Burlesque festival season is upon us, and the sheer number of events happening across the globe these days is staggering — check out this fantastic resource of international festivals compiled by Ri Ri SynCyr.
Thousands of performers are huddling over laptops filling out applications, and will wait with bated breath to see if they’re accepted to perform in the festival of their choice. It’s amazing to see how festivals have grown over the past few years, and delightful to see them thriving in regional areas – but the downside is that demand now outweighs availability, and many a performer will wind up crestfallen when she opens her email to find the form letter she’s been dreading.
Dude, rejection sucks. There’s no way around it – and it’s particularly painful when it comes to burlesque, because what we do is so incredibly personal. We are literally stripped naked, making ourselves deeply vulnerable by inviting (often anonymous) strangers to evaluate our stage worthiness. Our acts our so intrinsically personal: it’s a mini one woman/man show, which you wrote, directed, costumed and choreographed. You poured hours of, blood, sweat, passion and layers of E-6000 into your baby – and when someone tells you that you didn’t make the cut? It fucking HURTS.
That said, rejection is inevitable aspect of any creative art, whether it’s pitching movie scripts, getting a grant, or auditioning for a play.
It also happens to everyone – I guarantee that the performer you idolize the most has gotten rejected at some point. Any artist who is worth their salt knows that you must take risks in order to attain greatness, and part of that risk involves getting turned down for a show, role, opportunity, job, or partnership that you really, really, REALLY wanted.
Rejection sucks – but it can also be the catalyst for us to work harder, think bigger, and better our craft… both individually and as a whole.
So what do you do when it happens to you? Here’s a triage guide to help ease the ouch and find the silver lining in the email you never wanted to open.
It’s not the end of the world, even though it feels like it in this moment. Take a deep breath, and take as much time as you need collect yourself. It’s natural to be overcome with a storm of emotions — hurt, anger, self-doubt — but don’t let those raw feelings take control over you, or dictate your next actions.
Take It Offline
When we’re hurt, we seek solace — but this gets sticky in the age of social media, when sometimes our first reaction is to vent in a public forum. If you get rejected, you need to think very carefully about how to react to your news publicly – and whether you should do so at all.
Friends don’t let friends Facebook when they’re drunk or hella pissed. If you lash out in anger on social media — at best, you’ll be exposing your very personal disappointment in a very public manner which you might regret later; at worst, you could do serious damage to your professional reputation, lose future bookings, and burn bridges.
I absolutely encourage you to seek comfort in your friends — but do it one-to-one: a phone call, a text, a private email, or face-to-face.
And speaking of friends — most of your performer pals know that trashing a festival on Facebook is bad business for all involved… but your non-burlesque friends may not think of this aspect. This is another drawback to posting publicly; say you post a polite and friendly note, like “Well, I didn’t get into ____ Fest but I’m really happy for everyone who did!” Your non-burlesque friends may pipe in with a well-meaning but misguided attempt to soothe you, something along the lines of: “Fuck ____Fest! I guess they just didn’t want any GOOD acts! Those losers are stupid if they turned you down!! ANGRY CAPS LOCK RAGE!!”
Your friends’ words – no matter how well-intended – will reflect poorly on you.
While we’re at it, it would be a great idea to stay off of social media in general — performers who’ve just been accepted will likely be gleefully posting the news, and you don’t need extra salt rubbed in your wound right now. Close the laptop and practice some good self-care: watch your favorite goofy movie, cuddle your pets and/or significant other, get outside for a walk, etc.
Someone once told me not to take rejection personally. Impossible when your act is such a personal creation, right? But it’s not about you as a person (unless you have a reputation for peeing in your enemies’ gig bags backstage – in that case, it is you, and you might do well with a career on reality TV.)
As a writer, I have a difficult time separating professional rejection of my articles or pitches from my worthiness as an author, because my writing is such an incredibly personal reflection of who I am. But it’s not about me, the person — it’s about my work. And sometimes, I have to go back and re-evaluate the work I submitted with fresh eyes.
Cheesy but true: there’s a learning experience in everything if you look hard enough. After you’ve given yourself a couple of days time, look back through your application and try to evaluate it as a stranger would — was your video kinda crappy? I despise watching burlesque on video — I feel it sucks the life and soul out of the performance – but we are visual artists, and it’s important for us to nail down a video that really captures the essence of our act, as much as a soulless computer-machine can.
Consider this an opportunity to contract a professional videographer to film your act – if you want to shop it around the big festivals, this is a good investment. A two-camera edit is even better.
Think About the Big Picture
“Gee, I am going to channel hours of my personal time, epic amounts of stress, and possibly major personal financial loss into creating a burlesque festival just so I can get drunk on my self-imposed power as I reject performers and crush their hopes and dreams!”….. said no one ever.
You don’t like getting the rejection email… but the festival producers aren’t happy about sending them either. It’s the shittiest part of the job, and NO ONE enjoys it. Producers have many different factors to weigh, and their ultimate goal is to curate a consistently outstanding lineup with enough variety to create a smooth flow. A show with 45-minutes straight of slow songs? Not good flow. Seven fan dances back-to-back? Not good flow. The all-red revue? No bueno.
As the bar continues to be raised, festival producers find themselves in the unenviable position of having to turn down really damn good acts. Much like a thriving job market, sometimes you find yourself burdened by a wealth of riches, and employers wind up turning away incredibly qualified candidates, because there are only so many desks available.
Did you apply to an all-classic fest with a blood-and-gore heavy metal number? Or if you applied to an all-classic showcase — perhaps your music choice was a little well-worn, and dozens of other applicants applied with the same piece? One of the most interesting facets of burlesque is the “collision of like-minded coincidences” that I so often see — performers on opposite sides of the country, developing similar acts without ever knowing about the other’s existence. Maybe a dozen other performers applied with a similar concept — you just never know. But you shouldn’t make yourself crazy guessing, either.
While it’s always good to pop the hood on an act and look for areas where you can refine and improve, you shouldn’t take a festival rejection as a sign that your act is crap and needs to be completely tossed. The act that didn’t get accepted to _____Festival could go down like a house on fire at The _th Annual ____ Fest. Which brings me to my next point…
Don’t Get Discouraged
This is just a tiny little speedbump on your Highway of Awesome — so don’t get sidetracked. After you’ve allowed yourself to feel all of the emotions you’re entitled to feel, wrap it all up, put it away, and move on. There’s always another festival, another year, and another opportunity around the corner. Don’t stop applying because you got rejected once – if I’d done that, my burlesque career would have ended in 2003!
When you get knocked down, you gotta get back up – and usually after you’ve dusted yourself off, you find yourself even stronger for it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experience crippling disappointment in my professional, personal and performance lives — only to have it shortly followed up with a huge success and epic win.
Give yourself some much deserved props for even applying in the first place – it’s a nerve-wracking process, and putting yourself out there for evaluation is a tough but necessary part of being a public performance artist and pushing yourself to the next level.
Repeat to yourself: this experience does not define my worth.
And then get back up on that sparkle pony and back to what you love to do most: create and perform.
You got this, girl.
Now, go get ‘em tiger.