I get asked by a lot of up and coming performers whether I can represent them and get them professional performer work. The answer is almost always a maybe - dependent on whether there is a gap in the market for their act, I am getting inquiries for that kind of performance, and frankly if they are good enough. That said there are certain things that a performer should have in place that will drastically shift the scale from "maybe but probably not" to "there's a reasonable chance I can book you". I have tried to compile a checklist here of absolute must haves for performers looking to get more work. This list is comprised of what I look for in an application email. If you have any to add then please leave them in the comments below.
1) An Act
It sounds dumb but you'd be amazed at the number of emails I receive from people who don't seem to have anything in particular I can sell - just a random list of skills made to look as long as possible - "body burning, double body burning, fire eating, fire eating in a bra, single fire staff, single fire staff on a stool while picking my nose, single fire fan, triple fire fan with one between my cleavage". This is inevitably listed under the vague term "multi-skilled performer" which almost always translates directly to "I suck at pretty much everything I do". I'm going to tell you a secret here - pretty much every performer can stilt walk, every performer knows how to run a fire torch up their arm.
Decide what it is that actually makes you good. None of the skills I mentioned above are useless, but none are particularly unique either (except the fan in the cleavage - if you do this act get in touch). It may be that your "act" is a package - "I do a set of stilt walking, a set of ambient fire performing, and a set of dancing". Alternatively it might be a tight 5 minute juggling or aerial act. Finally it could be a combination of the two - "I do a tight ten minute fire show but will also do 30 minutes of ambient meet and greet fire performance." Obviously if you have several different types of act you can break them all down in this fashion.
Identifying your act(s) in this way defines what you do into something an agent can actually sell, rather than jut a vague list of meaningless skills. It will also mean when you are approached by an agent or a client you can confidently explain to them what it is you do.
2) A price
Again this sounds ridiculous but it is really common for people to be extremely vague about their pricing. Decide what it is you want to work for, or at the very least a range. I think that a lot of performers are frightened to scare off agents or clients by quoting too high, or feel they will lose out if they quote too low. This will happen - I can't count the number of times I have rocked up to a gig only to pull my car into the drive of a mansion and the very first thought to run through my head was "crap I should have added a zero". What will happen more by not having a price in mind though is you will look unprofessional or end up low balling a client. Being uncertain about your price when asked screams un-professionalism.
3) Some photos
You need these, not just one or two from that gig you did six years ago, lots. Every new act, every new costume, every chance you get - high quality photos. Not next month, not tomorrow, now. Not on your iphone, get someone to take them properly. Sending clients some slamming photos of your act is the best way to set you apart from your competition. Something that will lose you a pitch 9/10 is saying "I don't have any good photos now, here is one from two years ago, just imagine me in costume instead of in my jeans" and I can send you some in a month." Too late - gig has gone to a performer half as good as you who has awesome photos. Trust me, I have been there enough times.
It is a sad fact that what you are doing in the photo plays almost no relevancy - in fact most of the fire performer photos I send clients are just of a performer standing holding their prop. It sucks but it's great news if you aren't very good. You have no excuse, pay a photographer if you have to, or find a mate with a good eye, or contact a local university photography student (they need to get used to working for free anyway), or whatever. Get photos, and keep taking them.
4) A video
Almost as important as the photos is an awesome promo video - again of every act you do. If you can't get a promo video film the act in its entirety until you do have one. If you have to pay someone to make one, it will pay for itself time and time again. A good promo video is around a minute to a minute and a half and is the equivalent of a money shot compilation. If you don't know what I mean by that please don't google it - a good promo video defines your act and shows all the awesome parts of it. What a good promo video is not is a 5 minute long video where the first minute and a half is the atmospheric build up of your act. It's fine to have on stage where you can actually, you know, build some atmosphere, but when an agent is watching a video on his phone screen on a noisy night bus he doesn't give a crap.
5) A costume
Get a costume. Even if it's not crucial to your act or theme, get a costume. Something slick, and professional.
6) A phone and an email address
Both of which you check regularly. I have some performers who in the last few years have probably lost a few thousand pounds of work simply because I can't get hold of them. When an agent is booking a gig they don't want to be chasing you up, they want to get contract signed, money in, and go back to pretending they are living the dream of doing no work for a living. Check your phone, check your email address. If an agent or potential client calls you and you miss it - call them back.
7) A professional attitude
If you just want one gig - this won't matter. If you want to be called again, this is the most important thing on the list. Be easy to get on with, be flexible, don't be a diva, smile even when the client is being difficult, and whine about it all when you're in the pub and out of ear shot of anyone that matters. So much of performance comes from reputation and word of mouth - if you gain a reputation for being reliable, well presented, on time, and friendly your career will be a whole lot easier (note: still not easy).
If you have any more tips please feel free to leave them in the comments below. If you'd like to abuse me you can do so here publicly or by email privately. My next post will be on applying to agents with notes from an expert in the industry (even more expert than my fake expertise).
By James Guiver