At a certain level of ability, everyone can perform the job. When we reach the level of professionalism, competence, and confidence, the ability to perform doesn’t necessarily set you apart from other potential players.
I have this conversation often with other musicians: “they’re a great player and they’re really great to hang with.” There are also a lot of great players who are not great to hang with.
I used to think the ‘hang’ didn’t matter as much as the playing. It seems to matter as much if not more; it’s the communication, the comradery, and the time outside of playing that helps players play better. When there can be drama in theatre, knowing each other and spending time together keeps the work relaxed and enjoyable.
I know this for myself, and maybe you do this too: we established opinions about other people, and about what they must think of us. It’s easy to create a lot in our minds on so little information.
Despite what we might tell ourselves or what we hear about others, none of us have the full story; we have a piece of the story, and it’s put through our own filters. And what is repeatedly striking to me, is when what is said about me (or someone else) in my absence is not what I previously had thought.
When we are absent from a conversation, the things said about us can be revealing, both good and bad; often better than we think. The narrative in our minds can lead to negative self-talk and self-doubt. It’s easy to think the worse about others, and even more about ourselves. Better to give the benefit of the doubt, because most likely we don’t have all the information about what others think.
Audience members watching a show, often don’t know what goes on backstage. For every actor on sage there are murk ripe people working the set, lights and sound. And for every actor on stage there are understudies; and there are swings who know multiple roles.
It’s important for shows to have swings; these are the individuals who are responsible when not only a performer calls in sick or is unavailable. They cover when even the understudies are away. They know every line of dialogue, every armory of music for each character they know. Sometimes they cover up to 10 to 12 roles.
Imagine knowing 12 different storylines within one show. There are several differences and nuances to each role. To swing is to have a focus and a mindset that is nothing short of amazing. At a moment’s notice the swing gets called to go on for a role, and they need to perform it as if they do it every night.
Sometimes it’s easier said than done: you gotta love what you do. I was raised with the expression, “love what you do, and the money will follow.” Sometimes you need the money first.
If we all only ever did what we loved, I’m not sure how productive we’d all be. On second thought, following your bliss might make you excited to get up in the morning and go to work.
When the job comes along that you love, you certainly appreciate it over the ones that you don’t. And taking the work because you need the money is absolutely normal; we’ve all had the horrible day job. With that experience, it makes the job you love all the more valuable.
Show business is a tricky one, especially when it comes to working with friends. We like to think of the theatre community as a family. I think ‘community’ is more appropriate than ‘family;’ being so close to one another can make doing business sometimes uncomfortable, and it’s hard to not want to take things too personally.
A colleague of mine expressed how working with nice people is a priority. I agree. However, when there’s bad news, or a something that cannot be changed, it’s easy to get frustrated. Cue the emotional connection. If we are indeed friends, how do we conduct ourselves without taking advantage of that relationship, even inadvertently? It’s difficult.
I find myself wanting to be people’s friend, and make everyone happy. The truth, I keep finding, is I can’t make everyone happy, especially those who choose to be unhappy. Rather, being honest and matter-of-fact with information is showing consideration and respect. It is “show business,” not “show friendship,” after all.
Planning is essential to success; we need to lay out the steps that we can achieve to make something happen. Patience is also a part of achieving success.
I’ve had the experience of waiting: waiting for the right phone call, the contract, the email that makes the gig happen. Whatever the case may be, the waiting is hard.
However, how ever many ways we can wait it’s important to keep perspective. I’ve had the contract on hold because of various reasons; I have also discovered that there were variables I was not privy to at the time. We should always keep in mind that there is more to a situation that we are aware of, and there’s usually nothing wrong with waiting on a deal, particularly when there are more variables.
There are many paths to finishing the right job and profession. Often this requires a college-level education. Sadly fewer and fewer people can afford the education they need to get a better job.
I recently met a young professional who dropped out of college. He had decided to invest friends in a business and is now making more money than the degree he would have gotten years later, would have granted him. Money and degrees are not mutually exclusive; there are doctoral candidates and PHD scholars working minimum wage jobs, and high-school drop-outs making bank on their start-up companies.
It is a tragic reality that in this country, an embarrassment of riches, it’s embarrassing how high the cost of education has grown. How do we expect to encourage our future students to strive for excellence, when they could make more money on Wall Street, or in a start-up? That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with money, but more and more I hear students forgoing their education, not because they don’t want it, but because they cannot afford it.
It’s important to know what is expected of you when entering a new job. Even if it’s an old job, being reminded of the lines of communication, the delivery on deadlines, and how best to use your resources are important. Often the expectations go unannounced, and are therefore not met.
I recently had a conversation in which the expectations were eloquently articulated. The conversation also led to an observation of the current climate in the workplace: it seems as though people (perhaps of the younger generation) are afraid to fail, and because of that, they are afraid to admit when something is wrong. The management and people running the production (in this case in the theatre world), need to be alerted when there is a problem.
I know for myself, I sometimes want to deal with a situation on my own. This is not always the solution; often it require notifying the powers that be, that there was a problem, whether or not it’s been resolved. I have found that it is better to be forthright and honest about problems in the workplace, so that they are attended to and fixed.
For almost all performing artists there are the day jobs that keep us afloat between performing gigs. Having a stable job, sometimes with benefits, is a huge part of being able to have financial support, while auditioning and gigging.
The image of the starving artist is well-known to people, and most often incorrect. We don’t starve for our art; I can only speak for myself when I say, I gotta eat something or I’m an angry artist. Being able to have a plan of how to make enough money to live, eat, and play, is all a part of being a freelance artist.
A colleague and I recently talked about the schedules from one job to the next; being able have a job that’s flexible to allow performers to take off work when a performance opportunity is available is essential. Many people seem to think that the life of an artist is a fluke, or pure luck. It’s actually a great deal of work; and like anything worth doing, takes commitment, strategy and hard work.
I love a good cocktail party. It’s always a good time to connect with professionals and friends alike. One of my favorite stories about George Gershwin at a party is this: he is talking to a woman and as he often did (so I’ve read), his larger-than-life personality dominated the conversation. At a certain point he says to the woman: “I’m tired of talking about me. Why don’t you talk about me for a while?”
We want to let other people know our successes, our works in progress, the things that get us excited. No one wants a dud at a party. But there are those people (we all know one), who cannot help but talk about themselves. Is it nerves, a fragile ego, insecurity, or all of the above? I’ve felt it myself, and as soon as I’ve said something to boost my image to other people, I often regret it.
However, when we are secure and exude the quiet confidence, it’s lovely to be able to tell of each other’s achievements. When you can say something of my work, and vice versa, there is a friendlier atmosphere, that sends a more authentic message. Without provocation, being able to share a colleague’s work not only boosts them up, but shows your consideration and support to each other.