As most artists know, the performing arts industry can be lethal to the self esteem of hard working performers. But is anyone else aware of what they actually go through? Some of the physical difficulties include; inconstant pay cheques, unfair wages and little to no value applied to the services they provide. Other emotional trials include general judgement by all, public auditions and displays of hard work for critics and audition panels only to be knocked back constantly and uncaringly. Applicants and performers are not often given honest feedback for their work by critics and audition panels. At times they may receive none at all. They are not always given notice of negative audition results before they hit social media and if they do successfully obtain a role, some critics focus on the small negatives rather than the often higher percentage of positives in a performers work. Understandably, this environment can become toxic to the mental health of some artists.
In saying this, it is not all bad; hard work, a positive attitude and reliability will almost always eventually pay off. But how do we sustain our mental heath through the hard times?
Let us address some problems and possible solutions...
Firstly we should address the idea of unfair wages. This stems from multiple problems in the arts industry and those who utilise it. Firstly in modern society, musicians and performers have been depreciated to the point that they are no longer valued as anything more than a hobbyists. This is ludicrous when you actually look at the facts. Most musicians have either spent years studying Bachelor Degrees to gain control of their instrument in the art of performing and others though AMEB exams and years of experience and practice. This is exactly the same as most other trades or professions, the fact that it is used for emotional connection or entertainment seems to make society think that they should work for free. Please let me assure the general public that a band does not necessarily enjoy playing a 8 minute version of 'A thousand years' while a bride walks down the isle or three encores of 'Holy Grail' for football fans after a final. They work hard to ensure they are providing their services to the best of their abilities which can often include hiding how tired they are or acting as if every single song they are requested is their favourite. Of course most musicians do enjoy their work; as do I, but the point is that they work very hard. Other 'unfair pay' problems arise from that fact that musicians often spend more hours behind the scenes rehearsing, setting up gear, sound-checking, loading, unloading and travelling. This work is often unseen by clients and they so they only consider the amount of time the musicians actually play for them as working hours.
How do we combat what has become the norm in the industry?
It is difficult to say no to paid work at times but musicians should not be playing four 50 minute sets for $40 a night. If we all begin to say no... employers will eventually realise that these services are worth more may begin to offer fairer wages. Musicians also need to get off of their bottoms and write out invoices/contracts that make their services clear to any employer, so that they will understand what they are paying for. E.g. $30 an hour pp. (minimum) service. $50 (minimum) equipment hire. $50 set up/travel fee, rehearsal fees for requested songs $... etc. Everyone will be different and every gig will need to be adjusted depending on gear and time, but you get the picture.
For those who have never engaged in public speaking to large crowds or presented something they have put their heart and soul into to a blunt or judgemental audience; this is the kind of thing performers face on a weekly basis. A lot of the time performers have to put a lot of work into a role before even applying for an audition. This can be in the form of musical/vocal preparation, dialogue preparation, accent preparation, synopsis preparation or movement/choreography. The contents of the audition process itself usually depends on the production company. Some companies will not allow a performer to audition unless the applicant is registered with a paid representative or agent, some production companies will require a recommendation from another company or trusted industry professional and others will not allow a practical audition without first passing an interview. Panels can be ruthless, misleading and very intimidating (though some can be nice too). Continuing to audition after many knock backs takes a very strong and hard working personality and often a loving support system provided by family or friends. In an audition, applicants may be asked to present things they haven't prepared and even attempt things that are out of their comfort zone or beyond their skill level. This is normal, and difficult enough without a panel of sneering people gawking at you (as previously mentioned; sometimes they come across as supportive too).
After an audition is over we delve into the waiting period that can be almost as brutal as the audition itself. Applicants are not guaranteed to be contacted if a production team is not interested in having them as a part of a show. This can be difficult as most production companies will post their cast list on social media and as we all know, receiving emotionally destructive information from a social media platform is not always the nicest way to receive news. Some production companies will contact applicants, but generally by generic email or a quick and rehearsed phone call. If there is feedback it is not always honest or helpful. That being said, I can testify that being part of a wonderful cast or production can provide an individual with some of the most enjoyable times of their lives. It is merely a matter of emotionally surviving constant audition processes.
" In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating itself." - Anton Ego: Ratatouille
Critics are an important part of the performing arts industry. They provide the public with well respected feed-back that allows presenters to better themselves in their art form. There are many critics that write with feeling and tend to shed light on any positive they can find in a performance or production they have not particularly been fond of. However there are those who thrive on negative criticism and they are often the writers who have never performed or are no longer participating in performances. It is easy to forget the heart and soul that goes into a show, character, song, or script. The worst part of this process for a performer is not necessarily reading the dislikes in a review, but knowing that it is out there on the internet for others to read. "What if a future production team member, casting director, musician or friend were to read this...? Will there opinion of my skills change? Will they write me off before I start? Will no one take me seriously?". These are just some of the questions performers begin to ask themselves when reading a negative review.
How do we combat audition failure and negative reviews?
There are a few ways performers can prepare themselves for these situations. The eternal Julie Andrews suggests that freedom in auditions and performances comes from preparation, discipline and lots of homework. In other words, always over prepare! The lines, lyrics, and melodies are just the beginning of a character or performance - not the result.
Preparation may include synopsis study, memorising lines, learning vocal parts, practicing accents, learning choreography, writing lines, writing melodies, writing music charts etc. Only after this has happened can a production team or director mould an applicant into the character they are looking for.
If after as much preparation as possible, an applicant is left unsuccessful in an audition or receives a scathing review; this is when they must rely on something else to bring them happiness. Often they work so hard and become so emotionally involved that they do not connect with much else but their art. It becomes so that success in the performing arts can be tied in with a performers self esteem in life. Songstress and educator Rosie Hosking once compared life to a circus performer balancing plates on top of sticks. If the circus performer had only one plate and she/he drops it... the show is over, the failure takes hold. - Any person that becomes so depressed that they cannot leave their bedroom for days after a failed audition or a bad review, is an example of a circus performer with only one balancing plate. Though we all love what we do, performers must work hard to find life balance.
e.g. spending time with family and friends, engagement in non-performing arts related activities and projects so that if the performing arts plate falls down, they still have others balancing. Any audition failure or bad review will merely result in disappointment, and will not represent the total destruction of a performers self-belief.
Critics and audition panels should be respectfully remind that their job is often emotionally easier than those they are judging. Though these professionals do have to make their casting choices wisely in order to stage a great show and write truthful reviews, they may sometimes need be reminded that any time they disrespect or destroy the self esteem of an applicant or performer, that they too are being judged; by the applicant, the applicant's family and friends, other panel members and the public on social media.
Work hard, love what you do, find your life balance and you will have the courage to keep smiling, no matter what!