On Paying Presenters by Bendyogagirl

This is the text to my latest blog post, which can be found here. The blog has more links in it than this text…

Thanks to the amazing Mollena Williams, and the incredible Andrea Zanin, I’ve had some very good reading this week around presenting, being paid to present, and some event revenue models. If you haven’t read their posts, and you are a producer and/or presenter in sex positive contexts, (or considering becoming one) please do so. There’s also some interesting dialogue here, if you’re on Fetlife. Topologists’ words are actually what has catalyzed me writing about this, because his observation that the cost of kink events would have to be exponentially higher in order to pay presenters is, in my opinion, spot on.

This post is probably going to be a little long – I’ll be writing about presenting and producing…

I’m coming to this conversation as a presenter who gets compensated to present. I consider being reimbursed for travel costs, hotel nights, food, and event fees (and often with a 2nd ticket) compensation. I often teach 4 or more workshops at events, and I’m booked for 7 major events between now and the end of September: Shibaricon, DOFusion, TESFest, Floating World, Paradise Unbound, COPE, and Rope Camp. I’m on the National Circuit now – presenting at an average of 2 events per month, and there is no way in h e double hockey sticks I could afford to attend so many events if I had to pay out of pocket.

Aside from seeing friends and meeting new folks at events, I have opportunity to do work for NELA, as I am now the Director of Programming and am responsible for the classes/presenters we will have at the 2013 Fetish Fair Fleamarket – and also ongoing classes… Part of what events do for me is give me an opportunity to attend classes by presenters we might like to have a the Flea – vetting is a good thing.

So I’m a presenter and a producer – and as a producer my primary role is in hiring presenters… Circular yes – also gives me a point of view similar to Andrea’s, although I wouldn’t say we are in total agreement.

As a presenter I’m satisfied if I can do something as close to cost neutral as possible. Not everyone comps travel (if I’m driving, for example), and since I have to eat no matter where I am, I consider help with food a bonus.

I teach because it’s my dharma. I would be lying if I claimed there isn’t an egoic aspect of this – it’s nice to be recognized. Like Mollena, I have a long history with performance and being on stage – so yeah, Zanin’s observations bout fame are relevant in my case. The intent I hold with whatever notoriety I have is “do no harm”.

Before I get all transparent on your asses about the Flea, let me get transparent on your asses about the strategy I’ve been using as a presenter.

A little background: I was somewhat active in my local scene here in Boston for years in the D/s community, most notably through MAsT Mass, which is a pansexual MAsT chapter I co-founded with a Dominant to whom I was in service something like 5 years ago now – maybe 6. When we separated and I started to hang out with Percival, my experience of ‘the scene’ expanded to events. Lots of events. Fun events with what I thought was a missing piece – I didn’t see myself represented, nor did I have the experience of classes being relevant to me enough. Obviously this is my opinion – I’m not laying claim to any truth, mkay?

So I told Percy “I want to teach in kinky contexts”, and he being the well-connected fellow that he is… he helped me to get in the door of a few events. I think the first kinky context class I taught was a yoga class at Bound in Boston three-ish years ago. Even with the ‘in’ of Percy, I have had to prove myself as a presenter. I mean, if I sucked at teaching, nobody would bring me in, right?

Lucky for me, teaching is something I’m good at. There isn’t arrogance in that statement – it’s accurate. There are a lot of things i’m not good at, such as playing pool or marketing, but teaching? That I can do.

I’ve always treated going to events, presenting at events, and working with event producers as work. I bring my most professional game possible – work to the best of my abilities within the frameworks of each event’s process. I say please and thank you. I show my face in the dungeon. I walk around the event space at somewhat regular intervals so I can be available if attendees want to chat. I accept that my private lives with some of my teaching colleagues aren’t going to be so private at events.

For each new, 90 minute class I write, there can be upwards of 40 hours of work just on the class, not to mention the background knowledge I have that goes into it. To give you an example: I’ve been meditating and practicing Yoga in some form for over 20 years, so there’s all of that experience. My teaching certification cost approximately $10,000 and took 3 months, so there’s that behind what I do. I’ve been in ongoing mentorships and continuing education around just the yoga (not to mention all of the other stuff) for a solid 10 years. So there are thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars behind even a simple yoga class that I teach. And most of the time I’m at events, I’m not getting an honoraria to do so.

I never planned on making presenting part of my livelihood, but as the years have passed, it’s become increasingly necessary for me to make at least some income from my activities as Bendyogagirl. Else, I need to dial back a bit, do fewer events, etc…

So what am I doing to make money as Bendy? Well, i’m not expecting event producers to take care of that for me. At some point it is going to make logical sense for me to ask for honoraria to present, but I honestly don’t think I’m there. Yet. I’m probably in the 2nd tier of presenters – not as big a draw as Lee Harrington, Claire Adams, or Midori, but known outside of my market (geographically speaking).

What I’m doing is working on product-izing that which is unique to me: my knowledge. This is happening slower than I’d prefer… and it is happening. I’m writing a Yoga for Kinksters Workbook as a pre-amble to the YFK Book. I am working on audio instruction for it.. I have two other writing projects based on classes I teach in the works, etc…

If attendees at events want to purchase my wares, awesome. If not? Awesome. Takes the responsibility for money out of the hands of the producers and into the hands of my market. I could also do intensives and weekend-long events, like my colleagues Lee and Midori. I have one scheduled for July up in Burlington VT, and am working on scheduling another one in NJ for later in the summer, and I am getting paid for these events. I’m playing to my strengths, and I suggest you consider the same.

