The World's Your Stage: How Performing Artists Can Make a Living While Still Doing What They Love240
The World's Your Stage: How Performing Artists Can Make a Living While Still Doing What They Love240
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About the Author
WARREN C. GIBSON, PH.D. (Mountain View, CA) is an engineer and economist at San Jose University. EVAN LEATHERWOOD (New York, NY) is a journalist, speaker, and Slifka Fellow at the Bernard L. Schwartz Center for Media, Public Policy, and Education at Fordham.
EVAN LEATHERWOOD (New York, NY) is a journalist, speaker, and Slifka Fellow at the Bernard L. Schwartz Center for Media, Public Policy, and Education at Fordham.
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The World's Your Stage
How Performing Artists Can Make a Living While Still Doing What They Love
By William F. Baker, Warren C. Gibson, Evan Leatherwood
AMACOMCopyright © 2016 William F. Baker, Warren C. Gibson and Evan Leatherwood
All rights reserved.
SOME QUESTIONS AND CONCEPTS TO GET YOU STARTED
As Sir Clive Gillinson, the director of New York City's Carnegie Hall, says, sometimes when you're at a loss for answers it is because you are not asking the right questions. Simply ask new questions, and instead of a problem you'll see new paths forward. In that spirit, this chapter presents some questions you might not have thought to ask yourself yet, along with some helpful answers.
A FEW IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
These questions are geared toward performers who want to start their own organizations, those who are coming to be called artist-entrepreneurs. The more traditional routes are still there for actors, musicians, and dancers, but at least for the moment, there are fewer of those jobs and the pay is lower than in the past. That doesn't mean you should not consider those traditional routes! But the whole idea of this book is to entice you toward creative experimentation — trying out as many options as you can until you find something that works. In addition to regular career paths, entrepreneurship is being embraced by more and more successful young performing artists as a powerful way of advancing or augmenting their careers.
THE BIG QUESTION
By far the most important question to ask is: "Why are you going into the performing arts business?"
What are you planning to do that's unique and special?
You can't just say, "I just want to play, act, or dance." Your plan can start with that desire, but it has to evolve into more. For example, one of my students, Alex Lipowski (see Chapter 7), was a percussionist at Juilliard. In the course of his academic career, he saw that there was an unmet need for an ensemble to perform experimental new percussion music. So he and a friend organized a group of talented, like-minded performers who began to work together outside of class. They found that people enjoyed not just the music but also the spectacle of a bunch of percussionists whaling away on their drums and appropriated percussion instruments, like discarded car parts and Tibetan singing bowls. As time went on, Alex's supporters organized themselves and donated funds to help support the work, and the Talea Ensemble was born. Talea now performs at venues worldwide and receives contributions from individuals and foundations to help pay the performers.
Alex is an example of real success in a very narrow niche of the performance world. What started as a general love of percussion grew into a specific passion for new music for nontraditional instruments. Connecting with a very narrow but passionate audience like Talea's is one secret to success. Alex had a passion, discovered a niche, developed a plan to fill that niche, and executed it well.
It is critical that you be on the lookout for exactly what your business will do and why it's different. Developing the concept may take as much creativity as all the rest of your work. You will need to pursue your broader interests, try out a variety of ideas, and be open to both success and failure. To help clarify what your future business will be, start by asking yourself the questions that follow.
WHO MIGHT MY COMPETITORS BE?
If the product (it can sometimes be clarifying to think of music, dance, or live theater as a product) you want to provide is already being supplied to your community (for example, by an orchestra, a chamber ensemble, or a ballet company), you might have a problem. Why would you want to start a business that supplies a product already supplied by others? Sometimes, there can be good reasons, such as thinking you can do it better or knowing that you have a different approach. You might be able to provide a version of the art that more established groups are not providing or are not interested in or capable of providing. If there is only one large theater venue in your town that mostly sells tickets to commercial touring companies for a high price point, for example, think about how your efforts might be a counterpoint to that. Perhaps a smaller venue and less commercial offerings would find an audience.
We don't mention the idea of competition to frighten you but to nudge you toward strategic thinking. Asking where your work might fit into the marketplace can be a powerful way to give a more concrete shape to your future plans. (For more on this way of thinking, take a look at our discussion of branding in Chapter 6.)
IS THERE A NEED FOR WHAT I PLAN TO DO?
This question may seem too commercial for an artistic undertaking, but it must be considered. If you plan to provide an art for which there is no demand, you have a problem, at least initially. The people in your potential market might not share your passion for early choral music, experimental improv theater, or contemporary dance, and so they might not want to support it financially. This is where your passion meets your evolving business sense. Once you've got something produced that you can show people, don't be afraid to promote it. Thinking like a salesperson in the not-for-profit arts world simply means persistently communicating your own passion for what you do. It does not have to be an inauthentic process. The context might be uncomfortable at first (for example, delivering your message to donors at an event rather than to friends and colleagues informally), but the action is essentially the same. Ask yourself if the world needs what you want to create. If the answer is yes, remember that the world may still need some convincing. And a sense of need is crucial to generating financial support for your art.
