The other day I called a fire peep to check his availability for a show. Lately, Fire By The Palm has been getting more and more momentum in the booking agency side of things, and while that’s a passionate thing to be excited about, it brings about some very interesting challenges and growing pains.
In short, I’m running out of dancers.
We also spoke of him and his prop list, his other work, and we got on the subject of what I think of him as a performer (he asked). I told him what I loved and where I think he needs to improve his own show, and then he said this to me:
“I will trade other services I can do for you [from his other jobs] if you improve my placement on the roster.”
That was odd… I mentally keep track of who my first few choices are for shows, but the shows are often so different from event to event that the dancer I wouldn’t put on stage A is PERFECT for Stage B. But roster ups and downs? Jockeying other interests for improved positions? I can do that too?
So great, right? Now I’ve got a whole new criteria to think about, but the only way it works is if I also ignore the whole quality of their talent overall. Maybe I can get Jay the Traveler to make all my crazy custom firedancing props for free. Maybe Tommy Danger will design me a fire-themed restaurant and maybe I can get Blaze Farringer to costume me in a new getup every week. All I gotta do is dangle “more work” in front of them and poof! Instant indentured slavery.
I morally chewed on that for a while. Tempting in the extreme. There’s a ton of stuff that Fire By The Palm needs, and I can, if need be, source it in the community on favors and trade. But finding the top talent – the most interesting, fascinating, and most importantly – the most watchable performers – is one of the cornerstones of Fire By The Palm’s unique point of difference. We strive to break new ground, to show something truly never-before-seen, to push the craft forward (thank you Tommy Brown for that awesome phrase). Whether or not we actually hit our mark on any given day is for the audience to decide, but we have to make that the MOST important priority in the development of whatever else is in store for us or else we just become another soulless bottom-line-driven corporation, feeding on power and the weak.
So I think I will not accept his offer as given. Rather, I will give to him and to the rest of you an opportunity – using only your firedancing performance ambitions to whatever level satisfies you – to gain a place on the Fire By The Palm roster as well as give you criteria for how a Fire By The Palm show gets its talent. With that, you will have a road map of things to do and what you can do to impress me and gain priority on the FBTP roster.
So first, here’s the application: If you want a job, fill it out completely and honestly and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You also need to send a completed W-9 form.
Now let’s get into the next part: How does Fire By The Palm Productions select its talent for any given show? And how can you use that criteria to be selected more often?
1. The first thing you can do is send me some awesome pictures and videos. Firedancing shows, like many other things, are sold by proposal. So I create proposals and give them to the client, which include all the details of the show, how long it will run, where it is, costs, and – more relevantly to this conversation – who the performers will be. BUT… I will sometimes be asked to send over 5 or 6 dancer pics to give the client the option of selecting their own talent, and your pictures are your ONLY opportunity to get them to want you.
2. One of the things I want most in a fire artist is a good list of props. You really need at least two to three firedancing forms to be a repeat Fire By The Palm performer, but if you’ve got 5 or 6, that is WAY better. With your six forms and my 6 forms, we can throw down a killer 30-minute duet (that is on the long end of the spectrum) without repeating ourselves that often, and a 15-minute show (much more common) is a breeze. You can also help me get more props into the hands of people who can spin them but do not own them, expanding our bigger shows’ capabilities.
3. Safety-minded: you spin off right, you keep your fire to a size that fits your dancing space. You don’t blow lamp oil all over the audience, you check your o-rings, you don’t drop your props a lot or try stuff that isn’t stage-ready. Also, have some safety equipment. I probably won’t need you to bring it, but knowing that you have it makes me think more of you. Fire is dangerous, I’ve had accidents, others have as well, preparation is your only weapon against catastrophe.
4. Ya gotta have at least one good costume. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but a costume is something that makes or breaks you. Sometimes when we go to the beach and burn I get videographers out there shooting us but then they usually focus mostly on me. This isn’t because I’m good or fit or whatever, as some have claimed, it is because I am in costume out there and that will always be more interesting to watch than a superior dancer in street clothes.
6. BE REACHABLE and respond QUICKLY: I get calls and it goes from we don’t know each other to show booked in under an hour. In that time, I’m doing the proposals and checking your availability. If I can’t find you, the sales cycle falls out of step and then the job fades away. Keep your phone working and prioritize your cell phone bill. If I can’t reach you, I won’t look twice.
