They sure have been controversial, burlesque competitions. I wrote an article a while back with a bit about them in This is Cabaret, from the angle of “Paying to Play”.
I remember a few years ago when there were a flush of competitions that were asking people to pay to play, and it caused a bit of uproar. They seemed to die off, and the popularity of competitions appeared to wane a bit. Then we saw the Burlesque Idol competition start up in London, and although it took a while to find its feet and build a good reputation, it is now one of the most respected new comer competitions in the UK. We also have the Burlesque Baby competitions, which have also earned a good reputation.
Perhaps it is off the back of the success of these two (or perhaps I haven’t noticed until now) but I seem to be seeing more and more smaller competitions pop up. Not necessarily a bad thing, but in noticing this, some thoughts have sprung to mind.
What makes a competition credible and worthwhile?
Feedback: getting good feedback from experienced, professional and established performers can be really valuable and helpful in developing as a performer.
As long as: the judges ARE actually experienced, professional and established, with years of performing and/or producing and/or teaching behind them. Otherwise it is just peer review- which can be very helpful but a peer should not be positioned as a judge, if they do not have the background to…back it up! Baby gotta have back, yo.
Exposure: It is possible that you might be seen at a competition and get gigs from it, especially if you win. This is particularly true if it is one of the bigger, established competitions.
As long as: the competition is exposing you to people who can offer genuine work opportunities. You might just be in burlesque for the lark, in which case a competition can be a good networking opportunity for other small-scale shows, sure. However, if a small event, organised by people with little background in burlesque, claims “great exposure! The biggest and best show! The hottest and most upcoming starlets” etc, I would investigate further, as it is quite time consuming and expensive to do something which does not deliver what it promises.
Prizes!– Ok, few of us can argue with prizes! Although only the winners get them, those gits.
Make sure you– Check out the experiences of others who have won the competition and make sure the prizes actually materialised, because sometimes they never do!
A Title!: Being dubbed “Queen of” something is great, especially if you get a wee sparkly crown and maybe some bubbly. And it can be used to boost your marketing potential.
Just remember: Being “Queen of” or “Best of” has varying degrees of meaning. It depends on the credibility of the show, the experience of the judges, the judging format, the quality of the other performers. If you win something, be happy, be proud. But also be realistic about what it means in the long run, and make sure you are happy with what you are being asked to do, in exchange for the chance of winning a crown (in terms of what you pay to get there, time and effort etc. I don’t think you have to worry about the whole “casting couch blowjob” situation haha).
Why am I doing this? Be self-aware about why you are entering competitions. Do you want the performing experience and useful feedback? The fun, excitement and networking opportunity? Are you a competitive kind of person? Do you want to win to boost your burlesque success? Great, go for it.
But: If you find yourself bouncing from one competition to the next, ask why. What can you gain from doing this? Stage time, sure. More feedback, sure. But success comes from work and practice and time and money and just doing a shit-load of gigs, some of which will be brilliant, some of which will be bloomin pants. Winning things is great but it is not what being a performer is about. Being seen as successful in the scene and having lots of bookings all the time (regardless of quality or pay) isn’t what is about (although the illusion of success can breed success to an extent). The point of being a performer is to entertain your audience the best you can, and that is where you will find your confidence and your success.
Competition Organisers– the onus is on you, too! Make sure your competition offers real worth, real experienced judges, real exposure, and it will blossom and bloom.
So- do competitions, but make sure you check them out thoroughly (against a UK canvass, not just your local scene where small fish can seem large). Do that, and if you win, BOOM! Wear your crown with pride, get drunk, post selfies.
And if you don’t win- BOOM! Who cares! Competitions don’t really mean much when you think about it- there is no “best” burlesque, the genre is too diverse, and individual preferences are so different! Even within one show, what the burlesque community is currently favouring can be quite different to what the audience enjoys most on the night, and they are unpredictable buggers! Winning a competition might mean you are a good performer, and its a wonderful validation, but not winning doesn’t mean you are any less good, have any less potential, or are any less entertaining. So take the benefits, don’t get too high or too low because of the results, and keep entertaining, bitches!