I’ve been an emcee professionally for 30 years. I’ll count my leadership at Girl Scout Camp as part of that because I was being paid to wrangle groups of 10-300 people from ages 6-96. I’ve emceed drag king shows (that’s where I really cut my chops entertaining crowds of majority intoxicated people wanting to have a good time), fundraisers, auctions, dance parties, virtual retreats, lesbian talent shows (and no talent shows), cabarets, poetry readings, weddings, virtual fundraisers, burlesque shows, aerobics classes and many many more.

Hi! I’m Bevin! I want to be a good influence on you! This is me Femmeceeing a theater of about 1,500 people in Chicago.

Something I’ve learned from my recent studies in failure is that it’s way easier to teach something that didn’t come easily to you because talent is hard to duplicate. I think I do have some natural talent in this area. (Mercury Sagitarius, I have inherent flair for writing and communicating.)

I have learned a lot in my 10,000+ hours doing this, building on talent but adding wisdom and confidence through experience. I started nervous, and couldn’t have spoken from stage at my high school the way I could at Girl Scout Camp because I experienced camp as a psychologically safe environment.

The best time to get started practicing your skills was ten years ago the next best time is now. Just do it. But maybe start in a psychologically safe environment before diving into a heckling drunk comedy show!

Femmeceeing on my home stage at Rebel Cupcake at Sugarland a dive bar in Brooklyn (RIP). I found setting the tone for a body positive dance party meant we needed a 20-30 min show.

Stage fright. Let’s start here! I felt soooo nervous at first and for years and years. Anytime I’ve had performers at a show with stage fright I was giving a pep talk to this is what I say, “When you’re nervous it means you care about your audience. Give them a great show!”

Eventually as you learn to prepare adequately you won’t get as nervous. But you might never not be nervous and that’s okay!

In the past four years I’ve endeavored to uplevel my interpersonal communication skills and reduce my social anxiety. It’s so fascinating how I could get up in front of a crowd of 70,000 people, unprepared in my pajamas and feel more comfortable than talking to a stranger at the grocery store. I think this is a leftover trauma response from early life bullying (a stranger is not yet a psychologically safe environment and could be scary).

Experience creates confidence and you will get better! Focusing on the love you have for your audience is a really beautiful way to dance with the nerves!

Setting the tone. This is the most important part of emceeing! You’re creating an environment for everyone there to enjoy the experience of the performance.

Contemplate how you want the event to feel for folks and provide the spirit! Teach the audience how to clap or ask them to cheer again if there’s a lackluster response. Emceeing is a lot like leadership–you go the way and show the way.

I also set the tone backstage! If I’m producing the experience I lead a circle of the performers and volunteers backstage to connect to a higher power, our benevolent queer and decolonial ancestors (or whatever is meaningful to you) and ask for guidance and our best sparkle. Perhaps there’s cheering involved. Elevate the spirit!

On stage at the Miss Lez pageant with my emceeing mentor Murray Hill!

Complimenting. I see my job as an emcee to weave the entire experience together with the audience. I find one noteworthy thing about each act and when I get up on stage between acts I mention it. I will usually ask for another round of applause or appreciation.

Once I was emceeing a speed dating event and there were performers between rounds of speed dating. A performer did a particularly violent sadistic erotica reading that was a weird energy for the room. Speed dating is a nervous thing. I forget what I said but whatever compliment I gave or observation made the entire room burst out in appreciative tension reducing laughter.

Trust your comedic impulses but remember punch up not punch down. Do not insult performers, producers or the audience who paid their money, time and attention to attend!

Tipping. This is one of the most important parts of being a drag or burlesque emcee, and in these economic times where the generosity of a few in a community make the events possible for the wider community with different means–encourage tipping!

I do a tipping demo at the beginning of a show to instruct how folks could appreciatively and non-disruptively tip performers. Like literally get a volunteer and a performer and show how one might tip! It can be sexy!*

For the electronic age! Have the venmos/paypals/electronic payment info ahead of time for each act and announce it after their act again! (Tip for producers–have these on signs around the room for the whole show! For a virtual event, post the info at the top and end of each performance/presentation.)

A fat fashion show in Seattle!

Picking your seat and professionalism. You are the person who needs to see everything. I’ve seen shows from backstage as emcee but it’s way easier for me to have audience POV. If I was emceeing in a theater I would put a reserved sign on a front row seat to the far end next to the stage stairs. And I would hoof it up and down those stage steps. If that’s not physically possible for you, all good, figure out where you can be to pay attention. SHOWBIZ! means being prepared for anything and keeping it moving and adaptable.

