Leda Petit is a bit of a legend around my neighbhourhood. New Zealand’s own Queen of New Zealand burlesque, her talents range from tantalizing solo shows to corporate events, group performances and private parties. Leda’s also the sprightly lass in charge of the Auckland branch of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art Group, where young artists (such as myself) go along to draw beautiful women
I’ve seen Leda perform several times, and am stoked to be able to talk to her about the business of burlesque, and where she finds those amazing costumes.
Firstly, we just want to know who you are, and what you do. Can you share your journey from Mini-Leda to burlesque sensation?
Well to start with I wasn’t always known as Leda Petit! I started in burlesque picking up clothes in a sweet little comedic routine as Judy Garment for one of Auckland’s first burlesque troupes, The Hootchy Kootchy Girls (HKG). The HKG was a wonderful place to learn the basics of burlesque stage craft, and I had a few years to expand the character and hone my performance under the guidance of Erin Basta, the director & choreographer.
After a time I decided it was time to expand and to titillate audiences under my own name. I had a desire to create and choreograph acts of my own, which involved more extravagant props & costuming, which could be stripped away at my own pace & to my own music choices. With this new step forward came a new stage name & Leda Petit was born. The title of burlesque sensation their for the taking & by producing quality classic burlesque acts I supported the audience’s belief in me.
Leda Petit (photo by Luke Tarver)
As of today, right now, how’s business going? What are your current projects? What are you excited about?
Business in 2011 has been relatively slow. Generally corporate gigs & private parties keep you busy in between producing your own shows or burlesque revues, but with money for such frivolous things in short supply it has certainly lowered my burlesque business! People always want to know if you will do things for less money, or even free, but ultimately, I charge what I charge because I’ve paid my dues. I have been performing burlesque for 5 years now & have performed internationally. I’m no longer an amateur performer!
That said, I certainly have more time to put together some of my dream shows. I’m currently working on a new act to debut this year, & have a couple of shows I want to produce together with another burlesque performer, Magdalene. They should be suitably extravagant & glamour-filled.
How long did it take you to grow your business from the initial idea to where you are today? Was there any one event that served as a catylist for your success?
I would say that it has taken a good 3 years to get to where I am today. Nobody ever starts at the top, you have to continually improve yourself. Certainly, in dance, you never give up the opportunity to learn more. Because I started performing burlesque in NZ before it had reached the height of popularity it has today, I definitely felt I had to try harder to win the audience over. It was something so new to most audience members. I was constantly having to educate the audience on top of being a great performer. Elegance, good manners, strong business sense & hard work have never failed me when it comes to success.
Leda performing her famous birthbath routine (photo by Luke Tarver)
Did you go to university? What was your experience like? How useful has your degree been in getting you to where you are now?
I have never gone to university, although I am considering attending in the near future so as to better expand my love of burlesque into full time work. Until this point everything I have learned has been through mentors or experience, which is the way I work best. If they still ran apprenticeships I would be a happy lady! However, you have to have the right tools, & sometimes a University degree is what you need. Although of course I could have it all wrong & be on the right track already. [laughs] Ask me again in a year or two.
How did you learn about the business side of your industry? Do you have a mentor/business coach/critique group/association or did you learn it all yourself?
Contrary to popular belief, I do have to have a day job to support my lavish costuming & production values! Fortunately for me, my day job is working as an actors agent. This has given me an invaluable understanding of the performance industry, what is & is not acceptable (either from my myself or others), & how to protect myself & my image through contracts. There are many fantastic burlesque performers, but it is a lot harder to manage & promote yourself without this knowledge.
Who or what has been a support or inspiration to you throughout your journey?
My boyfriend Brett has been my support & inspiration throughout my journey. He patiently listens as a brainstorm new shows, & new acts, when I know such an over-saturation of rinestone & glitter it must be at times. He’s always there to help me work out problems, small or large, & he’s always a helping hand during shows. He’s also the best PR person a girl can have!
You work a diverse range of income streams and different types of gigs. Did you intentionally set out to do this? What are the advantages and disadvantages of managing so many different projects?
Well, as I said before, although I’ve had some very successful years money-wise in my burlesque work, being an NZ based performer is not a way to make a living. Unless you have a patron to help fund your dreams, all costuming & props are paid for out of your own pocket & consistent work in burlesque isn’t guaranteed. There isn’t the demand for it here that there is overseas. When your work from performing isn’t as regular, it pays (literally) to have other sources of income. For me this includes working at the agency during the day.
The upside and the downside to being on your own is the fact you don’t just swap hours worked for money earned. How are you finding this? Do you earn more now or less than when you worked a normal job?
Nothing compares to being paid to do something you love doing. However, like they say, a girl’s gotta eat & has to be paid accordingly. Generally there is little understanding of the workload that goes into performing, the cost of getting there, the prep time & the hours of rehearsals, not to mention the fact that you are paying for a unique performance, specific to the burlesque artist you’ve hired. Performers in general here are often underpaid & overworked. Luckily, as the sole manager of my career, I have the power to say no whenever I feel like I’m not going to be paid for my work!
What’s one thing you’ve done that dramatically improved your earnings?
Asked for more money! Never undervalue yourself. You’re always worth what you ask for.
I’d love to talk about promotion. What have you done to bring attention to Leda Petit?
The best promotion you can do is by performing in shows. Your work speaks for itself then, & the power of word of mouth is strong. Another tip for burlesque performers is to do like Gypsy Rose & Dita von Teese: Always be well groomed & glamorous, whenever possible. You will be a walking billboard for your dedication to your craft. I hate leaving the house for a night out looking less than a million bucks.
What have you tried that doesn’t work? Why do you think that is?
