So, how do I start a burlesque troupe? Well we asked the Austin burlesque community for advice, and received some really thoughtful answers to pass along to you budding entrepreneurs out there. This is a three part series, so stay tuned!
The first criteria you may need is an obsessive sort of masochism that lends itself to good organization and the ability to lead others well. Luckily, that’s a trait that most burlesque dancers have the potential for. If you can fret over the number of sequins in your burlesque outfit, the complexities of running an entire troupe of dancers probably won’t seem nearly as challenging.
So, you’re determined to start your own burlesque troupe. Congratulations. You’ve already taken the first step in deciding that you’re committed to putting some effort toward an amazing goal. It won’t be easy, but you won’t have to do it alone, either. The true strength of a troupe is the ability to share the burdens of holding it together. The reward is being able to share all the glory, too. Well, let’s get you started, then. Here’s a formula for starting a troupe, including everything from marketing, to gigs, to keeping everything professional.
Ground Floor – Know Who You Are, and Polish Technique
A great burlesque troupe starts with a vision. Either alone, or with the fine ladies you plan to form your troupe with, develop your identities fully before you ever think of booking a gig. Plan character stories, design complementary burlesque outfits, and find a unifying theme for your troupe. While each character should be unique, having a theme that’s already nailed down will help with things like segueing between acts and maintaining a clear marketing presence.
Next, check your technique. Is everyone on the same level, or do you have a mixed bag with some headliners and some stage virgins? Invest in some burlesque dance classes to assess your level, and decide what the standards will be for your troupe. Will you allow anyone to dance under your troupe name, or will you have a process for determining when someone is ready to take the stage as a full member of your team?
Delia Dread (founder of Black Widow Burlesque; currently a solo performer) has helpful tips on handling new recruits, “Have a time line of when you’re going to get back to the ladies and stick to it. Get back to every girl, whether email or phone and let them know whether they made it or not. The worst part about trying out for something is to never even hear anything at all back.”
Learn from the Pros
It’s great to have a vision, but do you know how the backstage details work? Even seasoned dancers who have stage experience could learn a thing or two by working with an established troupe. If there’s already a thriving burlesque scene in your town, you can begin by offering to act as a stage assistant for a few shows, or even see if your fledgling troupe would be welcome to perform as an opening act. Learn everything you can about what works…and doesn’t. Make it clear that you’re not competition, but another way to help raise awareness of a thrilling style of entertainment.
Networking is a key part of working with other troupes. With shared billing at a venue comes shared marketing opportunities, and other dancers can serve as wonderful resources in vouching for a new troupe when it’s time to look for a place to host your show.
Ruby Joule of The Jigglewatts has this advice, “I'd say one of the most important things is to do your homework. Know the market before you enter it. That means knowing who the other players in town are, what their style is, if they book regularly at a certain venue, and what their NAMES are! (please, no more Rubys ;-) Putting on a fabulous show is only part of having a successful troupe. Having good business sense and professional courtesy is very important too.”
Delia Dread adds, "Check out live burlesque shows. Know what kind of burlesque you want to perform:vintage,modern,fetish, or a mix of it all. Don't be afraid to ask for opinions and critiques. Also, don't feel intimidated by others. Be inspired by the veterans. Take notes from them, but never "steal" any routines from performers.”
Next Up, the Small Business Association, your Products and a lot more...
- Rouge Dubonnet