Category Archives: Rah Rah! (Encouragement)

Opportunity: Leadership Intensive

OpAmOpera America is again offering a fantastic professional development course for Opera professionals. The application deadline for their Leadership Intensive is January 31st. As a member of the inaugural class, I can tell you that the experience changed my perspective on the business and my role within it profoundly, and that’s in large part due to the people I met and worked with there. Their advice, expertise, and support have been really invaluable – and the fact that they’re great fun makes our continuing connection something I look forward to greatly.

It’s a wonderful experience – I recommend it wholeheartedly!

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Auditioning for a New Administrator.

Auditioning for a New Administrator.

My colleague Kim and I are so excited to announce that we’re hiring!

We’re looking for a Manager, Artistic Operations: the job will have a mix of duties, some supervisory, some nuts-and-bolts. We’re a small department, so we’re looking for a trustworthy personality who works well with us and can learn the ropes quickly. I have to say (and I’m obviously biased, since summer 2014 will be my 9th summer with the company) that it’s a great place to work. Interesting projects, good people…you won’t get rich, let’s be honest, but if your experience is anything like mine, you will absolutely have a good time.

The job posting is on Opera America’s job board and a few other internet hotspots, and I respectfully ask you to forward the bejeezus out of it! I’m happy to answer questions via this email, or in the comments.

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Taking stock, making plans.

I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been spending quite a bit of time lately taking stock of where I am professionally – looking at the places where I’d like to improve, searching for new experiences and opportunities that will challenge me while allowing me to keep the best things about my position and lifestyle. As a teacher’s kid (mom taught English, dad was the French teacher and the football coach), the concept of being finished never really stuck – there were always more things to try, to learn, new experiences to seek out. And, yes, sometimes there were huge ugly messes to be made…but sometimes after a few of those messes something really wonderful rose from the ashes.

So, in that spirit, I’m wishing you a 2013 with a truly spectacular phoenix (or more – deny yourself nothing in a dream, right?) and as little mess to clean up as can possibly be managed. Here’s to invigorating newness, and digging down to do the work.

I’ll be back after the first of the year with more articles and profiles. Stay tuned! And thank you for stopping by this year – I appreciate it very much.

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Reading Room

On my reading list for the holidays? This new book from Clara Pressler. She says, in a post on the Fractured Atlas Blog:

When I went through my career transition, I couldn’t find any resources that spoke to my challenge of positioning my performing experience as the right fit for another job or industry.  And so I did a ton of research and pieced together my own process for finding a new career that was an even better fit.  In my second career as a marketer, working with arts service businesses, it’s become clearer to me what can be done to strengthen a performing career or gracefully transition to an entirely new role.

 

One of the most daunting things about the career transition is figuring out how to translate performing experience into language that other fields can understand and value…it can often feel like hammering a square peg into a round hole. With her performing experience and marketing savvy, I’m betting she has great tools, and I’m geekily excited to dig into this book. If you’re in NYC and attend one of her events, please let me know about it!

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Back on the bicycle.

imgresIt takes a lot of courage to walk away from a career path that you thought was going to be your life’s through-line. Most of the time it feels like breaking up with a guy (or girl) whom you’re deeply in love with, but who is not really the best thing for you. (Haven’t we all had -at least – one of those?) It takes a lot of thought and preparation, soul searching to the highest degree.

Oftentimes it seems like the easiest thing to do is to walk away.

We justify our new career by throwing ourselves whole-heartedly at it, like we did with that first artistic love. We decide, since we’ll not ever be the Second Coming of Pavarotti that singing isn’t worth it at all anymore.

This is an extreme approach, admittedly. But for some folks there’s no middle ground – you’re either doing it, or you’re pointedly not doing it. Sometimes that separation is extremely valuable – allowing a reprioritization of life goals, and an amount of  personal freedom not found in pursuing high artistic ideals.