As emcee your job is to be present and ON the entire show. Use the powder room during intermission, before and after the show. BE AWARE of how drinking and other substances affect your ability to truly be the master/mistress/mistrex of ceremonies! In my booze bag days my rule was one maker’s mark before a show and then whatever after. (May I suggest EFT Tapping as a way to calm nerves that’s more effective than booze?)

Now that I only use plant medicine I do not use psilocybin (undetectable microdoses not withstanding but even then I might plan a gig day as an off day) before I am on the mic and I typically also don’t use cannabis unless it’s a specific cannabis use event. And even then I might not! I take my role seriously. Professionalism matters!

A life highlight was having Kate Bornstein and her partner Barbara Carrellas at the second anniversary of Rebel Cupcake! My intro ended up being in the documentary about Kate and my only IMDB credit!

Backstage connection. I go out of my way to make a personal connection with each act/person I am introducing before the show. I introduce myself, check in about what they would like me to say about their act and confirm I know what is going on.

Learn how to pronounce their names! Write it out phonetically! If you get it incorrect apologize and get it correct! Learn why it’s important to know someone’s name by reading How to Win Friends and Influence People.

It’s also helpful to know if the act ends in a way that isn’t obvious so you don’t do the hesitation act of not going out in time or you end up going out to speak before the act is actually finished.

Thank yous. Be sure to ask the producer(s) who to thank from stage. It’s always great to have the thank yous ready in case there’s a lull in the show and you need to vamp to fill time. (Also good to have some stories or jokes to tell in order to vamp to fill time.) I like to thank bartenders, lighting, sound, ASL interpreters (hire interpreters! deaf people want to be included), door folks, backstage helpers, volunteer crews, sponsors, especially enthusiastic audience members, etc…

Sound check and preparation! Do this! Do not wing it! The audience needs to hear your voice! Walk around the whole room before the show and get a sense for each vantage point. Have someone during sound check in each back corner of the room tell you that they can hear you clearly. My script for sound check is “Mic check one two one two” ad nauseum or I might just start chatting.

This is the hardest part of being an aerobics instructor– not having a sound person running that for me! I ask someone before all my Zoom aerobics classes “Can you hear my voice AND the music?” That thumbs up matters!

Teaching aerobics with a sound person at the Spectrum in Irvine in front of a ferris wheel. I loved having that Torrid funding! I got paid in “exposure” and the outfit I was wearing but it was worth it to say I taught aerobics to Hello Kitty! Life highlight!

Notes vs freestyling. Start where you are! If you need notes, if you need to literally read from a notecard or paper, do it! Make your clipboard cute to look at. I used notes for many years and the first few weddings I officiated were fully written out. BUUUUT I took a powerful media training years ago that got me “off book” for life by helping me blast through whatever blocks I had to trusting my inner voice that wants to come out.

Most stand up comics, poets and performance artists don’t work with notes because being off book and in the moment is more powerful communication.

I performed one of my very best and most powerful performance art pieces 2008-2013 a dozen times entirely on book. I could never memorize it because I just hadn’t burst through that block yet. It was still something that moved people and brought tears. It’s all good if you need notes, but practice. And eventually you’ll speak from the heart.

These days I mostly work from a run of show with notes on it. You create the better connection being off book. My podcasts are not overly planned, I tend to brew on the topic and have in mind what needs to come through and trust the present moment to reveal what needs to be said.

Self care breaks! As the emcee make sure that you tell folks what’s appropriate for their human needs! I’m the kind of person who trusts adults to make their own choices about needing to step out of a room, but sometimes folks need prompting and a ten minute break! Remember to get some music to play during the break and decorate the time.

I love a conference with a line dance moment between seminars and as an emcee you can get a group of folks doing the Wobble.

Organizing shows. I frequently organize shows and emcee myself (I call it Femmeceeing, a term coined by my bestie Rachael). Mostly because I just love to share with the audience why I booked the performer and what they mean to me! But it is SO MUCH WORK to be the producer and emcee so after my first ever Dollypalooza event I realized I was dissociated for most of it because I had so much to keep track of. For the next year I hired a co-emcee and made sure I sat in the audience and really enjoyed it. You also need a very good and capable stage manager.

Dollypalooza in Brooklyn! This was a sold out crowd and so much fun to honor Dolly Rebecca Parton! I will bring it back when I have sponsorship funding and the pandemique isn’t raging!

Further reading. I read this book the 16 undeniable laws of communication and would recommend it to anyone who is emceeing or performing professionally.

I have screwed up on all of these before! Learn from my mistakes. I sure have! That’s failing forward.

Okay, I hope this helps and adds value to you! Please tip me if you are able! Pathways to giving me tips are below!

*Also fun to have those money guns that spurt out dollar bills! I’ve used one once for my birthday celebration in Atlanta. My bestie Rachael handed me the dollar bill gun and I got to spray a performer doing Cardi B’s Money. Life highlight!

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