Career Path for the Performer (and how to outwit the present)
by Gary Powell
There is a point in the development of your performing career at which your own vision of self must become disordered. This is a time and place where your prevailing reality is challenged. For me it came at age twenty-seven in Los Angeles.
Let’s say you are a pre-teen who loves to perform. Maybe you are even talented in doing your literal and proverbial tap dance. Even the most jaded audience enjoy watching your youthful energy. You will soon be asked to perform for many talent shows, Rotary Clubs, weddings and funerals. You have sung the National Anthem dozens of times at sporting events. Yes, it feels great to be in such demand. Continuing on to high school and college, your fan club increases. By now, you have already successfully adjusted to having competition for the lead role in the school musical or ballet. You have usually won these auditions and the infrequent loss of a role doesn’t freak you out….BUT the “shift” still hasn’t happened yet.
During college your talent may be discovered by a summer camp director for boys or girls where you become the song leader, art director or dance coach. No doubt, several churches are offering you high praise to bring your talent into the fold. All this feels inspiring and motivating as now you are beginning to win scholarships and stipends. The next year you perform in a summer-stock theater. Yes, you are on a roll and are now chanting the “I’m being paid to do what I love!” mantra.
In the past, the seemingly harmless career seductions probably did not feel like seductions at all. Now they do! – Gary Powell
At this point you’ve come to terms in juggling auditions, competition from other performers, money issues, and holding a job along side your obscenely long rehearsal hours. But now comes the “shift”. At every step of your development you, the performer, thought that each of the opportunities you’ve experienced was about you. Each circumstance was earned by you and you proved your talent again and again, but now as you have matured you have noticed opportunities thinning out. Some opportunities expire expectantly like graduating from college. Other opportunities expire not from just loosing out to the competition, but loosing in a thousand other ways you had never even considered and in other ways that had nothing to do with you whatsoever. Other professional opportunities expire because you yourself have outgrown them. In the past, the seemingly harmless career seductions probably did not feel like seductions at all. Now they do! They were, at most, a major part of your continuing education and each of your performances was a mini-equivalent to your own record deal.
This is the shift. It is a simple yet broader understanding of yourself and your talent within a larger context; a context which can and must be continually negotiated for the rest of your life. Now you finally know that each of your shows and appearances were about what the show needed rather than about what you needed. As a young performer, the negotiations with yourself were processed internally and silently. Later these negotiations will be voiced and leveraged from all sides. Welcome to the magnificent world of the adult artist who learns to live and prosper through and beyond our losses, our betrayals, our self-doubt, our limitations and our competitors. When you arrive at this point, hopefully before age 27, you will stand in the spotlight you mindfully created and the mastery of your earlier professional life will light your way toward a prosperous future.
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Producer Gary Powell offers insight to negotiating your performing career path.
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