Thursday, June 18, 2015

Entitled is a 4 letter word...

A few weeks ago, I wrote something that I was not quite ready to put out into the world. I'm not sure why I was not ready because the post was not controversial. But since I've been trying to embrace a more honest appproach to life, I'll admit I was afraid that putting it out there would come with some repercussions. Now that some time has passed and Mercury is no longer in retrograde, I am no longer feeling the sting that inspired the piece in the first place. It got to the point where I considered not posting it at all. However, after re-reading it, I still feel like the words are 100% valid in the Burlesque Community. So here it is now...

Entitled is a 4 letter word.

As I sit here on the tiny little ass plane, flying from NYC to St. Louis for the Show Me Burlesque festival, I have to admit that my focus has been elsewhere. It's unfortunate, but the last few days have been filled with emotional ups and downs. And with the return of Mercury’s retrograde, it seems like there has been a breakdown in communication like never before. Spending the last few days in a rut, with hurt feelings and no real outlet for my frustrations, has proven to be the worst type of distraction. I have found myself thinking a lot about my voice and what rights I have as a performer to speak my mind when I feel like I have been wronged. Most of it had led me to one conclusion, that I have no choice but to keep my mouth closed because I don't want to be labeled as a complainer, a diva, or even worse…Entitled.

That’s a term that has been thrown around a lot in the burlesque community lately. I am guilty of using it too. It seems to be most prevalent with new performers, feeling like they have the right to be booked in a show simply because the have an act and put a few rhinestones on a costume. But it does not end there. I’ve even heard entitled being used as a bad word to describe established performers. But what does that even mean? Is there a difference between someone feeling entitled vs someone who feels like they have worked extremely hard, just to have been overlooked for a promotion? I think so. But it seems like people are so worried about being labeled as entitled that they become afraid to speak up when being treated unfairly.

This post is not to call anyone out and is not about any group in particular. As someone who has been lucky enough to work with many groups/ troops/ families and communities, this is something that I have found happens across the board. I can’t go online without seeing a post from a fellow performer, feeling frustrated about something happening in their community and feeling like they are not being heard. This is something that I am sure each and every performer has felt at one point or another and I am using this post to express my feeling on the matter. I choose to do it here, on my blog, with limited followers, because it's the only place I feel safe to voice my concerns without fear of repercussions. It’s sad to me that, in a community that prides itself on being there for one another, that I feel trapped in the confines of this blog to share my true feeling. And even here, I can’t be as candid as I would like because this is online and you never know who is reading. But I’ve recently found myself in a few situations that I’ve heard countless performers struggle with, so I’m using my small, virtual soap box to talk about it.

So here is the thing… when working in a troop/mob/family type setting with more performers than gigs available, it is natural that a performer hierarchy begins to happen. There will be, for lack of a better phrase... a performer ranking. Based on, what I admit is still a limited understanding, the rankings tend to look a little something like this:

The A list-
Excellent performers who get priority in all bookings.

The B list-
Excellent performers who get booked semi-regularly as well as
offered any last minute gigs that the A list performers are unavailable for.

The C list-
Good performers who get booking every once in a while,
primarily when A list or B list are unavailable.

And D list-
Good performers who rarely get booked…
unless multiple shows are happening in the same night,
or there is a themed show in which the performer fits the criteria
better than A, B, or C list performers.

Notice that everyone on the list are good performers. It’s a prerequisite to even be considered as a performer in these groups. So getting on these list seems to have less to do with pure talent and more to do with how well connected the performer is to the producer. You can be a pretty good performer, but if you happen to be close friends with the producer, it can help boost you up list. On the other hand, you can be the best performer in the world, but if the producer does not like you, then you may never get all the way up the list, if booked at all. This is something that happens a lot, as as a performer, it is essential that you not only are aware of this, but that you come to expect it.

Imagine yourself in this situation. You're a strong performer, have decent costumes that you are constantly upgrading, you are working tirelessly to spit out new acts and develop a range, and you have excellent back stage etiquette. You continue to work very hard and push yourself to grow, year after year. You keep your fingers crossed that when a position eventually opens up in a higher ranking, that you will be considered. Now imagine that, instead of your hard work being recognized, you get over looked for the promotion to make room for a bigger name. Or better yet, the task of booking performer has been delegated to someone else who does not consider booking you to be a priority. Basically, after years of hard work, you find yourself right back where you started, a C list performer, hoping to get the scraps left over by the A and B list. Tell me, are you considered entitled because you are hurt that you were over looked? I don’t think so. But the truth is, it does not matter. No one cares about your feeling. Whether you were overlooked or if you actually are being an entitled diva seem to have the same result. If you complain, you're out.