You might feel that you don't need much money to support your art, but you'd be surprised how much it costs even to make the most modest artistic venture work. The costs add up quickly: rent, food, travel — you name it. Performers often take support jobs in offices, restaurants, catering, or what have you to provide some income until their artistic work can support them. The rub here is that the degree of artistic success that can liberate you from your office or restaurant job may be a long time coming. Meanwhile, that work can grind you down unless you keep reminding yourself that you're doing it to further your long-term goal.
FOR PROFIT OR NOT?
Should your business be for-profit or not-for-profit? What do you need to start a business?
Both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations bring their own advantages and disadvantages. A for-profit business tends to give you much more control and allows you to keep any profits you may earn. Keep in mind that in the performing arts, "may earn" is a huge qualifier. The serious arts tend to make little money and are often, as you will see, dependent on the generosity and philanthropy of supporters and friends. The performing arts businesses best suited to the for-profit model tend to be popular music groups, Broadway, and some arts support organizations. Film and television are often great for-profit choices for actors. But the decision of for-profit or not-for-profit is yours and must be carefully studied. Remember too that you need resources (money) just to get any business going. You will probably need to incorporate (at a cost of $1,000 or more), amass funds to pay performers, and advertise. Other mandatory and potentially costly activities include building and maintaining a compelling website and arranging transportation to gigs and for tours. Anyone who supports you (i.e., gives you money) in the for-profit model is called an investor, and investors expect a return (a payback of the investment, plus profits). Building a successful for-profit arts business is probably more difficult than you can imagine. But if you think your business might work as a moneymaker, go for it. In the end, owning a business that one can sell or monetize is always good.
If you are a musician or dancer, you will more likely be forming a not-for-profit business. Even the biggest and most successful fine performing arts organizations all tend to be nonprofit. Why? Because these companies need philanthropy. Donations are not made to for-profit businesses, which only accept investments. Not-for-profit businesses accept money from individuals, foundations, and corporations, and if the business is registered as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charity, those donors can get a tax deduction for their contributions. Also, as a tax-exempt charity, you may be able to get some services, such as legal work or office space, donated by caring professionals.
In addition to the important questions we've just asked, we want to lay down some bedrock pieces of advice that come up again and again from the most high-functioning people we know in the performing arts world.
DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!
That phrase has been used as a coded way of saying that a performer's work isn't up to snuff — as in "Don't quit your day job because your art isn't going to support you." But we mean it in a more positive sense.
There are huge benefits to a day job. It provides income, financial support, health insurance, daily structure, and a network of friends and colleagues, even if it has nothing at all to do with the performing arts. Those forms of support can be essential to your mental and physical health in the long term as you take up the heroic but extremely difficult work of pursuing a life in the arts. If you're reading this book, you've got your eyes on the prize: a full-time artistic career. That's a good thing! But before your art becomes your full-time work, it's likely to be your part-time work. For many, their art never generates enough income to eliminate the need for a 9 to 5 job. This doesn't need to be a source of shame or cause for a sense of failure. Working on your art along with another career has many fulfilling aspects in its own right.
Most jobs don't allow the freedom to take time off for auditions, performances, and rehearsals, but it's worth it to find one that does. For example, we've seen some success among artists who use their elegance and style to do sales work or nonprofit development. That can be a nice fit. Bethany Heinrich, a Juilliard theater grad, was moved by her mother's cancer recovery to form Fabulous & Fighting, a not-for-profit that takes clothes donated by fashion houses and gives them to women whose cancer treatments are changing the size of their bodies. It turns out that having nice clothes helps a great deal with recovery by bolstering self-image. Bethany found it easy to get clothing manufacturers to contribute to her mission. Starting from scratch, she hosted a gala benefit, raised money, and promoted her idea. She got cancer hospitals to provide space for the clothing that was donated to patients. Her success with Fabulous & Fighting landed her a job in the development department of a landmark New York cultural institution. There, she made more contacts with wealthy, philanthropic-minded people. Now she's earning a living in her secondary career, having fun, achieving personal growth, amassing experience, and doing good to boot. Yet there is enough flexibility in her new career to allow time for her to practice the craft of acting that she mastered at Juilliard and to go to auditions and workshops.
Give your utmost to making a living from your art, but realize that doing it full-time is not the only honorable way of using your talents.
