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Tiers in Burlesque - Chicago Burlesque Dancer Red Hot Annie Weinert
She really makes the wieners boil!

Red Hot Annie / Ann Marie Weinert
Date: 2011-11-27 09:23
Subject: Tiers in Burlesque
Security: Public
AN UPDATED VERSION OF THIS CHART IS HERE:
http://redhotannie.com/resources/tiers_in_burlesque.htm


So, here's something I've started to work on - traveling around North America and picking everyone's brains about how they see themselves in their community, as well as listening to Chicago community ideas and concerns, I thought I'd take a stab at creating something that can visually illustrate how people are feeling about their efforts -vs- reward within burlesque.

It's a Tier system (not my fav), which I hope might be a good jumping off point in creating a conversation about how payment might correlate to experience and celebrity within the burlesque community, both locally & nationally. It also proposes MINIMUM show rates that people within a tier should realistically be charging.

Also, this isn't a checklist, so much as a basis of determining which category best describes you - it's not intended to say "if you don't have ABC, you aren't an XYZ performer." It's trying to describe the things that we use/dismiss to determine which tier we percieve ourselves and others belonging to. In other words, not every quality may be necessary to put self/others into a certain category.

Tier Level Performance Characteristics Business Characteristics Proposed Standard Show Rates
(in Chicago)
Examples
1. Newbie *Performed 0-10 times
*No polished acts
*Studies/Mentors under locally/nationally recognized teacher or performer $10+ students

In Chicago, maybe 15% of Performers
2. Local Player *Performed 10-25 times
*1-3 polished acts
*Studies/Mentors under locally/nationally recognized teacher or performer $20+ students, hobbyists

In Chicago, maybe 40% of Performers
3. Locally Recognized *Performed 25+ times
*3+ polished acts
*Has been recognized on local "Best of" list
*Mentors under nationally-recognized teacher or performer
*Brings in an audience
*Produces well-attended shows
*Teaches others
*Educates others about BHOF and burlesque legends
*Has website or web presence
$50+ hobbyists, careerists

In Chicago, maybe 30% of Performers
4. Nationally Recognized *Has headlined festival/large scale national show
*Has recieved awards/special recognition at nationally-recognized event
*Has been recognized on national "Best of" list
*Has performed on National TV
*Brings in an audience
*Produces nationally-recognized event
*Teaches others
*Educates others about BHOF and burlesque legends
*Has website or web presence
*Owns studio space
Varies widely. Between $100-$500/act careerists, headliners

In Chicago, maybe 10% of Performers
5. Internationally Recognized *Has recieved award/recognition at BHOF
*Exclusively considered as headliner/featured performer at festival/large scale national shows (rather than applicant).
*Has recieved awards/special recognition at nationally-recognized event
*Has been recognized on national "Best of" list
*Has performed on National TV
*Brings in an audience
*Produces nationally-recognized event
*Teaches others
*Educates others about BHOF and burlesque legends
*Has website or web presence
*Owns studio space
*Owns/Sells nationally or internationally recognized franchise
*Appears as burlesque expert on TV, documentaries, etc.
Varies widely. Between $500-$5000/act careerists, income-dependents, known-headliners
6. Celebrity unknown unknown $40-75K+/act Dita Von Teese
7. Legend unknown unknown unknown performers from the Hey Days of burlesque


I'm curious if you think there are other performance/business characteristics that can be included that would make this sort of outline more of a useful tool or better define what makes the difference between someone who isn't really a hobbyist...and isn't really a professional - and what they could be focusing on if they'd like to further their personal development.

