article for me (true story), but also because, if we truly believe that burlesque is, has, or should have any sense of a community, we need to start taking responsibility for actually making it into one. And when you share it, don’t just do it passive aggressively in hopes that the people you don’t like will read it and “learn their lesson”— read it and learn YOUR lesson, too. You are not innocent. I am not innocent. Let’s be better together.

  1. Honor Your Commitments

Let’s start with the basics!

Remember: First and foremost, this is a job. An artsy, creative, awesome job full of rad people: but still a job. As a producer, you have a responsibility to pay your performers within a reasonable time frame, keep them safe, make them feel happy and welcome. You also have a responsibility to make sure that if something happens and your show gets cancelled last minute, you still take care of the performers you have just displaced. You have a responsibility to promote like a pro, especially if your performers are working for a door split- the onus for promotion is not on them, it is on you.

As a performer, your job is also not just the five minutes you’re on stage. You have a responsibility to show up on time, send your music on time, rehearse and communicate with your producer. They’re your boss. If it would get you “in trouble” at an office job, it’s not ok at your show job.

  1. Business Isnt Personal

You don’t have to like everyone with or for whom you work: and you shouldn’t have to anyway, in order to act like an adult human being around them. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had very few bosses who I actually wanted as friends. Your producers? They are your BOSS, not your bro. You don’t need to like them personally, you just need to respect the job they do and do yours in return; you know, like they’re paying you to do.

Similarly, you don’t need to like your coworkers—other performers—you just need to work with them. Community is great and all, and it’s wonderful if you can also be friends with your colleagues, but the problem with viewing our fellow burlesque industry members as friends first and coworkers second, is it means that when we don’t like them as friends, we often wind up treating them like enemies instead of continuing to treat them with equality and courtesy—which is a massive backfire. I’ve had many coworkers I couldn’t personally stand in my office job days, but they did their job well and they conducted themselves towards me with professionalism, and I returned that courtesy.

  1. Not Your Show? Not Your Problem!

This one is really simple: How other people run their show is none of your business. Why? Because it’s not your show!!

People have different visions of burlesque and want to create different types of shows, in different types of venues, with different levels and qualities of performers and different ticket prices. That’s AWESOME—variety is what helps performers grow and gives them a chance to stretch their creativity. It’s also what separates shows and keeps the audience fresh. Literally all live entertainment works on that sort of scale, not just burlesque. Just because you produce your show one way, does not mean that everyone else must also produce in the same manner.

Sitting in the audience when something happens during the show, and you feel like you HAVE to say something? First of all: Don’t. It’s condescending and inappropriate. But if you absolutely must, leave the producer alone about it until the next day. Chances are she or he already knows and is taking care of it however they can, if they can, on top of whatever they are already doing during showtime to make everything go on as planned. By interrupting them you will only add more stress and almost never help the problem.

  1. Back Up Your Shit Talk

We are all shit talkers, all of us. We all do it. That’s just life. We go home after a stressful show and we moan to our roommate, “Boobie Bourbon Balls* was so lame tonight; she hogged the mirror and would not stop complaining about having too many gigs as though that’s a problem and ugh she sucks on stage 75% of the time!!!”

We have all said this or something similar about someone. Hell, we may even actually really, really like Boobie Bourbon Balls as a person, or really love that 25% of stage time. But that of course doesn’t mean that we don’t get fed up with her sometimes.

It’s natural to express this stuff to our friends, and to feel this way, but remember that because our job is also our social network and we’re all a bunch of passive aggressive cookies (excepting those of us who are simply aggressive cookies,** no passive about it—Hi mom!) basically everyone knows everything negative you’ve ever said about everyone. That just means you need to be willing to own your words. Own them. It’s ok to be critical of your friends sometimes (again: as COWORKERS.) Being a bad performer or producer doesn’t make you a bad person. Equally, being a bad person doesn’t make you a bad performer or producer!

I’m not saying you need to go up and tell everyone all the flaws you think they have; what I’m saying is that it is okay to be self aware of the fact that neither you nor the people around you are perfect: and by knowing that, and knowing that you have said mean shit about people you love, maybe the next time you hear that someones said some shit about you, youll take a second to remember that it might not be the whole story before you get all incensed.

  1. Mob Rule is a Bad Rule

As a group, we have a tendency to jump on something that’s been presented as a clear one-sided injustice and run at it blindly with pitchforks in hand before we know the big picture. I’ve totally been guilty of this. We can’t do that. There’s two sides to every story.

Perhaps for disagreements that seem so bad that we feel the community needs to get involved, we should first have some sort of “community conduct” board that can handle things privately between parties before someone gets publicly thrown under the bus, since oftentimes the issue isn’t even remotely as bad as how it was presented in the beginning.

We ruin people’s reputations in 160 characters or less, and we need to stop. Mob mentality is not progress.

  1. Respect Your Competitors

Remember #3? Competition and variety of shows means more work and more potential for growth for performers, producers, and audience members alike. Healthy competition makes people work harder and create a better product so in some ways, just by existing your competitors are actually helping your own show to improve.

