It’s hard to make money as a performing artist. It’s even harder when you aren’t being paid for your time.

My performance on the BeScene Cabaret Stage at Northern Pride


Many LGBTQ+ events can’t afford to pay their drag performers! This is especially true for crowdfunded or new events. A lot of us still choose to work these events, as they play a huge part in bringing more paid work to the area. It’s also great for exposure and future bookings. This is true for Northern Pride, with brand new investments allowing new stages to open. This includes Curious Stage, which happened through a sponsorship with Ubisoft. In fact, our drag scene rejoiced when the BeScene Cabaret and Dance tent made it’s way back to pride!


So, it’s all well and good being able to give your time for the good of your community. But, if your expenses aren’t being reimbursed, it opens up a whole other set of issues for performers. This couldn’t be more true for LGBTQ performers who rely on showrunners to help them get to and from venues. Even for local performers, getting enough money to be able to take Ubers helps keep them safe.


So, for the 2019 Northern Pride, I wanted to do an experiment! I wanted to see if I could make enough money through tips to reimburse myself for travel. The goal here is to see if there’s alternative methods to promote the sustainability of drag in the UK. I do not endorse it as a replacement for venues that are already offering travel and equity as part of their bookings. Let’s discuss!

Here’s the Breakdown

Total Earnings due to Performances at Northern Pride (Over two days) *

  • £26.75 in tips
    • £20 via card reader
    • £6.75 in cash


Total Expenses due to Performances at Northern Pride (Over two days) *

  • £23.99 total expenses
    • £15.61 Travel (4 Ubers and 1 single bus ticket)
    • £8 Lunch (Two Lunches, including drinks.)
    • £0.38 Card Reader Transaction Fees

*This doesn’t include expenses taken on due to off pride bookings. Inglot Metrocentre had me booked for an hour after my performance on the Saturday. They reimbursed me with £160 in Inglot products for my appearance which was also to cover my expenses. I was also gifted a lot of drinks for free, which was not included in earnings either.


As you can see, I not only broke even but I also profited by £2.76. If I was getting paid a booking fee for being there, £2.76 wouldn’t be enough. But, for a stage where very few performers got paid, this was amazing for a proof of concept.


Let me express that travel expenses should always be a reimbursable expense for any performer at any venue. I have no doubt in my mind that if I asked either venue for help getting to and from their Pride stages, help would have been provided. That being said, the fact I could cover the weekend expenses without fuss is very welcome. I spent an hour in total gathering tips after performing.

Why did people tip me?

There’s a few reasons why it worked for me. Here’s a pie chart that shows the biggest reasons why people chose to tip me based for the amount of money that they gave me.


Let’s break down each reason and discuss how it plays into the success of this experiment.

Earnest Support


People really liked my pride number! I had a huge outreach after my BeScene performance. More than I ever had since going full-time. A big part of this was many of the people who saw me at Drag Idol could see the improvement in my skills as a performer.


On top of this, on being told that I took tips and choosing an amount to give me, £9.80 was tipped to me by 4 different patrons. An important thing to note is that 2 of these tips were given by close friends. They are obviously more interested in supporting me as a friend. That being said, with two complete strangers choosing to give me their money, it’s clear this reason is important.


This category had the biggest disparity between the tip amount. The largest tip was £5, whereas the smallest was 80p and was not taken by card reader.
Sympathy


This was such an exciting finding- I didn’t expect so many people to donate for this reason. Most people didn’t use the card reader for this. The majority of the £8.50 was given to me by younger people (17 or younger) in £1 coins or less.


Of the main categories, this was the most neutral. People weren’t tipping me because I was providing something positive! Most tipped me because I told them why I was taking tips. That made me sad, but it also shows that there should be an impotus on donating out of actual enjoyment, not because you can.


Novelty


There was a large novelty factor to it. I mean, I’m a drag queen with a card reader stuck to my head! Pretty much everyone in this category gave me £1, except one person who gave me a £2 tip.


This category was all positive sentiment. People were really excited to see someone do something different! That was rewarded with the smallest tip I had set up on the card reader.


This is a category which venues should focus on. Creating more interesting ways to donate engages the audience in being a patron. Any other way to give money other than the classic bucket should be celebrated.

£1.45 was tipped with no reason given.

What’s Next?

For future experiments, I’m going to be up front with venues before hand that I plan to do this. Helping venues start a tipping culture only helps if they get involved. It could help attract larger performers that otherwise wouldn’t work at the venue. This holds most true for community organisations, who have small budgets.


A lot of work is needed to prime audiences to the concept of tipping. Because I was going in fresh, not one person directly asked to give me money, they all had to be told that I accept tips first. Meanwhile in the USA, most patrons will hand out dollar bills to drag artists as they perform. This allows new performers to start making money for their work from the get-go.


In the future, any event I run will be an open tip event with transactions taking place with a bucket and a card reader. I hope this will help start a tipping culture for drag in the Tyne & Wear area. This will be a slow process making it a regular part of most drag shows. The barrier to entry is only £19.99 for the card reader, making it an affordable option for most venues.


I would love to hear back from venues, other performers, and organisations about what they think about my experiment. If you have feedback please comment below or reach out privately to my social media or email. Thanks!
I hope this case study has been useful! You might also like this article about money: Does it matter how much money a digital marketer makes?