I hope this will open up a dialogue - please feel free to comment below! I'm very excited to hear your feedback, both positive & critical. I'd love to refine the titles, qualifications, etc - so whatever you've got, sling it this way! :)

xoxo

Red Hot Annie
Vaudezilla


P.S. As you may or may not have considered, just because you ask for a rate doesn't mean that regular, sustainable opportunities to get that rate exist. In fact, most actual professionals I've conversed with agree that most of the good pay comes out of a so-called "weekly" appearance that pays $200 but only lasts 3 weeks or a big corporate/festival job that comes along once every couple of months that pays $500+. So becoming a "Nationally-Recoginzed" "professional" within the specific niche realm of burlesque doesn't actually guarantee most people a sustainable living so much as it appears to grants them recognition from their peers and occassionally additional media attention.

For frustrated performers who are wishing they made more money:
Realizing that your performance/business skills set you apart from the majority of shows (that aren't capable of paying "Locally Recognized" or "Nationally Recognized" performer rates) is probably the first step in actually realizing you no longer belong in the local/newbie categories, which is where I'd argue about 60% of performers belong (with an additional 25% belonging in the Locally Recognized category). It's also a call to action to create (or be a part of the creation of) shows that can pay those rates...which requires business acumen and political savvy moreso than personal performance skills or ability to "pick out" the good performers (which, I'd argue, almost any skill level can do, regardless of whether they are making the choice to).

That's really another topic for another day, but I thought I might throw that out there to stir the pot a little - dying to hear your points of view!
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2011-11-27 17:28 (UTC)
Subject: interesting!
I think you've done a great job of categorizing the various levels, but I'd argue for further refinement on a couple points.

First, the number of times someone has performed has little to no relevance, in my opinion. I've seen some performers who have been on stage for a year or more but who I would still consider a local player rather than locally recognized. Many performers are solid, seasoned acts but never quite rise to the level of a headliner, for any number of reasons. Under the current breakdown, I think a lot of people may mistakenly place themselves in the wrong category and then wonder why they can't command $50 per number.

Which brings me to my next point: I agree, in theory, that if a performer is unhappy with her current paid opportunities she should go create opportunities that please her better. But as we have seen burlesque in Chicago explode over the past few years, I feel we have not seen a "rising tide floats all boats" phenomenon when it comes to pay. Rather, with the influx of performers, especially newbies, and the wider awareness and availability of burlesque, I feel that the supply of burlesque has been outweighing demand for quite some time now, which has depressed pay. It's a systemic problem rather than one that can be solved by starting another show. What do you think?

As a side note, I find it interesting that even nationally recognized performers find the best pay opportunities to come from short runs or festivals. To me, that speaks to the need for more highly produced shows,, shows that provide the audience with a polished, cohesive and unique experience that they are willing to pay more for, and better pay for all the talent whose acts warrant it. Of course there will always be demand for weekly shows and bar shows, but I think to encourage better acts, to reward quality performers and to avoid the public's burlesque fatigue Chicago needs more specialized, shows like The Wall and The Big Lebowski.
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Red Hot Annie / Ann Marie Weinert
User: redhotannie
Date: 2011-11-28 03:35 (UTC)
Subject: Re: interesting!
I have to agree that the number of times one performs has very little to do with where they place, but I have gathered from speaking with a lot of people who've been performing for 5-10 years (both locally & nationally) that the amount of time they have been performing entitles them to a little extra something, although, theoretically you could suck for 10 years and really not belong on the 3rd tier.

Also, I personally think part of what keeps the rates low is that there are producers who have no vested interest in raising the rates. We've managed to raise the rates every single time we've created a show...there's no reason why other producers shouldn't be working in sustainable ways to raise their rates - but I don't think they know how.

Sure, you still get paid $20 to do Exit, but you make $27 to do Lincoln Tap Room, and $38 to do Holiday Club. And our next show you'll get paid $45, etc, etc, etc.

I personally think there's specifically a definite lack of interest or ability to create shows that make money for performers, and that's more the problem then an influx of burlesque into the city. A theatre show that's selling out, for example - shouldn't be paying $20-30/performer.