            6a. Dont Vandalize Your Competitors Promo

Every original show has a right to exist. Leave other shows’ promotion alone. If you can’t promote your show properly without sabotaging another show’s promo, then your show is a failure. And if you sabotage another show’s promotion for any other reason—revenge, boredom, money—then YOU are a failure.

            6b. Dont Sow Your Seeds In Your Competitors Backyard

When you go to see competing shows, you help support your community and your scene. But when you do it to tell the venue that they should book your show instead, or to poach audience for your competing event without permission, you’re just being an asshole.

            6c. If You Wouldnt Do It To Your Friend, Dont Do It To Your Competitor

Just because you don’t like someone personally, that doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly okay for you to act disrespectfully—no matter what they’ve done to “deserve it.” If you’d get pissed off if someone did something to you, you should not do it to anyone.

  1. Your Drama Is Yours ALONE

Your personal business is YOUR personal business. Unless you’re paying your performers enough money that they don’t need to work other shows and you’ve made them sign an exclusivity contract, you simply can’t expect them not to work with your ex-wife or your arch nemesis. It’s not their problem, and they need to work.

Similarly, as a performer, you just can’t expect producers to be aware of all your hangups with each individual person in town. If you really, really, really can’t work with someone, get used to having to tell producers every time they book you; it’s not their fault if they don’t know otherwise.

  1. Dont Get Even; Get Better

So someone’s wronged you in all these ways and more? Well, put on your best business hat, remember #6c, and instead of getting angry, use it as fuel to make your show even better. Two wrongs don’t make a right, they make a fucking uncomfortable scene where literally everyone wishes you would all just stop it but no one says anything about it to you directly but they all make passive aggressive facebook posts which you probably assume is about the other person when it’s actually about you! Phew—was that vague enough? I bet most of you think I might be referring to you specifically with this one and if so, well… you’re wrong! This happens absolutely everywhere I’ve travelled AND I’ve clearly (vaguely!) proven my point with this article.

Want to be the leader of your scene? Then be the first one to raise the truce flag when things get tough. Want to prove that your show is better? Then put tons of effort into making your own show awesome without any concern or worry about the shows of people you dislike. Want to prove that you are ethical and well-meaning? Then be ethical and well meaning. Remember: Without a doubt, success is the best revenge.

*Disclaimer: As far as I’m aware, Boobie Bourbon Balls is a name that I made up for the sake of explanation. If there really is a Boobie Bourbon Balls out there, my apologies: this is not about you, and also that’s a terrible name if I’m going to be totally honest here.

**Oatmeal Raisin’ Hell

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  • Keith Emroll

    Excellent article, Ms. Doll. Item #5 resonates with me in particular, since Chicago has had its share of Mob Rule incidents.

    I think, though, that I need to part company with you just a little bit on part of Item #1. I’ve always contended that promotion for a show is everyone’s responsibility, not just the producer or just the performer. A producer worth their salt will have multiple outlets for show promotion, yes, but I’ve always seen promotional skill as something that adds value to booking a performer. In particular, when I hear performers talk about how the pay needs to go up, or performers should just demand a certain minimum (regardless of the circumstances) and never waver from it, I think “Okay. Fine. But what do I get from you that I can’t get from other performers? What do you have that is of a comparable value that justifies me paying you more?” One of the main things that drives that is what kind of draw you are – how well can you get people to come see you perform?

    An example: Annie and I recently went to New York for a work-cation. While there, we went to see “Cabaret” on Broadway. And I guarantee you that the only reason we did was because Alan Cumming was in it. Had nothing to do with Roundabout Theatre Co, or how well they promoted it. It was all about Alan, and I guarantee you that if he wasn’t in the show, we wouldn’t have gone. So, I think that a performer’s ability to bring in an audience – be it by promotional skill (which most of us have to do) or just by name/reputation (like Mr. Cumming) – is essential to the success of a show.

    Another (personal) example: Two years ago, I was in a play. I had two small supporting roles and was onstage for about 20% of the running time. While backstage one night, I was talking with one of the leads, who informed me that he never tells anyone about the shows he’s in and does not promote (even on Facebook). By contrast, I created my own Facebook promotional graphics before we opened and even made some new ones after we opened using pull quotes from reviews to keep buzz high for the rest of the run. I kept track, and I had 40 people come see the show simply because I was in it/promoted it – it certainly wasn’t because I’m the second coming of Philip Seymour Hoffman or anything!

    Ultimately, I’m not saying that it’s the only criteria when deciding who to book for your show, but I think it’s a heavily significant one.

    Again, nice article! I enjoyed reading it and agreed with quite a lot of it.

    • Dangrrr Doll

      First: Thank you!

      While I understand what you’re saying, I actually think you’ve accidentally proven my point with that Alan Cumming incident- because the reason you knew Alan Cumming was in it was not because of his own spectacular self promotion, but because the show producers knew he was a selling point and pushed his appearance themselves 😉

      I’m not saying it isn’t smart or helpful for performers to promote themselves- of course, I completely agree that it is- but in the end, I think, the producer is responsible for making people come- and the performers are responsible for making people want to stay.

  • Holiday O’Hara

    8 TIPS FOR LIFE is what I call this article. Thank you for speaking up, makes me proud once again! <3 – Holiday

  • Adam Coutts

    Very, very well said Dangrrr [THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE]