By Stacy Dove
You go to off to college with your head full of dreams. Performance dreams. Dreams of bright lights, glamorous costumes and music-making. And once you get there you’re told the path to singing on those stages is through Young Artist Programs. But what if, you know … life happens. What if you decide to take a break, or you come to opera later than you hoped or … things just get in the way. You approach that dreaded 3-0 and suddenly no one wants to hear you anymore. You can’t book an audition to save your life. At least for YAPs. Or maybe you just don’t want to play the YAP game. Does that mean you can’t have a career?
Let me say that again just in case you didn’t understand me. No. Not doing the YAP circuit doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful career. As a matter of fact, doing all of the YAPs doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have a career at all. When you go to school, you’re led to believe that there is one path. Undergrad -> pay-to-sing(s) -> Grad School -> small YAP -> bigger YAP (and then bigger and so on) -> competitions -> agent -> SUCCESS. But is that what it really looks like? Even the most successful singers have a few squiggly lines to a successful career. And what does that even look like anyway?
So I’m not going to tell you how old I am, because then I’d have to kill you, and no one wants that to happen, right? But I will tell you that I didn’t sing classically at all in my 20s. By the time I was ready to sing any auditions at all, very few YAPs would even look at me. I was “old.” Now, having said that, I will tell you this: that doesn’t mean that none of them would give me a look. And some wonderful people hired me for their YAPs, and to them I’m forever grateful. They’ve given me the start to my career that I need. But I say that to say this … there are so, so many paths. And yours doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. In fact, it probably won’t. That path to “stardom” that we’re all led to believe everyone follows is only really followed by a handful of people. It’s a fairytale. If you want this career – really, truly want it – you’ve got to make your own path.
So if you’re not going to take the traditional path, what do you do? What does that path look like? Well there are a few options.
- Regional companies. There is something to be said for pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. And sometimes the best way to get work is to start at home. Begin in the chorus of local companies. Sing compramario roles with them. If you have a good relationship with the director, ask to cover mainstage roles. Do you know the worst thing that can happen when you ask someone for something? They can say no. If you’re going to die from one person saying “no” to you, you’ve chosen the wrong profession.
- Know how to market yourself. If a director/conductor/teacher/someone who can help your career asks you to stay in touch and let him know what you’re doing – DO IT. People generally don’t say these things just to “be nice.” How many people in this business do you know who give out generous compliments just to “be nice?” (I’ll tell you - the answer is zero.) Email local companies. Email people you’ve sung for. STAY IN TOUCH. It can and will lead to work. You just don’t know when.
- I’m going to say the words that you’re all dreading in your very souls. DMA-it. Do you want to sing? Did you finish your Master’s degree before you were 25? Do you think you might want to teach? Do you want more stage experience and have an offer for an assistantship with a stipend to attend a reputable program? DO IT. There are some people who will write you off – yes. But those are the same people who will probably close the door on you at 30. That doesn’t mean you have to tell them you’re working on a DMA. It also doesn’t mean you can’t have a career.