But if there's no producers or agents who have a vested interest in cultivating a higher rate at a pace that's sustainable & justifable (I'm sorry, not every venue is going to pay for a half-assed or ill-attended show!), it's simply not going to go up. I also think this because when I started and there were - maybe - one or two opportunities to perform each month, we were all only making $15-30/show, then, too!

I also think you'd be surprised to know that the vast, vast, vast majority of "Level 4" nationally-recognized performers aren't making a realistic living doing burlesque. There's a lot of smoke & mirrors in this biz, for sure. But again - that's a topic for another day.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2011-11-28 16:24 (UTC)
Subject: Re: interesting!
You are absolutely right - if a producer has no interest in raising the rates for performers than performers will not get paid more. Saying "well, that's the going rate, nothing I can do about it" undervalues the product before the show even begins. Perhaps you're right abou some producers simply not knowing how to keep pay high - I made performer pay a top priority when I produced and I stopped producing rather than dropping my pay rate further. Maybe if i'd had better business acumen I wouldn't have seen my choice as drop rates or stop producing. I wish I knew how to improve that set of skills the way I know how to improve my performance skills.

However, I want to prevent any misunderstanding and reiterate that I absolutely think there is and will always be a place for bar shows. They provide a place for newbie performers to gain experience and perfect their act, they provide an introduction to burlesque for an audience who many not have been exposed to it before, and they provide more experienced performers with a more steady performance opportunities than the high-paying shows everyone covets. If there is a demand for them, why not meet that demand with quality performers who can then possibly lure audience members to other, better paying shows than leave the free shows entirely to newbies? I think the bar shows can sometimes act as advertising.
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Red Hot Annie / Ann Marie Weinert
User: redhotannie
Date: 2011-11-28 16:33 (UTC)
Subject: Re: interesting!
I absolutely agree about bar shows being advertisment & marketing.

But a lot of people don't understand that aspect of business, either...you can pick & choose the shows you produce & perform in, but if you lack a bigger picture or long-term goal, it's easy to miss opportunities because you feel you are "artistically" "above" them.

Don't get me wrong - it's important to have both standards & rate minimums, but knowing which gigs will lead to other gigs and which are dead ends isn't an art - it's business. And that's definitely a topic I'd love to delve into at some point in the future! (Also, a workshop I teach!)
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pamelaNeko
User: pamelaneko
Date: 2011-11-28 20:25 (UTC)
Subject: Re: interesting!
There ARE other options besides accept current rates or quit... but I think the work you have to do and what you have to give up is the downside to higher rates--a downside no one wants to talk about.

You can produce a show with fewer performers doing more acts. My best bar show night, I performed 3 acts in one show, which we did TWICE (clearing out the bar between shows). We all worked our asses off and were rewarded with a packed house and a very nice split take. However, each performer had to be not just entertaining, but business-savvy enough to promote and you know, work really hard. You really have to hand-pick the performers at that level, and know which ones are not only pretty, but will put in the time for promotion and other necessary work.

The other side to higher rates is that you really have to work less often. If I'm doing 3 shows a week, my audience and promotional pull is really thinned out. You could even say that each show is only getting 30% of my business work. So how can I demand a higher rate when I'm bringing less to the table. You can do the cheap shows, the free shows, for self-promotion but you are still only going to get paid the low-level rates. AND the more you do those, the less often you will have the opportunity to do the big shows.

It's up to each performer to decide her own comfort levels for work-in and work-out. One is not better than the other, but! You have to remember that balance.