Here’s the kicker. After a while? Most of us really miss that artistic thing…the singing, the playing with an ensemble, the creating moments in time and space that are special, distinct, that have artistic value…the collaboration…the sensation of losing ourselves in a practice room or studio for hours on end, feeling like only minutes had elapsed. As we get older, that sense of flow that seemed so easy to capture as a young artist seems more elusive.

(When I use “us,”  “we,” “you?” I really mean “me.”)

I wound up, thankfully, in a job that’s intimately involved with the performing arts. It has its positives and negatives:

  • I hear singers all year round that could clean the floor with my best past attempts.
  • I am inspired and challenged as a listener.
  • I have colleagues who also have strong performance backgrounds – dancers, instrumentalists, actors, singers.

Sometimes those colleagues challenge me. They have a great idea for an ensemble, a send-up of a popular song, an original tune. And I am a willing volunteer to hack around in a practice rooms for HOURS on any number of projects. (I have always loved rehearsal – the exploration and growth that happens in the room is the most exciting thing IMHO.) But getting onstage? Never really an easy thing for me…not when I was singing or playing, and certainly not now when I’m so out of that routine. It’s terrifying.

But sometimes? They ask. And I bluff my way to a “sure!” And I sweat like a villain in a Bond movie.

And it actually ends up being OK. Fun, even.

Turns out that once you’ve learned to ride that bicycle? You can, in fact, still ride it years later. Maybe you can’t pop a wheelie or race anymore, but you can get from point A to point B.

(And by “you?” I mean “me.” And also, “you.”)

Thanks to KC and GB for letting me play along with this year’s Christmas tune. I had a blast!

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Singers in the City.

It’s the beginning of December.

If you’re a singer, you’re likely in (or have recently been in) New York, at Nola or Opera America or any number of other venues. Your binder is organized and you’ve made sure that the accompanist can see the bass clef on the bottom stave clearly. Your résumés are proofed and copied and pristine. You have several versions of your rep list, for good days, ok days, and i-shoulda-maybe-cancelled days. You have an audition outfit that makes you feel sparkly and special. You have a pre-show ritual that allows you to perform (i.e. have a positive, expansive experience) rather than audition (i.e. be judged, which triggers the fight-or-flight response in even the best folks). You run into people you know and love, people you know and don’t love, people who are stronger at intimidating or distracting others in the hallway than at auditioning.

You also have ways in which you reward yourself for putting yourself out there, in the face of rejection, over and over and over again.

You’re looking for a job. Something that will pay you to do what you love. You’ve worked diligently, paid your dues. It’s time.

For some of you? It is, in fact, time! And you’ll wrap up the audition season with a contract or two, refreshed energy, renewed contacts…

For others? Talented, driven, dues-paying others? You could end up empty-handed.

This article is from the theater world, but it still applies. Consider this a gentle reminder that the whole process is mostly out of your hands. If you’re cool with that? I am your fan, and am in awe of your generosity, resilience and persistence.

If you’re not? Stay tuned, as we’ll have some more articles and profiles heading your way over the holidays and beyond!

If you’re interested in what I’ve been doing this fall, you can check out my colleague/friend/audition-tour-compadre’s writing here and here. And if you just need some inspiration? Check here and here and hereIMG_2965!

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On standby.

Tuesday is Travel Day!

Posting will be light for a while, as I’ll be on the road for our Annual Autumn Audition Extravaganza…over 500 auditions in eight cities across the country over the next four-and-a-half weeks. It’s an exciting and challenging time for us – we’re vetting repertoire choices as we’re listening to singers, trying to find the right mix for our 2013 season.

During this time, I’m always reminded of my own circuitous journey, that brought me to my seat on the other side of the audition table. I’m happy with where I am now, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that it was a rough path getting here. I’m hoping to post some reflections, and a little bit of inspiration, during this year’s tour.

This Friday I’ll post a recap of the profiles we’ve seen thus far. And – if you have a story that you’d like to share, or want to nominate someone whose story you’d think would resonate with readers, please email me at indirectroutes@gmail.com.

