So you want to start performing? That’s great! But, as I know all too well, it can be very intimidating when you aren’t already connected to your local performance community. There is a lot that goes into a performance from character development and costuming to marketing and networking. But I assure you, no matter what your background, everyone can perform and everyone can be a great performer if they are dedicated.
1. Attend Shows in Your Community
Photo by Oomphotography at Beast Women in Chicago, IL
Maybe you’re a regular patron of a show already and you can check this one off the list, but for those of you who can’t do that, I cannot express how important this is! Try attending a local fire, burlesque, theater, circus, or variety show in your area. If going alone is intimidating try bringing some friends, however, I would recommend going alone and possibly talking to performers after the show if that is an option. It can be very helpful if you are just starting out in order to familiarize yourself with the aesthetic of different performance groups in your area, inspire and inform your creative work, and to help meet people in the community.
Depending on the size of the performance arts community in your area, you will find that different shows and troupes will have different aesthetics and artistic visions. A circus show will have a different vibe than a burlesque show. And within different communities there may be troupes that specialize in certain aesthetics such as steampunk, glam, minimalist, commedia, gogo or others. I recommend to see it all, soak it all in, and see what resonates with you. After all, this is your dream, and you don’t want to find years down the road that you’ve been limiting yourself or chasing someone else’s dream.
Maybe you find a group that you really like. You admire the talent, the aesthetic, and you think it would be amazing to perform with them. Awesome! Now you can look at aspects of that particular aesthetic and see how you can incorporate it into your flow. Possibly you would change your movement quality or characterization. If you find out you are really interested in a local burlesque show then maybe you can think about how to incorporate tease elements into your hooping style. Seeing shows can start to get your creative ideas flowing and inspire you to take your hooping or flow art of choice in new directions.
Perhaps most importantly, seeing shows can be a great way to meet other performers. A lot of the time, the people in the audience of these types of shows are friends and other performers. Going to shows affords you an opportunity to make new contacts and to slowly integrate yourself with others. Even if you don’t end up talking to anyone, producers respect it when performers who are interested in working with them have been to their shows and are familiar with their style.
2. Don’t be Afraid to Ask
Photo by J Nanez Photography of Pyro & Penumbra Fire Troupe
You can’t get what you want without asking first. If you have a specific troupe in mind that you’d like to work with try shooting them an email to introduce yourself. What is the worst that can happen? They say no. That’s fine. I have been rejected from a company I wanted to work with multiple times before we ended up working together. Persistence and politeness pays off. This does not mean email them every week after they say no with your latest practice video. This means keeping in touch when you see them at events, volunteering for various support roles, and the occasional check in email after you’ve done something awesome.
You have to be willing to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to hear no more than yes. And this is very difficult, it requires constant ego checks and taking rejection as inspiration to work harder, which is not always the first reaction. You need to have thick skin to be a performer and you need to be able to hear criticism if you want to get better. That said, rejection can be a blessing in disguise, maybe you are not a good fit for that troupe and you would both be miserable in that circumstance. Always be open to feedback if it is offered. You don’t necessarily need to follow it every single time but it’s worth it to get a different perspective.
Beyond the fear of rejection, you might be surprised by who wants to work with you! Most theaters and burlesque troupes in my experience love performers with special skills. There are lots of performance communities that welcome newer performers and will help you. So get out there, talk to people, and start connecting with your community!
3. Create an Act
Photographer Unknown of Gatsby themed act by Scarlet Finch
Act creation could be an entire article in itself so I’m going to focus more on why it’s important to create an act that is choreographed. Flow arts is great, there are a lot of talented improvisers who tap into their flow and bring out beautiful moves that look amazing on instagram clips. However, live performance is an entirely different beast. You will have people who are watching you and they will have certain expectations about your performance depending on what you are presenting. Having an act can ensure that you are presenting yourself in a professional, polished, and engaging way to the average consumer, who may know nothing about flow arts before you step on stage.
Start by picking a song and improvising to it, maybe you hit certain moves that go well with the music that you like. Keep those. Have a few of those choreographed moments throughout the piece. Also plan certain times where you make eye contact with the audience. I would consider this structured improv or partial choreographed. Even this can look way more polished than putting on your favorite song to flow to and crossing your fingers. If you want to be taken seriously as a performer being consistent and reliable as an artist is very important. Adding choreography to your repertoire can help you become more consistent as a performer whether you are using your choreography in an act or are improvising at an event.
4. Dress to Impress
Lovely custom costumes by Hi Wire Costumes on Etsy
I love #harmonicbutts as much as the next person, but it may not be as impressive looking depending on what context you are performing in. I recommend doing some research before you go out to a performance on what types of costumes are typically worn where. It also helps to ask clients directly. It’s my worst nightmare to show up at a kid’s event in a nightclub type of outfit. Avoid this or other similarly awkward costuming faux pas by doing your homework before you attend an event.
Showing up to an event underdressed can make you look very unprofessional and like you don’t know what you’re doing, even if you are an amazing performer. It’s sad but true. The first impression that your clients will have of you will be the image they see when you arrive. You should start off on a high note instead of fighting to prove yourself to them as legitimate through your skill set. They will be much more receptive to your skills if they already have a good impression of you.
Some resources I use for costuming from highest to lowest price range are etsy shops, buying basics from Amazon or thrift stores and DIYing it with rhinestones or appliques, or costumes from dance supply stores. It is always nice to have costumes available in a range of colors, modesty levels, and a couple different themed ones. Remember to accessorize too, add jewelry, arm bands, tights, shoes, hats, and whatever else makes sense with your character and theme.
5. Find a Mentor
Photo of Sky Flow Artist
Mentors are other professionals in the industry who have an invested interest in your success. They could be producers, instructors, fellow performers, or directors. You can find mentors by going to shows and finding a performer whose style you like. Maybe you can take a private lesson from them if you can afford it. Or maybe you just shoot them a facebook message telling them that you admire their work and ask about their background.
Your mentor does not need to specialize in the same thing as you. In fact it can be advantageous to pick a mentor who is strong at something that does not come naturally to you that you’d like to develop such as character work, acrobatics, stage presence, movement quality, or designing amazing looking costumes. You need to be honest with yourself about what your strengths are and what can use work and what is worth working on at this stage of your performance career.
The more the better. Multiple mentors can help you in different areas of your development as a performer. It will make you a more well rounded performance artist and can also be a great networking opportunity to help integrate you into your local performance community. However, I do not recommend over extending beyond what you are capable of socially or developmentally. Choose to work on things that are important to you, hold people close who lift you up.
Breaking into the beautiful, frustrating, fulfilling, at times thankless, fun, challenging world of performance can be difficult and intimidating! Hopefully breaking things down into some simple (yet scary!) action steps to take will make it more manageable to try out and see if it’s for you. Becoming a performer is not always the next big step in your flow journey but if you feel a yearning to be in the spotlight and showcase your talent then it might be worth a try!
I wish the best of luck to all the novice flow performers out there! If these tips have been helpful to you be sure you share your progress with us at The Spinsterz and provide some feedback in the comments.