I’ve tried the competition route. At certain points in my career I’ve felt like it could be beneficial to have a ‘title’ that I won. Of course, win or lose, competitions never feel right to me. Often you have to pay to enter, when the organisers are making all their money off you, & what should be a communal, fun effort between burlesque performers is made strangely standoffish. Besides, the best titles I’ve been given have been from the press – ‘Queen of NZ Burlesque’ is one – & they are the best reflections of public opinion & true marks of success.
What promotional activites give you the greatest return?
Photoshoots, video clips (whether showreels or interviews) & dressing to impress. If people are thinking about hiring you, the best way to convince them is to show them what you’ve got.
(Photo by Barney McDonald)
How important is networking?
Networking is invaluable. Always have the time to meet people who are interested in what you do, even if at the time they only want to say hello & have a quick chat. Always have a business card handy & you never know what may come of it. I recently had a painter contact me about doing an exhibition that would involve surrealist burlesque paintings of myself that came out of a brief chat about life in the Wine Cellar.
Do you get more out of face-to-face or online networking?
Personally I feel like you get more out of face-to-face networking than online. Online is a good way to do your research, to find out who’s legitimate & who’s not, but nothing beats the personal touch.
How do you approach online networking? What tools and techniques do you use? Do you actively seek out people you’d love to get to know, or just let the whole thing happen organically?
I’m an organic online networker. I mostly utilise Facebook, eventfinder & The Big Idea to network – this includes promoting & listing the burlesque based events I run. Having a prominent online presence gives you a validity that always stands you in good steed should you need to approach someone online yourself.
What kind of face-to-face networking events do you attend? How do you approach this kind of networking?
I consider all outings social or work-related to be a chance for face-to-face networking. As long as you are open & accessible you will never miss an opportunity to meet someone who you could work with in the future.
The Entreprenurial Life:
What are three tools of your creative business you absolutely could not live without?
Computer. Costumes. Brainpower!
What have been some of the best things to happen to you because of your business?
Getting to travel overseas to perform has to top the list! Meeting & being inspired by all the other burlesque performers, circus stars, musicians, dancers, photographers & costume designers that make this glorious genre tick. The sense of accomplishment that comes with starting at the bottom & moving further & further up the ladder of success. To name a few …
Where do you get your stunning costumes from?
My costumes come from a few places. My sewing is limited, so I tend to make only my pasties myself. My stockings come from Secrets in Lace. Flo Foxworthy, a very talented woman, makes my full burlesque costumes, from bras to panties to corsets. She’s an incredible seamstress & very good at understanding how to put together a costume for maximum tease. I also have a corset by Ivy of Asphyxia Corsetry. It is a a marvel in tight-laced engineering!
Are you a workaholic? How does your business impact your personal life?
Oh definitely. When I have a show to produce I literally forgo all social outings. It’s important if you want to do your job properly & create a memorable piece of entertainment. The same goes when I have a show I’ve been asked to perform in. I spend time every day rehearsing, making sure that I know my acts inside & out, & giving myself the confidence to deal with any sort of costume malfunction that may arise.
However, the great thing about burlesque is that it is a social kind of work & so you don’t feel completely starved for company during those long hours dressing the stage, going over PR opportunities & rehearsing.
(photo by Barney McDonald)
What have been your priorities when setting up your business? What were the reasons you’ve set things up in exactly this way?
My priorities are:
- to create acts that are unique, glamorous, elegant & showcase traditional burlesque that entertain
- to have a professional attitude at all times (sometimes this means being a hardass!)
- to protect myself & my image
To me these are the core of my business. Without them, I would have anything to market in the first place & no way of protecting what I create. It’s important, especially to me, to remember that even when you do something you love, you sell yourself short by not expecting to be treated as a professional. So many burlesque performers allow themselves to be ripped off; thinking that it’s ok to do a show for no money just so you can “get publicity”, or allowing promoters to own all images/video footage of them taken at their shows. It’s sadly common place. Remember to ask yourself: “Are they making money off your performance?” If so, then you have the right to demand to be treated professionally.
Do you set goals for yourself? What kinds of goals have you set for the coming year?
I do like to set goals, small or large. My goal for this year is to expand my knowledge of the business side of what I do, so that I can better protect my career & hopefully expand my love of burlesque into other areas. I have great plans for a beautiful burlesque bar sometime in the future….
Have you ever had negative press or comments made about yourself or your business? How do you deal with them?
Of course. I don’t think it’s possible to put yourself in the entertainment business & not receive negative press or comments at some point in your life. If the nature of that negativity is a review, the best thing to do is to learn what you can from it, so that you can improve. This kind of negativity should ultimately make you stronger.
If however, the nature of the negativity comes from someone choosing to speak slanderously about you, the best way of dealing with it is to never engage on a personal level. As long as you are able to keep a professional attitude & not resort to the same sort of tactics, you will always come out on top. Because ultimately people know the difference between constructive criticism & backstabbing, & it won’t affect your career at all!
What’s the best thing about being Leda Petit?
The best thing about being Leda Petit is the chance to constantly challenge myself as I explore the ever growing world of NZ burlesque. I’ve been here since it’s beginning & I plan to see it through to the end
What do you think the future holds for Leda Petit? What exciting projects loom on the horizon or in the back of your imagination?
Well my greatest plan is the burlesque bar. I hope the future holds a very successful translation of that from dream to reality!
Thank you Leda for taking the time to talk to us about the fabulous and glamourous world of burlesque. I know I look forward to your next show with great anticipation! If anyone’s got any questions for Leda, shout out in the comments below.
Email me if you’re keen to participate in an EPIC interrogation! Warning – there are thumbscrews involved.
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