Chicago is a unique market because there are some big players in production who have been naturally setting the rates in the market based on their own business plan/ideals. In DC area and others, it's much more free-for-all, and I think in markets like this, the rate discussion is more meaningful. Opportunities come to me and other local performers not from companies like Vaudezilla, but directly from venues, non-burlesque producers, and individuals. So undercutting happens a lot when there are more newbies than veterans. For example, right now there is a big email convo going on between DMV area performers regarding a NYE gig that wants to pay $100 for 4+ hours of work. $100! Some people thought that was a-okay, but the more established community members spoke up to define what a reasonable rate should be. This venue had even been declined by other performers demanding a fair rate. So basically the rate setting needed to happen between the individual performer or producer, and a venue. THESE are kind of gigs I argue rates on. A bar show produced by local community members is generally not argued (though may be declined) as it's understood that no one is benefitting at our expense.
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Sailor St. Claire
User: sailorstclaire
Date: 2011-11-27 17:34 (UTC)
Subject: Locally Recognizied
What I love about this is that I think you've productively captured some crucial differences in the level of "professionalism" we are able to achieve. It is possible to be a locally recognized performer who draws an audience and provides polished acts without giving up your day job, and if you wanted to, I think you could still call yourself "professional" if not "a professional" under those terms. What's best about this list is that it demonstrates gradation, and gets us away from using such binary distinctions like "amateur/hobbyist" and "pro", which don't seem to capture exactly what's going on in the genre.

I think some of your media-related "performance characteristics" could use a little more defining: best-of lists aren't all that common in all markets, but any media mention, such as a review, interview, or blog write-up, counts in my book as local recognition. Thinking about burlesque in terms of media presence at all is tricky because it still is at its core a kind of underground, cabaret subculture. But we should be thinking about it, and thinking about how to utilize it if we're going to sustain ourselves at whatever level of performance we feel we're at.

Thanks for starting this, Annie!
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2011-11-28 00:23 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Locally Recognizied
I think this is such a good idea Annie. Gives performers an idea of what they might expect for the time, effort and money they put into creating a show. For many nowadays, performing has become a hobby, because making a living at it is just not possible as it was in my day.
Good work!
Magically yours,
Dusty Summers
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Red Hot Annie / Ann Marie Weinert
User: redhotannie
Date: 2011-11-28 03:50 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Locally Recognizied
Thank you, Dusty. I take that as a special compliment coming from a legend such as yourself. <3
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Red Hot Annie / Ann Marie Weinert
User: redhotannie
Date: 2011-11-28 03:44 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Locally Recognizied
I agree. The binary doesn't work for me one bit. I know too many people who do this for fun who are extraordinarily good. And I know too many people who are very average who'd claim to be "professionals."

Without objective tools, it's very hard for newbies to determine what they should aim, who they should be seeking for a teacher, and what's hype instead of cold hard facts. I think it's a waste of energy when new people come in and are excited about getting involved in burlesquee and then spin their wheels til they're bored and/or directionless.

Hopefully this will help with that.

Thanks for the feedback and additional ideas about how to flesh out the lists. :)
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2011-11-27 20:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Who determines what level you are?
How many performers would state they are a certain level, wanting that level of pay, only to be chided by their peers for thinking so highly of themselves?
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Red Hot Annie / Ann Marie Weinert
User: redhotannie
Date: 2011-11-28 03:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, the chart is an attempt at making those things more objective.

I think a lot of people are guilty of claiming a higher tier then where they belong, and if their self-proclaimed tier is based on ignorance (simply not knowing why there's a difference between themselves, and, say, Miss Indigo Blue), this might help. If it's based on ego (they genuinely believe they belong in the same tier as Dita, even though they live hand to mouth, for example), I doubt anything will help. :)

Thanks for weighing in!

Edited at 2011-11-28 03:22 am (UTC)
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Fonda Lingue
User: Fonda Lingue
Date: 2011-11-28 04:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I honestly don't know where i fit in according to the tier. I have some in a few of those tiers. I will be performing in Europe but I am not known in Europe so I wouldn't call my self an internationally recognized performer. Though I hope some day that is the case. That will be the other hard thing is to actually place people where they belong. That just may be determined by the presenter and what your draw is to the public to bring in the money. I really do think this is a start, it will take some tweaking but I am so happy you are doing this!
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Red Hot Annie / Ann Marie Weinert
User: redhotannie
Date: 2011-11-28 12:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My goal would be to have enough information on this chart to make it relatively simple to determine where you place - objective enough that you could ask a trusted peer to place you, even.