This, again, is not about any one group. I have a version of this story from many performers in many different scenes, whether is be solo performers trying to get booked more at a particular venue or performers who have recently been kicked out of a troop the were in because of misunderstanding and disagreements. The one common factor that I have heard from all of these performers was that, at the time of the conflict/incident, they felt like their voices were not heard. Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t a person speak out about how they are feeling without worry of repercussion? Isn't a family suppose to be about unconditional love and support even in the hard times? Why is it OK that most performers are so afraid to openly communicate with producers? I think this is something that needs to change.

This is NOT… I repeat, NOT about wanting more gigs. This post is not about entitlement or the idea that, just because you work hard, it means that you should be guaranteed a raise. I understand, that in this community, that may never be something that a person can count on. What this post IS about is having a voice. It’s about a performer feeling heard by their producers when things don't feel right. It’s about not being written off and being told to “Just get over it” “Let is go” or to “Not take it personally.” Guess what? Burlesque is personal. We are all aware that there are only so many gigs. But when your gigs start getting cut to make room for new comers, its personal. When you hear that people have been talking behind your back, trying to sabotage your connections, its personal. When your producer stops booking you because you unknowingly started working with their arch nemesis, its personal. When you feel like these outside forces are affecting you, and that no one is looking out for your best interest, it’s personal. And guess what else? It does not have to be intentional to be personal.

Sometimes shit happens. There will always be communications issues, misunderstanding, hurt feeling, as Mercury will always find itself back in retrograde. However, it would be so wonderful that when these hiccups did happen, the people you work for take your concerns into consideration and actually try to remedy the problem. Telling someone “Oops… we will try to be better about that in the future” does not remedy the problem, nor does it change what is happening in the present. And if the performer feels that certain situations are unfair, it would be great if they did not feel additionally reprimanded for speaking up about it. That is how trust is developed and a true family thrives.

If I have learned anything over the last few days, it is that in order for a person to be labeled “entitled” it has to be in a situations where the performer has not put in the work. But if the performer is dedicated to their art, constantly striving to be better, and generally respects the community as a whole, when they are hurt, it has nothing to do with feeling entitled. Its because they are feeling unheard and overlooked, and that is personal.

Some day I plan to start producing. I understand that this means that I will find myself on the other side of coin. My vow is to be a producer who listens to the concerns of their performers, takes a beat, and tries to offer a solution that makes everyone happy. And as a performer myself, I know that this community is made up of a million parts, all of which need to work in harmony for it to thrive. Producing is not easy. There are so many producers out there doing it right. But I think that everyone can strive to be a little better, everyone can strive to be a little more understanding, including myself. It’s a constant growing process and I look forward to a future growing as a person is everyone’s top priority.

Back to reality...

Due to BHOF brain, similar to pregnancy brain, I was unable to complete the task of writing every day, leading up to my BHOF Debut. I was so mentally distracted with stress hormones and an ever growing to-do list, that it became almost impossible to focus on anything that was not covered in glitter.

I Do plan to write a recap of what happened, long after the buzz has completely faded away... as is my way. My plan is to include multiple photos, reviews of my favorite acts, and any other amazing stories I can think of.  But since I know myself, it is super unlikely that I will ever actually get around to that. So, right now, I just want to leave you with my overall takeaway from the experience.

No I did not win the award for Best Debut, but if I'm being honest, that was never really part of my long term goals. The things I want to achieve are so much greater. These are things that will go down in the record books, and while competing in the 2015 Burlesque Hall of Fame Debut category was an incredible honor and amazing experience, it was a major stepping stone in direction of my goals... not the goal itself. Leading up to the performance, I repeated a mantra to myself. "My goal is to be present and to give everything I have to the audience. This is not about me. It's about all of them." I have to say, I could not have been happier in the moment.

Performing on that stage, in front of all of my peers, as well as 2 out of the 3 Black living legends of Burlesque is something that I could have only dreamed of. I left the stage feeling more clam and more proud of myself than I have felt in an extremely long time. It did not matter that I didn't win the trophy. It did not matter that I did not write daily, and it did not matter that I didn't drop those couple of pounds I planed to do before I took the stage. All that mattered what that I was there and that I had a good fucking time.
 Moments before the end of my act, my good friend 
and amazing photographer, MC Newman snapped this photo. 
I think it says it all.

I felt loved and supported and inspired to go after my dreams. Thank you to everyone who wished me well, who rooted for me, and who actually got me to this point. I love you all. More than you know.

I ask one thing of anyone reading this who loved burlesque, or who just loves me... Please become a member of the Burlesque Hall of Fame. We need the support of everyone in our community. You don't have to fully agree with all of the aspects of the weekender, but please remember that the Burlesque Hall of Fame's main goal is to keep the history of Burlesque alive and to honor all of the legends of burlesque, both living and past. And with the new, much larger location for the museum, every little bit helps.