Like so many others in the sideshow industry, to make ends meet I've had to diversify, innovate, and just plain scramble. On any given day, I can find myself writing catalogs for upscale denim companies, gluing on false eyelashes in a dive bar bathroom, or addressing a convention of executives on the importance of bringing creativity and fearlessness in to the work place—or some combination thereof. This is the side of showbiz we rarely see and the reality that most journeymen performers live. We are the ones who do not have an entourage, royalties, nor (until recently) health insurance.
I'm not writing this in complaint. I love my jobs. But I feel the need to provide the world with enough of a peek behind the curtain in order to see the sweat that goes into the sparkle of the sideshow. There are many reasons for this, but chief among them for me is the low value we as a society put on creativity, and the way we dehumanize the body in the working world. To me the former means a constant battle to get people to pay a viable rate for my skills, and the latter because my body is vulnerable to people's expectations.
Put in real world terms, clients often think my demands for payment are outrageous, especially when it comes to working at their parties. If I had a nickel for every time an amateur party planner countered my request for money with “but you can hang out afterwards and have something to drink,” I'd actually have some serious change in my bank account. Your party is my office, so, sure, while I work a lot of fun places—bars, rock shows, birthday parties—I'm still there to work and I bring an appreciable skill set with me, one that's the result of thousands of hours of work, planning, travel, and professional investment. So as much as I love your applause (and I do), I also pay my rent the same way you do (hint: not in drinks). If I am going to pack approximately 30 pounds of equipment and costumes into a rolling suitcase and haul it up and down the subway stairs, sit patiently in basements and bathrooms until I'm called to entertain a crowd, then do up to a dozen sets a night of one of the world's rarest skills (it's estimated there are fewer than 300 other living sword swallowers on a planet of 7 billion), it's just not unreasonable that I go home with a little money. I love entertaining you, but I want to remind you that there are people who love accounting, and you wouldn't expect them to do your taxes for the thrill of it and some leftover cake.
Private events are the mainstay of my sideshow income. They're also my biggest leap of faith in terms of my own safety. I generally believe in the goodness of people, but I'm also a born New Yorker and a woman alone (albeit one with weaponry in her bag), so I walk in to every situation with one eye open. I never know what I'll find behind any given door. In the past it's been everything from fancy sweet sixteens, to one of world's biggest R&B stars, to some rather unusual Christmas parties. Only very occasionally do I genuinely fear for myself, and when I do, it's generally the result of guests who have had too much to drink and consider the bodies of performers to be public property. This is a sadly common complaint among female artists of all kinds, who are expected to ward off wandering hands and inappropriate remarks with professional patience and polite deference.