I think "traveling" is probably something that belongs on the chart, but I'm not sure how, yet.

Thanks for bringing up another great point!
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Fonda Lingue
User: Fonda Lingue
Date: 2011-11-28 02:42 (UTC)
Subject: Tier
I agree with you Annie on the tier system!

I think the problem we face right now is that we have to "take what we can get" as far as pay because in a lot of places the pickings are slim. If you watched "Behind the Burly Q", those ladies made $1500 a week. Even now that is not bad! I can get booked all over the United States, they all want me and will pay me to perform but they won't pay for me to get there. Most of the time I would spend what I would make on travel and hotel. I, for one, would like to be a career burlesque dancer and that is my goal(I was a career ballet dancer for over 25 years and didn't step onto the stage for less than $800 a performance) but in Atlanta it is just not possible. I am locally, regionally (which was not on your tier) and nationally recognized, I have a title and I teach at festivals as well but it doesn't seem to make a difference as far as pay. Maybe that is my fault. Maybe I need to demand more and not do those shows if they can't pay my fee. I am afraid I would not be performing and that would be worse. My choice right now is to look overseas or to move to a bigger city in the US (I am performing in London, Rome, Milan(hopefully) and Paris in March.) Moving also means leaving the "day job" (hairdresser), which is my steady source of income and health insurance.

If we all could adopt the above standards AND STICK TO THEM we would, in my opinion, increase the value of what we do. Each time we take a lesser fee for a show we devalue what we do. I think it would force producers to raise the money and in turn be paid what we are worth. Not to "out" what I am getting paid in Europe, but it is a lot more than I have ever gotten paid in the US. My title means something over there. It means something here as far as merit and accomplishment, which is great as well, but I would like to get paid for that extra work ad extra recognition I earned.

I hope this is just a start in reclaiming our value. Perhaps this idea could be presented at festivals throughout the country and see what others opinions would be. Maybe we need to start a task force to promote this. I will certainnly do it inn the Southeast. I hardly think anyone would argue the fact that we are worth more. We all have to commit to making sure that this happens.

As you can tell I am quite passionate about what I do and take it very seriously. I love my life as a Burly Girl (well...sort of a girl)and want the best for all of us.

Fondly... Fonda Lingue
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Fonda Lingue
User: Fonda Lingue
Date: 2011-11-28 02:59 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Tier
Oops I forgot!

I also think it is great to have a tier of levels for performers as well. In the ballet you started out in the corps de ballet, moved up to demi soloist, soloist, then on to prima ballerina and prima ballerina assoluta. You were paid more at each level. You had to pay your dues to get to the next level and you had to work hard to get there. Your talent and hard work got you to the next level. There were always exceptions to the rule, but in general, this is how things work. It works that way in any business, why should we be any different?
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Red Hot Annie / Ann Marie Weinert
User: redhotannie
Date: 2011-11-28 03:50 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Tier
We use a tier system in Vaudezilla, as well.

Vixen/Student -> Aspiring Jr Performer -> Jr Performer -> Performer

It's worked great for us for the last year - a vast improvement over our "Vixen -> Performer." Far more sustainable and it gives us plenty of time to teach new performers best business practices. :)
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Red Hot Annie / Ann Marie Weinert
User: redhotannie
Date: 2011-11-28 03:48 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Tier
This is such great feedback!

I think people have a hard time finding a good point of comparison with burlesque, but I agree that some kind of guidelines would make it easier for people to understand why they shouldn't be - for example - doing a show for free.

Each individual really has to decide for themselves if they think they are worth charging more. I think everyone should charge as much as they can possibly get away with - and for a LOT of dancers, that's a lot higher than they think or are willing to commit to.

