I have recently decided that I am leaving the group I have performed with for 2 years. There are not any other performing flow art groups in the area unfortunately. What advice do you experienced performers have for me?
When going pro, the trick is to realize that getting booked has very little to do with your artistic talent itself and much more to do with your ability to market and sell yourself in the world. If you’re just getting started as a performer here are the First 5 Things to Do as a Pro Flow Performer, although it really is just the tip of the iceberg.
Develop an act
It should go without saying that you need something worthwhile to perform. Different people have different perspective on this. As a fire artist who has been thrown into crazy situations with odd stages and a lot of limitations caused by the spaces in which I perform, I find it absolutely necessary to have the flexibility to improvise my show. I’ve been to gigs where they wanted to use their music, in which case, choreographed performances don’t work. I’ve been on stages where we’ve had choreographed piece where the stage was simply too small for the our choreography.
That’s not to say that having a choreographed show is a bad thing but more to acknowledge that even if you have a choreographed performance, it’s really useful to also have an improv show that you can whip out if you need it. What I’ve found most important are these three elements in your show:
- a strong opening where you get the audience’s attention, leaving room to build into something more spectacular. This often means softer and/or slower music to match movements of the same type. In a fire show, you may have multiple props you use throughout the show itself and you’ll want to consider various things (size of flame, number of wicks, tempo of music, competence with tool, impact of the tricks, to name a few) when building the show, so it’s important that your opening is powerful. This applies not just to the opening of the show itself, but to each individual tool you will use during the show.
- peak applause moment(s) such as the ever popular back bend buzz saw. This is an age old trick for fire dancers and the reason is because it works. Between the apparent danger of the fire so close to your face, the speed of the motion necessary to make the circles, the duration of the flame trail itself and the simplicity of the shape, the audience can understand and be drawn into the move which allows them to both relate to it and applaud for it. The back bend buzz saw may be one example of this kind of movement but there are countless others and it’s great to develop your own list of “power moves” that help you get crowd response.
- a strong closing that is definitive and give the audience a clear sense of when to applaud. Sometimes they don’t know, especially if the fire is still burning, so make sure to punctuate your ending with something clear — perhaps blowing out the flame (a trick that all too often fails, so make sure you know you can do it!), a bow, or spinning until the flame burns out. These are just a few examples. Take time to explore what works for you for each type of tool and each set in your show.
Get Marketing Materials
In 2014, I can’t imagine a professional flow performance artist being taken seriously if they don’t at least have a good promotional video of their work. This is an imperative, in that you can’t compete with others who do have them without one of your own. In fact, when I sell, I make sure to use videos as a selling point, asking client’s if they have seen only a promo or a full set from the other artists. If I had to choose to have only one, I’d want a powerful set, ideally with actual crowd applause on the audio. That said, I think it makes sense to have both as they each showcase different skills. Think of the promo video as your highlight reel. It can be under a minute and should be high impact, so it doesn’t really need to be long at all. Here’s our most recent promo video to give you a sense of what I mean.
Equally important is to have some form of business card. This could be a flyer, though I find those to be clunky and not as personal as my own preference, mini Moo cards (use this link to get a 10% discount for both of us!), the reasons for which I enjoy them are outlined in this article, 7 Reasons to go Moo. You’ll want your card to have the best contact information for you including, if appropriate, social media sites and especially your own web site.
I also can’t imagine not having a web site as a professional fire dancing artist, even if it’s something like a WordPress site (such as this one) so take some time to invest in a static web site where you can direct people. Remember that if you’re relying on a Facebook page as your primary representation on the internet, if Facebook ever decides to charge and/or simply decides it will shut down, you’re either spending money by being leveraged or out of internet representation. Your web presence is working for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you don’t have a site, you can’t be selling when you sleep. This is why I recommend a specific static site. When you pick the name, be sure to have an easy to remember URL if possible so that in moments where you run out of cards, you can easily pass on that information.
Learn how to pitch yourself
If you’ve spent a long time as an artist, you may be of the mindset that selling yourself somehow devalues the art. I think that’s the most ass backward thinking, personally. If I love what I do, I can far more easily sell it than something I feel half hearted about. Imagine a world where people only (ok, mostly) did what they loved and were proud to share their work.
This is what sales pitches are about. Identify with what you love in your work and spend some time learning how to succinctly say it to other people in a way that hopefully draws them in for more questions through your elevator pitch. Also figure out how to make what you have to offer something that solves a problem they have (i.e., a need for unusual entertainment). Like learning how to manipulate your prop, this may (and likely will) take some time so practice the pitch (on friends and family first, then strangers) and use their feedback to refine it through time.
Get a rate sheet
Once you do your pitch, you’ll want the client to move to the next step in the sale process which often requires you discuss the cost of the performance and negotiate the specifics of what you will do, where, with whom, and for how long. The various options that you offer and additional add-ons will be listed on your rate sheet, even if you never publish it to your clients. For example, you might charge a base rate to perform in town and then add an additional fee on top of that to travel out of town.
It’s really helpful to have a set of standard packages you offer with clarity around their price and upsell options to go with them. Even if you choose to change your price on a case by case basis, this helps you have a stronger pitch, clearer understanding of how to deliver the pitch based on what you offer and ultimately allows you to fulfill client requests with more precision.
Invest in your look
When I first started performing I lacked costumes and makeup. After becoming a professional, part of what I developed through time was an array of fabulous costumes that reflected different moods and styles. Diversity allows you to appeal to different client requests which can come in the form of type of clothing (for example, shoulders must be covered (I have had this request!)), to color choice (for themed events) to the degree of elegance necessary based on the context of the event (a black tie formal versus a beach BBQ). Take some time to develop your costumes, makeup and other aspects of your look like your body tone, posture, facial hair and head hair.
There’s lots more to do once you get started though your success with each of these will likely help you figure out what the next best steps for you are. For more support, if you haven’t already seen it, we have a podcast for artists just starting out as professionals you can check out here.
Need more business coaching? Contact GlitterGirl directly or subscribe to our newsletter for mailbox delivery of this and other articles written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you seek business training or guidance associated with creating a safe performance, obtaining a permit in San Francisco or other personalized coaching, contact GlitterGirl directly for a free consultation (GlitterGirl <that pretty little ‘at’ symbol> TempleOfPoi <daaaaaaaught> com).