By Jo Weldon, Author of The Burlesque Handbook and Founder of The New York School of Burlesque
Do you hate writing your bio? Everybody does! But I’ve done it many many times, for myself as well as for others, and there are ways to make it easier.
Your bio serves several functions. In an application, it helps to convince producers you’re interesting or qualified. In show promotion, it gives press interview topics and it makes potential audience members curious to see you. During production, it gives the emcee something to say about you before you perform. Thinking about these functions helps you understand what to put into your bio. It’s not a resume or CV; it’s a snapshot of you, an entertaining teaser about your style. It’s ideal if it’s fun to read, but professional and realistic. The goal is to get people interested.
Quick summary 1-10:
1) Write it in the third person.
2) Since this is a general bio, write it about you rather than about your character or persona, unless you have a specific reason to write it in character.
3) Start with your stage name and the city where you reside. You only need to give your legal name upon request, and they need to know in which city you reside for various reasons including considering paying for your travel.
4) Follow with your tag line or one piece of significant info, then make yourself sound interesting, using good grammar and complete sentences, for 100-250 words. It’s usually best to do three sentences after your tag line: the most important/interesting thing you hope the emcee will say when introducing you, the second most important thing, and the third most important thing.
5) List your accomplishments and credits. If you’re new and you don’t have any, emphasize your education, inspirations, other skills, hobbies, goals, etc. This may be used by the emcee, but it’s also to help producers to evaluate your level as a performer. Remember, a lot of people will love that you’re a freshly minted beginner if you are one — you don’t have to pretend you’re not.
6) Give more detail about your artistic vision. Consider writing a mission statement for this third paragraph, which can be in first person in quotes. The emcee will probably never read this far, but a festival producer probably will.
Read the above aloud to make sure they read smoothly. See if there’s someone you trust to whom you can read it aloud. Support is good, but at this point you also need critical insights.
List at the end:
7) Include relevant contact information.
8) Include your website and no more than two professional (not personal) social media links, ideally public accounts that use your stage name.
9) Include a link to hi-res photos, both studio and live performance, no password required to view.
10) Include a link to a few videos of you, no password required to view.
If you don’t have some of the above, that’s fine, unless the producer requires it, in which case you’ll have to get it. If you’re new, some producers will be happy to accommodate you because they love having new performers in the show. Others like to work with only seasoned professionals, so you may have to wait to contact them for certain gigs.
If you’re still stymied (and most of us are, when it comes to writing bios), try another perspective: think of it as a series of quick answers to interview questions. Take a look at interviews with burlesque performers and note what’s asked. The most common interview questions in burlesque are:
What is your stage name? (There’s no need to include your legal name unless it is your stage name.)
Do you have a tagline? (See The Burlesque Handbook for my guidance on tag lines.) If so, make that your first sentence. If you don’t have a tagline, just say something really important about you. “Performing for the very first time” or “personal burlesque consultant to the Queen” or “author of ten books on bonobos” or whatever crucial bit of info you want them to know. This must be short and punchy, so that if it is the only thing the emcee says about you, you feel acknowledged, and there is not a long draggy description of you that brings the energy down before you pop out and SHOW them who you are.
Where are you from?
What inspires you? How did you get interested in burlesque? Why do you love burlesque?
Do you have any specialties? What are you known for?
So a quick bio could say:
Pepper Au Poivre is the spicy dish with the saucy personality! Hailing from New York City, they are known for their elaborate puppetry and surprising costume changes. They were originally inspired by the inventive and confrontational performance art they first saw in a basement theater on the lower east side. After hiring legendary drag/burlesque performer Queen Eileen to coach them, they developed their own style of raunchy and glamourous political commentary through striptease. Pepper brings a unique element of variety to every show.
Let’s break that down from the viewpoint of the producer reading it:
Pepper Au Poivre is the spicy dish with the saucy personality! (This is actually fairly meaningless, but it’s fun for the emcee to say. Just know that taglines that are too specific in character can be incongruous, for example this one followed by a solemn number. Also, do not say you’re “the first” or “the best” anything — producers really don’t like it, and you’re probably wrong.) Hailing from New York City (everybody wants to know where everybody is from), they are known for their elaborate puppetry (puppets! oh, that’s different!) and surprising costume changes (I wonder what those look like?). They were originally inspired by the inventive and confrontational performance art they first saw in a basement theater on the lower east side (so maybe not expecting classic showgirl routines). After hiring legendary drag/burlesque performer Queen Eileen (history! depth! hard work!) to coach them (takes direction! follows instructions!), they developed their own style (oh, something different?) of raunchy (I love raunch!) and glamourous (I love glamour!) political commentary (most burlesquers are kind of liberal, so I’m guessing that’s where this is going) through striptease (oh yay, definitely good for a burlesque show). Pepper brings a unique element of variety to every show (I want a unique element of variety in my show!).
This titillating paragraph should be followed by a list of your accomplishments, presented in complete sentences. Accomplishments include testimonials, awards, press quotes, appearances, etc. Most of us are desperate to validate ourselves and will start spewing a list of our awards and degrees immediately, which is understandable, but not really not necessary. Present yourself as an entertainer and performer first, and then give them your qualifications. Some performers talk about their signature numbers, but this is often not very interesting, or doesn’t sound as unique as it may be. If you say, “their signature balloon number,” for instance, that isn’t really rare enough to mention. It’s interesting if you performed it onstage with Beyonce or it caused a riot in Times Square, but it’s not interesting just because you feel possessive about it.
If you have one, you can wrap it up with an artist’s mission statement. If you don’t have a mission statement, you can simply talk about some of your favorite experiences in burlesque, and possibly some long term goals.
This is rather a lot of material, but it is presented in a fashion that producers can easily pick and choose what they need. You want the first paragraph to stand alone, as it is likely all they use.
If in doubt, read the bios of other burlesque performers and see which aspects can work for you.
Keep it handy! Be ready to send it in a flash.
Remember, reread it once a year to see if you need to update!