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Burlesque Performance rates for Beginners

I recently asked my followers if they had any questions about me, my business, or burlesque. One recurring theme among burlesque beginners, established performers, and general audience members was about the financial side of this industry.

"What is a fair rate for a burlesque beginner?"

"How do you justify higher rates?"

"What are your best marketing tips?"

"How do you diversify your income?"

"What are the best ways to support the community?"

These are great questions and are part of an ongoing discussion that I see in this industry's posts, comments, and conversations. They're also all questions I know I sometimes struggled to find answers to when I was starting my burlesque journey. Still, through trial and error, self-reflection, and even consultations with accountants, lawyers, and business professionals, I have begun to find serious success running my own burlesque business. And I feel like I am well equipped to share my thoughts on the matter.

Whether you're new to burlesque or a seasoned performer looking to refine your approach, I hope these reflections will guide and empower you.

So let's dive into:

What is a fair performance rate for a burlesque beginner?

When I first started establishing myself as a burlesque performer, I struggled with assigning value to my work and time and was unsure when to accept or push back on performance rates. And I always struggled with the age old..

A meme of two cowboys in a stand off, asking what's your budget, and what's your rate.
Sound Familiar?

..standoff of "What's your budget?" vs. "What's your rate?". It became a familiar and daunting routine. Waiting for the other party to shoot first, I often struggled with the fear of either pricing myself out of a job or feeling horrible for undervaluing my art.

It's a dilemma that I know every performer has faced at some point. We pour our hearts and souls into our craft; how can you put a price tag on passion? How do we ensure we're compensated fairly without scaring away potential clients? How do we articulate the value beyond the hours of practice and into the essence of what we bring to the stage? This journey isn't just about learning to value our art; it's about learning to value ourselves.

It's a continuous process of self-discovery, market understanding, and assertive communication. In this blog, I'll share insights and strategies that have helped me navigate these waters, offering advice on setting fair rates for beginners and letting them know when to settle for less.

IS there a minimum wage for burlesque?

Yes! No! Sort of...? In Australia, there are minimum wages for employees in almost all roles. However, most burlesque performers tend to operate as Sole Traders and run the performance aspects of their business as independent contractors. They're hired for a specific task (or, in this case, a performance) and invoice the client (typically a producer or a venue) when done. Independent contractors are not considered employees, and as such, they are not entitled to all the conditions in the National Employment Standards or an award. This includes:

  • minimum wages

  • annual leave and sick leave

  • notice of termination

Instead, independent contractors are responsible for negotiating their rates, allowances, payment terms and extra conditions as part of their contract for their services.

It is important to note that independent contractors paid mainly for their labour are considered employees for superannuation guarantee purposes. This means the venue, producer, or whoever is paying their invoice is liable to pay their super for the labour component of their invoice. It must be paid to their nominated super fund, as paying an additional amount equal to the superannuation guarantee rate on top of their invoice does not count as a super contribution. A good starting point for anyone looking to develop their rates as an independent contractor is to look at the minimum wages for employees that fulfil a similar role and then add all your additional business costs.

How to find the minimum wages?

You should begin by looking at the FairWork Ombudsman's Pay and Conditions Tool P.A.C.T. This is a government tool for finding minimum pay rates, allowances, and penalty rates and selecting minimum entitlements in the National Employment Standards. Most employees in the performing arts community fall under the Live Performance Award, and for burlesque dancers The Performer Category 2 classification sounds pretty close to what most of us do: "A performer who is employed as an act or part of an act in theatrical/live entertainment performances and who is responsible for the primary development of the work to be performed."

Indicative tasks are:

  • as per Performer Category 1 (acting, singing, dancing, skating, aquatic performing, understudying, any other type of performing).

  • tasks relating to the development of the work to be performed, such as but not limited to:

  • developing the script and concept for the performance

  • selecting the music

  • generally determining the content and presentation of the performance.

You can use this tool to check other awards and classifications, too. It's an excellent tool for getting a baseline understanding of the cost of skilled labour. But again, we're only using this as a reference, so don't stress too much about that!

Evana De Lune in a green and black costume
One of my first solo performances - Maison Burlesque Showcase 2018

What are the minimum wages?

I'm basing my search off the casual employment rates, as unlike full-time or part-time employees, casual employees in Australia don't get annual leave or sick leave but do get casual loading to make up for it. So, it's a closer match to the circumstances of an independent contractor. As of January 2024, the Casual Rates for the Live Performance Award and the Performer Category 2 Classification are as follows: Minimum Hourly Rate: $37.53 "Casual performers have to be paid a minimum of 3 hours on any shift, at the appropriate rate."

