In no particular order and to varying degrees of urgency and usefulness:
• Paint the bottoms of your stage shoes - or at least make sure there aren’t big stupid labels on them. The first time you see a giant “Jessica Simpson for K-Mart” sole logo in a photo of yourself you’re going to wish you’d grabbed the spray paint before you left home.
• It’s Okay To Say No. It’s okay to turn down gigs that seem sketchy, or that don’t pay, or that you simply don’t want to do. It’s okay to turn down projects that ask for a huge amount of your time, skill and effort and offer little or nothing in return. It's okay to say you’re not comfortable with a photographer in the dressing room. It’s okay to say that you don’t have time to ‘help out’ with costumes, or choreography, or poster design, or stripper wrangling, or that you really can’t ‘bring a few extra numbers to the show in case we need them,’ or come up with an elaborate theme-specific act at the last minute based on an obscure 1970’s Dutch cartoon you’ve never heard of. If you decline politely and honestly and when you’re asked (rather than an hour before the shoot, meeting or show) then no one is going to be mad or hate you or never book you again … and if they do, you probably don’t want to work with them anyhow.
• Unless it’s a deliberate character note, don’t hand-write signs or labels on props: it looks like crap. If you can’t get something computer-printed in time for the show, save the number until you can do it right.
• Your most elaborate or complicated number isn’t necessarily your best number, especially where first impressions are concerned. If you really want to make a good impression on a producer the first time you work with her, think long and hard before putting together a sixteen-minute-long aerial epic with working mayonnaise-filled waterslide and a shower of live fruitbats. (Or anything with a ton of baby powder.) If it’s a solid act you’ve had down for years, go for it; but adding bells and whistles to impress a producer can backfire spectacularly. Often it’s far easier to stun her with a simple act flawlessly executed.
• “Oh, please. We take our clothes off in bars.”*
• Pre-setting the tape on your pasties at home while you’re packing for the show saves a shit-ton of time backstage.
• You don’t have to like everyone you work with, and you don’t have to be everyone’s best friend. Just being in the same business isn’t a guaranteed automatic soul connection (I’m pretty sure that every nurse isn’t a spit sibling with every single other nurse on the planet). The only requirement is that you treat everyone with respect and professionalism - backstage, online, or at the diner after the show.
• Glitter isn’t the herpes of burlesque. Herpes is the herpes of burlesque.
• Rehearsing in large, tall, new or otherwise potentially disastrous wigs can save a lot of exposed-wig-cap-onstage-heartache - something that didn’t occur to me until I found myself pinned by the head to a paper parasol with dangling flowers attached by fishing line, from which there was absolutely no graceful extraction. (All extant copies of the photos have been burned, by the way, so don’t bother asking.)
• Okay, sure: no one is ever going to launder costumes with any regularity (assuming that any of our made-of-curtains-and-covered-in-feathers shit even can be washed). But do yourself the supreme favor and open up the gig bag when you get home and hang wet stuff up to dry. If you go-go’d for three hours in that bra and wig, for the love of all that is glittery do not leave them in a Ziploc bag all night. While it’s a fascinating practical experiment in bacterial cultures, it will destroy your costumes as surely as a pie fight at curtain call.
• Try everything. Never let the fact that you’ve only ever done rock-and-roll acts keep you from performing a classic fan dance if you really want to. Rehearse and prepare for it as fully as you would for any other act** and remember that if it doesn’t work, you can toss it out.
• Keep records. It can be as anal-retentive as a multi-page spreadsheet document listing the date, venue, acts you performed and what you were paid for every show you’ve ever done (ahem) or as casual as scribbling your schedule in a pocket calendar, but I guarantee that at some point you’ll need that information for remembering how long you’ve been doing a particular act, disproving income-tax fraud, or settling a bar bet.
• Nine times out of ten, your photo-in-a-frame prop is completely indistinguishable from a few rows back in the house … and half the time even the audience members who can see it have no idea who it’s supposed to be a picture of anyway.
• No One Cares About Your Shit As Much As You Do. Your web designer is never going to care as much as you do about updating your site calendar. That guy the producer got to video the show is never going to care about getting you that footage. Time Out is never going to care that they mis-spelled your stage name, got the time wrong, and used a photo of someone else in the listing for your show. The audience is never going to care that you have black gloves tonight instead of blue, or that you lost an earring in the middle of your act, or that you have 643,291 rhinestones on your corset instead of 623,712. Everyone else in the dressing room is too busy caring about their own tampon string showing to worry about yours. Producers, your performers care more about their own acts than they do about promoting your show. Just do your work, don’t freak out over missing gloves (and visible tampon strings), help out each other when you can, and try not to take everything personally.
• Try Not To Take Everything Personally. In general, I fail spectacularly at this – but we all must have something for which to strive, mustn’t we? Every distracted look backstage, every passive-aggressive archly-veiled Tweet, every random innocent statement in passing isn’t necessarily a venomous attack at your particular art or person. Likewise every performer with a pink dress isn’t ripping off your pink dress act and everyone who has ever used a champagne glass as a prop isn’t automatically plagiarizing your champagne-glass number. Advocate for yourself when you need to – no one else is going to (see above) – but take a moment first to decide if you in fact do need to speak up, or if you’re just reacting personally to someone else’s bad day.
* Someone actually did tell me this a long damn time ago, and for once I actually was listening, and it has stood me well many times and in many circumstances in the intervening years. I will be forever grateful to you for that, Veronika.
** As with any number, maybe don’t spend ten thousand dollars on the costume right off the bat … you can always add to it later if it’s something you want to keep in the rotation.