If you’re auditioning this fall, please know that I am in awe of your courage and that I’m sending you good wishes from my side of the table. And if you’ve decided that this is your last audition season, or that your heart’s not really in it, or that you need to try something else but are too scared? Well, I hope you’ll check back for a little bit of support and some real-life examples.

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Opera-Nerd Camp!

I’ve been meaning to recap the experience that I had at the Opera America Leadership Intensive for several weeks now. It seemed daunting when I first got home, rehashing the intense experiences, the questioning, the warm community that formed. It seems even more daunting now that I’m several weeks removed from the experience… it was a beautifully rich experience, once that I’ll be reaping the benefits of for many years, I feel sure.

I can say the following with certainty: it is a true gift to be given the opportunity to examine one’s professional circumstances from an industry perspective, rather than from one’s position within an organization. (And honestly, after a certain point people will assume that you know enough to figure the important stuff out on your own, even if you’re convinced that you are not capable in the least). In the most well-connected places, I’d wager that one wouldn’t have the luxury of a high-powered study group assembled of the best and brightest from around the country.

(Let’s be honest, it was like an Opera-centric Hogwarts. And this Muggle is thrilled that she made it in!)

It was luxurious. Challenging. Thought-provoking, in all the best ways. To have the time to figure out what’s important? And to do so in a room full of experts and like-minded neophytes? Well, it was equal parts energizing and uplifting… but it wasn’t without big moments of self-searching and doubt.

It’s funny…one of the most transformative experiences that I had as an artist came after I had (mostly) given up that performance path. I remember sitting in an audition room at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, listening to a steady parade of singers sing their audition rep in a small black box theater. At some point during that, my first day on the “other side of the table”, I realized that 90% of the people who came through the door were just like me: they wanted to sing, they were working on their vocal issues, they were trying to figure it out. But when that one person came through the door who could really SING? Well, after that the whole situation made sense: the construct wasn’t made for the 90% of the worker bees, it was for the top 10 %, the 5%, or in our case that autumn, the top 3%. (There’s another post about the death of the working class of opera singers, of regional careers, and all kinds of related topics in my drafts folder…we’ll get to it sooner rather than later, I promise.)

But the time we had in New York? The grace of sitting around a table with whip-smart colleagues from all over the US, from Canada and Europe? Equally revolutionary…maybe moreso now that I realize how very special the opportunity was. Not only do I now have a network of people whom I trust, but I also realize that I might actually be able to have a seat at the table…I might actually be able to responsibly champion this crazy art form that I fell in love with.

(That last thought is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.)

Friends, I challenge you to ask some big questions about your art, your strengths, and what the perfect intersection of the two might look like.

(And naturally, I’d love to hear about those revelations and the ensuing questions.)

Happy Tuesday, y’all.

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Artistry + Kindness = Leadership?

One of my great pleasures post-opera season is catching up on reading. I’ve slammed through three books, countless magazines and a daily date with the New York Times, and am trying desperately to get rid of all of the (1,000+) notations on my Google Reader.

(It’s a bit of a task, as I am something of a virtual hoarder. Before you ask, I will not be going on Bravo tv to reveal the size of my email archives or the shopping lists from 2006 that are still on my computer’s hard drive. The answer is an unequivocal “No.”)

I stumbled across two great articles in the Harvard Business Review that really speak to me.

The first (which you can find here) focused on the traits that great artists and great leaders share. The author, Michael O’Malley, calls out twelve specific traits ranging from Intent (the desire to be superlative) and Skill (having the tools to bring a vision to fruition) to Pleasure (providing occasions for emotional buy-in and fulfillment) and Criticism (looking for and incorporating feedback). I for one think that any kind of arts training sets up these building blocks in concrete ways, and can cite several examples from my own experiences. (I’d share mine, but I’m guessing that you’ve got one or two yourself – I’d love to hear yours, either via email or in the comments.)

