How to become a burlesque events promoter

burlesque performer


How to become a burlesque events promoter like Fiona Fletcher of Fletch Productions

Want to know my story in a nutshell? I threw off a Lancashire upbringing of working men’s clubs variety acts, escaped a grim future of emptying bins in NY and became a burlesque entertainment production company instead!

In September 2007 I began researching two very different ways to make a living in New York City – performing on the Burlesque/Variety Circuit and throwing trash. I was in the early stages of producing two 30 minute programmes for an American broadcaster in which an MTV presenter would be taken from his plush NY studio to spend a week training in a different profession.

Born and bred in Lancashire, my understanding of Cabaret/Variety shows had been moulded around evenings spent in working men’s clubs with my grandparents watching Chorley’s hottest ventriloquists and Elvis impersonators, coupled with stories of Les Dennis (the early years) being booed so badly at Wigan working men’s club that he had to climb out of a window in his dressing room to make a hasty retreat. Suffice to say, since leaving Lancashire, watching Cabaret/Variety shows as a form of entertainment had never been high on my agenda. Burlesque had also been filed under ‘AVOID’ based on trashy documentaries on Living TV and a burlesque evening I’d attended in 2006.

Cut to early November in New York, and having spent a pretty cold and stinky week hanging off the back of a garbage truck bombing through Greenwich Village at stupid o’clock in the morning, I was looking forward to spending the following week in the warmth of The Cutting Room, Chris Noth’s off-Broadway club that hosts ‘Le Scandal’ – and although I knew it would be an easier week and more up my street than collecting garbage, I was still slightly cautious that I was about to embark on an experience that was somewhere in between the closing credits for Phoenix Nights and Spearmint Rhino.

Within an hour of the first day of filming I discovered how wrong I was to judge Variety based on working men’s clubs and how ignorant I’d been about Burlesque.

What I experienced on the New York Variety scene in the week that followed completely opened my eyes to a whole new world of entertainment, an underground world of weird and wonderful burlesque, variety and circus performers. Stunning, sophisticated, highly-trained, edgy and hilarious burlesque, variety and circus performers. Having spent 6 years as a bass-player and having experienced some of the best nights of my life gigging and hanging out on the Camden gig circuit in the late 90s, I was pretty much convinced that music was my one true source of entertainment… until I visited the late-night haunts of NYC’s variety circuit. A heady mix of burlesque acts, aerialists, contortionists, magicians, showgirls, trick-ropers and cool DJs coupled with stories of A-list celebs buying tables in dark corners at 5000 dollars a pop had me hooked.

I sat on the plane on the way home and thought about setting up my own entertainment/events company. I desperately wanted to bring New York to the UK, I wanted to give people a taste of my experience in New York and wanted to give people a source of entertainment that mixed edgy performers with gob-smacking acts and great music. What was to stop me? I’d had experience of working in theatre, tons of experience of organising gig-nights with cutting edge bands, 8 years experience of budgeting, managing, producing and directing huge live events for TV? What was to stop me? CASH. That old chestnut.

I got back to the UK and begged, stole and borrowed until I raised enough cash to set up my own company, Fletch Productions, and in January 2008 I embarked on my first project as a limited company – to produce New York’s ‘Le Scandal’ at Brighton Fringe.

With the permission of the Producer of ‘Le Scandal’ in New York, I tailored the show for a UK audience and after further research into the performers on the NYC variety circuit, numerous hours staring into the eyes of my trusty friend youTube and 2 further trips to New York, I hand-picked 9 US performers, created a UK based 4-piece gyspy-punk, honky-tonk piano-sing-a-long covers band called The Gents and married them up with 4 glamorous showgirls to welcome guests at front of house and hand out Kazoos to Gents enthusiasts. The performers were a mixture of circus, burlesque and variety and the band covered tracks from Kylie to Nirvana, Talking Heads to Dolly Parton, The White Stripes to Hot Chip, Elvis to Britney Spears. The show was booked by Udderbelly for a 14 night run in the cow at Brighton Fringe in May 2008 and the response was phenomenal; word of mouth spread quickly throughout the run, which led to sell-out shows, great reviews and a nomination for ‘Best International Act’ for Lastest 7’s Festival Awards.

At the same time as producing ‘Le Scandal’ at Brighton Fringe I also produced two one-man shows with two of the Le Scandal performers called ‘Esoterica’ and ‘Marcus Monroe – Extreme Juggler and Comedian’, both of which received great reviews (with Eric Walton also being picked out as one of the highlight acts of Le Scandal).

Re-reading this, I’ve made setting up a business sound pretty easy, but the truth is, it’s been a very rocky ride. I’ve experienced all kinds of horrendous situations and scenerios, from a recommended accountant seriously ripping me off, to being advised by a top London Law Firm to “sack the whole project off as there’s no way the performers will be allowed into the country”, to my appointed PR “company” turning out to be a one-woman band who I paid £3k to do nothing but go on holiday for two weeks before the shows, to cast members going AWOL because they’d taken to “making out” with each other as opposed to rehearsing and to losing large sums of cash in the process.

However, after the enormous challenge of setting up a Limited Company, taking two casting trips to New York and producing three International shows in the space of 4 months and all the stressful nonsense in between, one thing remains at the core of Fletch Productions and that is the desire to search for and provide new and innovative high-end entertainment, the desire to create and direct an event or show that is more than just a magician, a middle-of -the-road jazz band and a character-less girl stripping down to nipple tassels, and the desire to produce shows that really push boundaries. There is nothing more exciting than discovering a performer or show that literally has you gasping in awe or crying with laughter. Whether in Brighton, London, New York or even Lancashire, one thing is for certain – there will always a better source of entertainment out there, and my aim is to search for it, and if I can’t find it I will create it.

Fletch Productions has a number of really exciting shows and events in store for 2008 and 2009 involving artists and musicians from the UK, New York, Australia, Russia and New Zealand including ‘Esoterica’ at Edinburgh Fringe, ‘Burlesque Against Breast Cancer’ – a prestigious charity event taking place at The Old Market/Brighton on 6th November to raise money in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, ‘The Boy With Tape On His Face’ (an award winning one-man show all the way from New Zealand), a new production from our burlesque superheroes from across the pond Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey, a brand new Burlesque/Variety show and numerous bespoke events for private and corporate clients.

Main photo: Brendan Lally, 2.0