Casual performance rate: $238.13 "This rate applies for a 3-hour call with the following performance types: for multiple short performances (performance of up to 1 hour in duration) during the 3-hour call, provided that adequate rest breaks between performances are given." So, a casual employee working for a business to perform burlesque acts that they created would get paid a minimum of $112.59 + Super for a 3-hour call with one performance.

Or $238.13 + Super for multiple performances during a 3-hour call.

Take note of those figures and remember that those are the minimum wages in Australia for a casual employee that does not have to deal with any of the other business costs, like taxes, insurance, marketing and promotional fees, admin, travel, accommodation, etc..

Developing your own minimum performance rates

Let's establish some rough minimum rates for beginners to strive for using the example of the employee minimum wage figures we just looked at. We will add a modest 30% increase to the one-act rate to cover some of your business costs. We will add a 5% increase to the two-act rate to round it out while keeping it competitive for a beginner.

That gives us these figures, which I would consider appropriate as rough minimums for new performers in Australia to aim for:

$150 + Super for one act.

$250 + Super for two acts. Of course you will want to determine these rates based on your own circumstances, but I think it is entirely reasonable to want to receive a minimum wage equivalent for your work, at minimum.

Evana De Lune in a studio photoshoot
My lowest paid gig ever was for $75 - 42nd Street Photography

You should also be aiming to secure rates above your minimum, and dynamically adjusting your pricing based on your experiences to find a sweet spot that gets you booked and gets you paid. Remember that maintaining a degree of flexibility with your rates is key due to the nature of the industry.

Check with your peers to ensure you're being paid fairly and correctly

I'm a massive advocate for transparency between performers regarding rates, especially for those who are just starting out. There have been times when I've been pondering what to quote for a show, only to ask a friend and have them casually solve my problem with something like:

"Oh quote $500 for that one! I did that for $350 but I reckon they'd do more for you xx".

This is the kind of hot girl shit that I love about this industry, and it's what we need more of. There will inevitably be some performers who hold these details close to their chests and refuse to help, but it's not too hard to find performers who are willing to uplift their peers. If you ever feel like a rate is kind of low, or if you think the vibe is off, here are some of my favourite tips:

  • Reach out to fellow performers who have worked with the same producer or venue. Their experiences can provide valuable insights into what's fair and standard for that particular setting.

  • Don't hesitate to ask other local performers about their rates for similar gigs. This can also give you a benchmark and help you gauge the market you're in.

  • Make sure to also connect with other performers at your level. Understanding what they would quote for similar gigs can offer a perspective on what the market expects from someone with your experience and skills.

The fastest route to success is paved through collaboration and shared knowledge among the community. So make sure you use the community as a resource, and make sure you're willing to give back.

When to settle for less?

Sometimes it seems appealing to accept work for below your minimum rate, below market value, or even for free, and sometimes this can be a strategic business decision.

It's essential to recognise that rates will invariably differ from show to show, city to city, and state to state. Various factors contribute to these disparities, including the events' scale, venue or producer's budget, and local market standards. Suppose you're getting turned down for higher paying gigs. In that case, you'll most likely want to accept a lower rate, even if it's below your minimum rate, because the alternative is not performing, and performing in front of people is the best way to get better, develop a fanbase, and grow your business. It's also worth being flexible with your minimum rate when there are other inclusions as part of your contract. I'm often more willing to accept a lower performance rate if there is professional photography or videography included. And I've also chosen gigs that pay less because it meant I'd get to go to bed earlier.

Evana De Lune dancing on stage
Charity events are one of the only times you should perform for free.

For hobbyists, beginners, and even established burlesque performers who are not overly concerned about rates, it's crucial to remember that for some peers, even at the beginner level, performance income is vital for their livelihood. It's important to avoid working for free and to support the community by maintaining fair rates in line with our peers, working together to ensure we don't undercut or devalue the work of our fellow artists, especially those for whom every gig counts towards basic necessities. If you're in a situation where you feel like you're struggling to get booked with your current rates, you feel like you are undervaluing yourself, you're struggling to earn money, or you are just wondering how to negotiate higher fees it's time to start...

Justifying Higher Rates (Coming Soon) Diversifying Your Income (Coming Soon)

Marketing Yourself (Coming Soon) Uplifting Your Peers (Coming Soon)

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