The second (you can find it here) is about the importance of kindness in business. William C. Taylor cites some beautiful examples about businesses who made a personal connection -and tangentially won significant attention – because they did the right thing and were nice to someone in need. It’s easier in the arts I think to cling to this idea, because we all know how negativity can sabotage the most promising production/process. It’s one of the areas in which my boss excels (although she’s pretty darn clever to boot – make no bones about it.), and that contributes to a wonderful atmosphere, high retention, excellent product and strong word-of-mouth press. It’s not a surprise that I found this book on her bookshelf several years ago…and if you know me, also not a surprise that it’s still being held hostage on my bookshelf.

I keep coming back to one particular kernel of truth: once an artist, always an artist. I am encouraged to see the for-profit sector embracing the thought of artistry in leadership, but I wonder if the gatekeepers – those HR personnel charged with finding creative problem-solvers – know enough about the training to actually place some of those non-traditional resumés in the Yes pile, to take a risk on someone who might have the skill base but not the industry experience. I challenge the industry, and all of us who have started as performers and art-makers, to find actual, practical value in an arts education, and to once and for all lose the tired stereotype that artists are scattered and unreliable and far too difficult to work with. You cannot value the traits without also valuing the artists who exhibit those traits, who study to perfect those skills, and the institutions who shape their careers as working artists, recreational artists, arts consumers, and at-large members of the national workforce.

Thanks for listening. Let’s all try something a little out-of-the-box, shall we?

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Home Remodeling, as a metaphor for Career Transition

My morning started with a cup of coffee, the New York Times, and a jackhammer.

(You read that correctly.)

You see, we’ve finally launched into a much-needed home renovation project, and a 4-inch-thick slab of concrete needed to be excavated from my second-floor bathroom. Now, had I not had a family who tore houses apart for summer fun instead of going to the beach or Disneyland (for the record, stripping wallpaper is no where near as fun as riding rollercoasters or swimming or making sandcastles. Just sayin’.), I’d be scared. But even had the outcome been said cement ending up in the dining room below, it would’ve been OK. Not ideal, but we would’ve learned something important (and, likely expensive) about the structural issues in the house.

Investing in something, and following it wholeheartedly to its natural conclusion, is never a bad thing.

I’m reminded of this especially as our summer season has just ended. I can draw parallels from our Studio program, which is geared towards talented undergraduate and first-year-graduate students, to the significant kind of home renovation that I’ll be vacuuming up for days and days. The Studio program is designed to give singersfirst-hand knowledge of the field, from a professional viewpoint. We try to go beyond the rehearsal schedule (which is compact and intense), to give them exposure to industry folks, tax professionals, musical and dramatic coaches, and a whole host of people who have made careers in this crazy field. The number of careers that people have carved out, and the ways in which they’ve done the carving, are as varied as the people themselves. They also see peers and recent alums, all quite talented, but some seeing a strong measure of success, others struggling.

The part of the program that we don’t advertise as much, but that is just as important? It’s a place where they can get enough information to decide if this crazy career is, in fact, not the right thing for them. It’s an important decision, and one that may of them haven’t vetted through their years of schooling. Most summers there are one or two Studio Artists who start to ask questions about what other things are out there, what level we think they’ll get to with their innate talent (Answer: I don’t have a clue, ever… there are simply too many variables to take into account.), what we recommend. The process is not unlike tearing open dry wall, jackhammering cement, checking the subflooring for soft spots, and rebuilding from the inside out.

The great thing is that, eventually, they do figure it out. Some stay in the field, recommitted to a performing career. Some move to related fields, and explore administrative jobs, artist management, and the like. Some take the discipline that they’ve cultivated in the practice room and head to law or medical school. And while we believe in the musical talent of every one, we don’t stop believing in them because they’ve stepped away from the footlights.

So, as we limp through the last few weeks of August, towards Labor Day (aka the Educator’s New Year) and the beginning of the academic year, I have a challenge for you: Take some time to tear off some of the dry wall, check your subfloor. What parts of the room are worth keeping, and what needs a rehaul? Will a change a paint color be all you need, or will you be jackhammering cement? Look at the career you’ve invested in: it’s time to recommit or remodel.

(New profiles and a more-regular posting schedule will resume in early September. Thanks for hanging in thus far!)

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