I’m going to make a blanket statement: no one, I repeat NO ONE, in burlesque has drawing power.
If I put one of our bigger names on a flier, I might get people from the burlesque community to come to the show, perhaps because they have seen that person’s work on youtube, or saw them at a festival, or were paying enough attention to burlesque history to know who they are. If that dancer has some blow-out professional photos that attract the eye, then that might get a few more people to the club to see what they are all about. But the bottom line, no one has a name that makes the average schmuck on the street go “Oh, yeah, I know of ___________. I have to get tickets to see her/him.”
Except one. Dita. The whole world knows about Dita. Why? Why when I tell people I am a burlesque dancer, I am often countered with “like Dita?” And when I asked those people if they have ever seen Dita dance, they often say “no”. So how is it the world’s most famous burlesque dancer is one that no one has seen dance?
Let me postulate this as well: the only reason we know who the Pussycat Dolls are is because they often used “stunt” casting by working in actresses (Christina Applegate, Christina Aguilera, Carmen Electra) who themselves had their own level of fame.
And that is called publicity. Elusive, a siren’s song if you will, but getting noticed starts in the smallest ways and builds like a stampede.
BUILDING YOUR FAN BASE
Every time you perform, you could make a fan. That fan has a monetary value: that fan buys tickets to see you perform, which pays you (and others) on a show, that fan could return to see you and bring 3 friends. Those friends could go on your facebook page and say how awesome they thought you were and that could be seen by more people. Maybe one of them tweets at you and their followers are curious and begin coming to your shows. Please please please don’t think producers don’t notice who brings an audience and who doesn’t. Suppose you do an out-of-town gig, you could have your fans mention it to their friends in that city… Did you see how that happened?
Case in point, and why EVERY show matters: I did a gig. There were 12 people in the audience. I gave it 100%. Years later, I am at another gig, doing a completely different act, when at the end of the show a few of the audience members came up to me and said “You were that girl who bit the head off a chicken at Mr. T’s Bowl!” Years apart, but that performance stuck with them and here they were, paying to see me again.
ASSES IN SEATS/ENTHUSIASM
It’s very easy to sit back and say “it’s the producer’s job to put asses in seats”. For me, as both a producer and a performer, I wonder why performers would be so short sighted. A shows’ success is based on two things: the venue making money (often this is in the sale of liquor) and the show making money (often this is in the sale of admissions). Would you risk losing a quality show in your town if all it took was for you to tell your fans to come and see you? Aren’t you excited someone is paying you to perform? If not, why not? Here’s the thing—your fans could also enjoy another performer on the show and become their fan—and visa versa! Everyone wins!
Even if you make a guarantee, additional money to any burlesque show can end up in a tip to the performers, better gear for the show, t-shirts or other swag, and the venue asking the show to continue, or to ad an extra night.
Lastly, if the show closes, you will always have your fans to follow you to the next show you are featured in.
Now, I remember a time without Myspace—Myspace even!—when the best options we had was a flier to hand people and the burlesque yahoo groups. But that’s not to say with Facebook, Wordpress, Tumblr, Etsy, Youtube, Instragram, and Twitter that life is easier. There was an adage that a consumer (our audience) had to hear about a product (our shows) from three different sources for them to say “hey—I want to check out this thing”. So seeing your flier, hearing a friend talk about it, maybe seeing a poster hanging in the shop. Now it’s roughly 20. So you can see the importance of having a presence everywhere might help you out, but you can also link many of those things together. For example, if you share your Instagram on Twitter and link it to your Facebook—well, that’s three birds, one stone, no waiting!
PS I still feel the best way to make an impression is to look someone in the eye and hand them a flier or business card; maybe at a party, maybe while performing on a show, and hopefully with your picture on it.
Here’s the thing about Twitter that I think so many people miss: you have to tweet. Regularly. Because Twitter is like a ticker, your tweet could be on top of the feed for 10 minutes or 10 seconds. Also, the quality of your tweets count. If you tweet only about shows, you’re not going to get followers. Being funny certainly helps, but I like to think of Twitter as a conversation I am having with the world, but the world may not answer back. “Hey World, I’m making a costume today!” “Hey World, I’m watching FOOTLOOSE to steal moves from for my new act!” “Hey World, I’ve been gigging so much today I’m giving my boobies a break from all the glue and tape!” I find talking about your process can be an easy in to creating a Twitter feed that bears some interest. As to how much of this is you and how much of this is <your stage name here> is up to you.
To paraphrase Miss Astrid “You are the author if your life onstage”, which also means you are the author of your life online. Do not feel you have to share every emotion—remember you are on Twitter for your own promotion. Unless your character is one hot mess wrought with drama, best to keep it upbeat. Much like the drunk gal hoarking in the toilet of the nightclub, you never want to ask strangers to hold your hair.
ENGAGING YOUR AUDIENCE
Performing is a very local product, as you can only do it when people are in the same room as you. Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc. has given us an opportunity to engage that audience when we are not performing. It can be as simple as being entertaining online. Maybe you can release a special pin-up photo to just your fans? What about telling the world that there is a new video up on youtube? Maybe create an on-line contest “if you can tell me what act I did at my last show, I’ll send you two tickets to my next show”?
We have 600 or so people on the VictoryVarietyHour.com e-mail list. Two days before the show, we send the list a discount coupon that you can get $3 off at the door. On any given show, we have between 10 and 20 people use that coupon. You know what that means? We need a lot more people on the e-mail list.
You can’t assume that everyone on your list is waiting, panting and sweaty, until your next performance. They have lives, obligations, other friends in the performing arts, the novelty of you being naked has worn off, they need a sitter, the last thing they want to do on a night they are not performing is go to another burlesque show. Did you see how that happened? Your list dwindled quite fast.
So on every chance you have to make a fan, make it count.