7. Quiet on the set: One thing I have learned – through great difficulty and many mistakes – is that when you are a vendor for an event, keep your mouth shut, your head down, and do your job. Talk as little as possible, nobody is interested in detailed stories about fire arts, your new poi trick, or any other small talk. Ask for as little as possible on site, try to be self contained and self-producing.
8. Book me! I produce and all that stuff, but I’m still a firedancer who enjoys work doing firedancing. If you’re out there selling shows and you get a call for more than you, don’t think I’m too proud to put Fire By The Palm on a shelf and be your talent handing out YOUR business cards at a party. People who are bringing me work make me want to bring them work. It’s called synergy, and it reallllllllllllllly works.
9. Portable music. You need an amp or a boom box to get bookings, I have an amp but you and I won’t often be dancing in the same place at the same time so you’ll need your own music.
There’s a flip side to this, and that is the list of things that will make me not want to work with you.
1. Negativity. If you show up and your attitude sucks, that makes my alreayd-high-pressure job all the harder. Stay positive, get rid of the words “impossible” and “can’t.”
2. Tardiness. Early is on-time and on-time is late.
3. Non responsiveness. We live in the electronic information age. If I am trying to reach you and you won’t be reached, I will conclude that you are being quiet on purpose and that will tell me all I need to know.
4. Asking me for directions to a show when I already sent you the call sheet. Self-manage, self-organize, keep track of your emails and paperwork.
5. Being hung up on price – Fire By The Palm is working to keep firedancing rates – both talent and retail – at a premium. Often I feel like Fire By The Palm and Pyrofusion are the only two South Florida fire organizations who give a damn about such things, but we’ll both tell you that negotiations and pricing are custom and situational and trading items of unequal value may also be in play. So just because I got you a $400 show last week doesn’t mean you get to complain that next week’s show only pays $250. I know you’ll feel the difference, because I am in the jobs too, but price varies so manage your expectations accordingly. If you think you’ll only cherry pick the top paying shows, think again.
6. This one is both advice for all and a confidential to a guy who will recognize it: if you ask me what you can do to get work from me, and I tell you, and you don’t do it, you don’t get to come back to me and ask me why I haven’t booked you yet. If you don’t jump through the most basic hoops of developing your product so that it can be presented to others, then what you say you want is NOT in fact what you actually want. Which is fine, I learned that about other fire peeps when we all first started getting together and everybody wanted to troupe up and do big shows and then the choreography and costuming became necessary and suddenly nobody wanted to do what needed to be done.
7. Intoxication: Be sober, or be blacklisted. If we have a hell of a show, we’ll go get a beer AFTER.
And finally, some things that have no impact on talent selection:
1. Whether or not you attend spinjams or Phoenix. I love hanging with my peeps, but if you don’t go to those and you are still a good performer I’ll still hire you.
2. Your age. I’m 39 and in real entertainment terms, I have no business trying to be talent at all. BUT, age, lack of fitness, poor grooming, can all be cleaned up and concealed if necessary for a show. This is tied to costumes but can also be assisted by face and body painting.
3. Whether or not you bottom feed for your own company. It’s bad for you, but your poor marketing choices do not affect your talent selection.
4. How good your poi is. Doesn’t matter if you poi like Maiki Nope or like a beginner, talent is a pass-fail when it comes to being on stage so stop bragging about how you should work because you’re an ‘awesome spinner.’ Awesome spinning is only ONE component of being a fire entertainer, there are many other components and you need to work on all of them.
5. Whether or not you are a producer of your own shows and your own brand. Some entertainment producers will only work with talent because they fear competition and they think producers are more expensive (which sometimes we are), but to me the performance is the thing, if you are doing a good show for Fire By The Palm then what you do when you are not working for Fire By The Palm is not my concern. Need to Burn, Fire A la Mode, Dangerfun Sideshow, and other teams down here all have their own brands, I work with them and if that’s your thing you should do it too.
That’s it for now peeps – I hope you’re all having a great 2012 that is full of fire and fun, and to those that look forward to taking the next steps that are meaningful to them, I look forward to working with you.