It's very easy to be obsessed with the performance aspect of things and completeley disregard business necessities and opportunities to learn how to handle the money and politics.
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Dragontown Corsets
User: Dragontown Corsets
Date: 2011-11-28 05:22 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Tier
Madame Corsetiere piping up! From a producer's standpoint, it's extremely difficult to create a show where everyone gets paid. The capital risked just to rent a venue large enough to bring a positive box office return is well over $4000.00. Let's not even talk about compensation for the endless hours of organizing and promoting so that there's actually an audience!

I pay my performers (either in wages or travel expenses but usually both) even if it means I work for free. And so far, it has meant that I have not pocketed a penny for three years of my work. Like most of my performers, I do it for the love of it, and am growing my business in order to create more opportunities to draw a crowd.

It's less about how long you've been in the game and more about selling a commodity. Your acts are a product, like anything else. If you don't get out there and sell it, it won't matter how much you think you should get paid! That's why movie stars have agents. The agents find places to sell the product.

And as far as pay based on experience, pfft! I will take the acts that I know my audience will love. They're the consumer, and it's my job to make them happy. I will gladly pay the girl next door more than a recognized performer if her act is better. And, between us, there are recognized names that I will never book, no matter how famous they are, because their acts are not as entertaining as most of our homegrown talent.

Burlesque performers can increase their chances of getting booked by bettering their skills. How many can really dance? Or sing? Taking your clothes off is the least important part of the number. The boobs start to look the same for the audience. But a disciplined artist who understands that the details matter will get and keep their attention.
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Red Hot Annie / Ann Marie Weinert
User: redhotannie
Date: 2011-11-28 12:56 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Tier
Thank you so much for weighing in, darling!

I agree with you on many points, including how expensive it is to rent a good venue and that effect on pay for performers! :)
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pamelaNeko
User: pamelaneko
Date: 2011-11-28 19:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As we've talked about a lot... there needs to be a bit more discussion about the value each performer brings to a show or a producer. Specifically BEYOND a good performance. I think if we talked about those business standards more, savvy performers would find better opportunities. That you point it out in this tier system is pretty valuable, and I love it.

Something producers can do to offer higher rates is use the talent they're booking more smartly. Allow performers to do 2 or more acts in one show, add longer variety acts, or interim entertainment that lengthens the show while also adding value & substance. Steps like these allow performers to be paid more for their night of work. The audience drawing (success) potential becomes better if your performers are just as educated in their business responsibilities as they are in their stage chops. With the above steps I do believe that you start contracting your performers, asking them to be mindful of scheduling and competitive conflicts etc.

One objective measurement that I want to see added to a tier system is about measuring the investment put into your acts. For example, in the 3rd Tier (locally recognized) I would argue that you need to be investing $200-500+ per polished act, using custom made costumes or props, or an equal level of training in a special skill. I know that may seem a bit petty (I'm sure we can ALL be special shining stars winning the stage w/ talent alone and rhinestone-free...), HOWEVER, audiences do expect to see glamour and fantasy and I've talked to many disappointed fans who wanted to see something amazing. Costume, hair, makeup, & props can all add that something special. Unique skills like hooping, contortion, juggling, singing, or even comedy etc add this as well.
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pamelaNeko
User: pamelaneko
Date: 2011-11-28 20:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Missed an important word... meant to say "With the above steps I do believe that you CAN start contracting your performers, asking them to be mindful of scheduling and competitive conflicts etc." Meaning that producers or production companies can contract their performers for exclusivity or similar considerations.
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Dragontown Corsets
User: Dragontown Corsets
Date: 2011-11-30 22:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Pam, I agree wholeheartedly with your points about producers booking their talent smartly. If you have 6 performers with 3 very good acts, you've got a perfect 2 hour show with a 20 or 30 minute intermission for concession sales. And it becomes lucrative from a wage standpoint for the girls, as well as economical for travel and hospitality costs. All this goes out the window for a festival, of course, but hopefully you've sold enough advertising and sponsorships to offset it.
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