Now, to get all transparent on you about the Flea. I should first say that I don’t have the authority to speak for the Board, for NELA or for the Fetish Fair Fleamarket. I do have the authority to speak to my little corner of the universe for the last few years, and that’s programming. One of the mandates Percy made when he came on board at NELA (He was Director of Programming before me) was that the Flea would be a World Class Event from an education perspective, and we (and the many other volunteers who make it happen) have done that.

By Andrea’s definition, the Flea would be a hybrid event. From an organizing perspective, we are 100% volunteer-driven. The Board of Directors is managed via volunteering. We have literally hundreds of folks who come on for the weekend to help. In exchange, we offer a complimentary entrance to the Flea for X number of hours (I think 4), and then when people volunteer beyond that, there are more perks, from T-shirts, to a party.

The last couple of years I volunteered for the Flea and wasn’t yet on the board, I worked at a high enough level (hours wise) to ‘earn’ a room for the weekend. I think my time was somewhere in the 300 hours pre-con throughout the year, and then I arrive on site on Thursday evening and stay through till Monday morning, working, teaching, and volunteering.

From what I’ve been told, NELA is considered ‘one of the good guys’ when it comes to presenting. With a $12,000 programming budget and room nights at $168 each (that’s per night, not total), it is simply not possible to pay honoraria (cash) to each and every presenter, and I’m OK with that. Here’s why:

Beyond the number of classes a person teaches, there are other considerations that play. Considerations like:

Will this person put butts in seats? — is the name recognition there, so that it will encourage people to buy tickets?
Can the presenter fill one of the big rooms? The main rooms in our event can seat 300+ people – by fill I’m not talking about bodies – I’m talking about ‘can the presenter teach effectively in such a large space?’
What does this person have to offer that’s unique? Hate to say it, but there are a gagillian people who can teach single column ties, but not all that many who can speak specifically to a Third Gender as it relates to Transfolk.
Are they willing to share a hotel room? This alone can free up hundreds of dollars we can put somewhere else – like in bringing in other presenters.
Is the presenter aware of and OK with the fact that we are a gateway event – over 1/2 of attendees who respond to our feedback forms are at their first event? Can they teach beginners?
Can we offer other stuff to the presenter beyond $$, such as the ability to bring and sell books, DVDs, etc.. to the event and not have to pay a vending fee?
How much are travel costs? When someone from the midwest teaches at the Flea, airfare can be over $500.. add to that $400 in hotel nights, and that’s almost 10% of the budget – for one presenter – before any honoraria. You bet your ass we are going to have that person teach a bunch of classes… and we are going to be brining them in because they will get butts in seats.
Do we need to add extra room nights, because someone is flying from a distance?
We strive to maintain at least a 1/2 room night per class compensation model, and we are mostly able to do that. If we are far along in the process, and folks come on board in later minutes, I might not have budget left to offer money or room nights. I will always strive to do something else in stead, such as offering more comps, etc..

A word on comps – my perspective is COMP COMP COMP. It costs us nothing as an event to comp, and it creates good juju with presenters. And if a presenter is poly and bringing more than one partner? We will comp all partners. Why the hell not? We are confident that the money folks save on comps can be used to buy stuff from vendors and other presenters, and this is good, indeed.

As I don’t have permission from past Flea presenters to disclose individual agreements, I will leave those out of this post. Just know that our intent is to be as fair and balanced as we can, given the constraints of the budget, and what that can mean is that folks are not compensated at the same rates. This creates tiers.

Some thoughts on tiers and presenters. I strongly disagree with any notion that there are different classes of presenters – that somehow one person should be treated better than another, simply because s/he is some international star. That said, I do believe there are different levels at which a person may be as a presenter.

Newer presenters lack some of the teaching skills that folks who have been doing it longer have (in general). More seasoned presenters will have a greater understanding of the pre-production process and, quite frankly, often make my job easier (in general). An up-and coming voice will benefit from being on the same bill as a Midori or a Laura Antoniou (always). Even someone who has been teaching a long time might not be a fit for our event. One of the wonderful things about this world is that there are plenty of events.

If you are a person who is presenting and feel as though you are being treated ‘less’ than because you teach the same number of classes as someone else and don’t get the same compensation, take a look at what that person is doing – how they are behaving? Is that person working to build their own brand? Are they blogging? Do they volunteer time for events and organizations? Are they writing books? Are they featured on Kink Academy? Are they from far away, and you are local? Are you whining and complaining because you aren’t as popular as someone else? Do you think that happens in a vacuum? Have you bothered to ask producers for what you want? Are you ready to walk away if you don’t have your needs met?

I will tell you all flat out, that I watch ‘the big names’ – and I have used the opportunities I’ve been given by being one of the ‘bottom tier’ names at events in the past to gleam from, learn from, and notice how folks who are farther down the path than I act and behave. There are volumes to learn.

I’m sure there are producers who hold the intent of getting everything they can from their presenters for as little as possible, but the vast majority of folks with whom I interact aren’t like that. They are kind-hearted, well-indended people doing the best they can with what they have.

Last year, I wrote a series of blog posts on What I’ve Learned from Raves, Collectives and Burning Man… They have relevance here, so I’m including a link.

Thanks for reading!