TAP INTO THE POWER OF KINDNESS
A growing amount of new research and a number of recent management books are demonstrating the power of kindness and generosity (including our own Leading with Kindness, cowritten with Michael O'Malley [Amacom, 2008]). As Allentown Symphony conductor Diane Wittry says about auditioning new talent, "I'm choosing from a group of people who are all equally talented, so I have to look beyond skill. Whom do I pick? I pick someone I think I'd like to work with. Somebody who's nice." Diane said she would even sacrifice a little talent to have a more compatible person in her orchestra and on her team. We've seen it time and again. People help people they like, often selflessly. In the end, kind people finish first, even if it might not seem like it in the short term. If you spend your career cultivating a network of colleagues whose work you believe in and whose friendship you come to value, you will not arrive at the end of it without accomplishment. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "When I was young, I valued clever people. Now that I'm old, I value kind people."
DON'T BE AFRAID TO WALK THE INDIRECT PATH
You may clearly know your goal, and it is best to have a clear one in mind, but the way to that goal will likely be indirect.
Right out of school, you might be skilled and fortunate enough to land a job in a major, successful company (be it an orchestra, dance company, or theater), but that's getting less likely, no matter how good your chops. Why? There are probably many good performers out there whose talent is equal to or even greater than yours. In business we call these people "competitors." Competition is good. It raises the stakes for everyone and it makes you and everyone else in your profession strive harder. But it also makes the direct path steeper. The solution?
Look for an indirect path.
I have a saying, "When you see an opening, go through it." It means that you have to become opportunistic in the best sense of the word, as in willing to see and then grasp an opportunity. A given opportunity may not be what you were hoping for in the end, but if it is honorable, pays money, and gives you new skills and a new network of people, then it will have been well worth your time. So when you see a potential opportunity, don't hold back, and don't overthink it. Just do it and see what happens.
This might sound scary, especially to the musicians out there, who have spent their entire lives mastering a single skill and who are used to progressing down predefined paths past predefined markers of success. But being open to new, unplanned work is essential to navigating the world outside of school. You will have to make many such unplanned decisions and moves in your career. Don't expect every job that you have to be better than the last. You might find yourself going from giving voice lessons to waiting tables before you get your first paying performance gig, for example. Don't see every setback as final or as a judgment of your worth as a person. And be prepared to go in some directions that might feel crazy at the time but which will make sense later. Keep your eyes on your ultimate goal, and the small deviations won't throw you off course.
NETWORKING IS CRITICAL (OR, YOU CAN'T GO IT SOLO, EVEN AS A SOLOIST)
Anybody who has acted in a company or danced or acted in an ensemble already knows this! You can't make great things alone.
Everybody stresses the importance of networking, but how do you do it? Begin by recognizing that there are often people of means who love your kind of performance and would be willing to help support your efforts. Finding such a person or persons can be the biggest secret to a quick success. But again, how do you do that? Fundraising is one way, which we discuss in Chapter 8. But there's another kind of networking that is critical: the associates you need to make your performance a success.
Even in the case of a solo recital, where you are the only person performing, critical support is still needed. Someone has to find a venue, select a program, deal with wardrobe, promote the event, and do a thousand other things. Some of these elements require top-tier professional support. Over the course of your career, you will develop friends who can help. During your last years at school, while touring, in your various jobs, and while socializing, be sure to keep your eyes out for people who can help you make your magic happen, and whom you can support in return. Trust us, they're out there, just waiting to be asked. We've found that people who are reliable and are "givers" make the best associates and increase your chances for success — not to mention their own as well.
STRIVE FOR AUTHENTICITY
Authenticity is the big word these days in the fields of organizational behavior and industrial psychology, and for good reason. Authenticity means being real and true to who and what you are, not pretending. Authentic people admit their failings and know their strengths. They are who they are both to themselves and to others, and in a variety of contexts from home to the workplace. The ability to be authentic arises out of the basic fact that they are comfortable in their own skin. Authentic people have a positive view of themselves and others, and they instinctively extend that positive view in the form of professional trust and offers of support. They are confident in their abilities, but not arrogant. They are usually givers and are willing to selflessly help others.
Being authentic doesn't mean ignoring the rules of politeness or realizing that different social situations can call for different forms of behavior. But it does mean connecting whatever you're doing, from fundraising to rehearsing, in some way to what you believe is worth your time and what you truly value. When people see that whatever you're doing is deeply rooted in what you believe, they will be drawn to your cause.
Excerpted from The World's Your Stage by William F. Baker, Warren C. Gibson, Evan Leatherwood. Copyright © 2016 William F. Baker, Warren C. Gibson and Evan Leatherwood. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
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Table of Contents
1. Some Questions and Concepts to Get You Started 1
2. Struggles and Triumphs of Western Musicians 14
3. The Performing Arts as an Industry 31
4. The Digital Revolution and the Performing Arts 45
5. Reading and Understanding Financial Statements 61
6. Essential Lessons from the Great Managers 85
7. Essential Lessons from the Artist-Entrepreneurs 120
8. Fundraising 156
9. Auditions, Agents, and Angela’s Story 185
10. The Graduation Speech 199
About the Authors 221