*** This blog post highlights the “non-artistic” work and know-how that are an essential part of any performer’s pursuit in today’s social climate.***
When we ask about the challenges confronting the performing arts today, we usually hear the following: people are not interested; they need to be better educated in arts appreciation; there needs to be more money put into the marketing engine to compete with mass media; the government needs to stop cutting funding. These arguments have one common implicit message: It’s not people in the arts that are the problem, it’s those that are outside of the arts. It is almost inevitable, then, that we see the cause of our problems as being external to us, and also see the solution as being changing what is “out there,” not reflecting on what might need to change “in here.”
Fortunately, in my opinion, we are actually seeing the opposite attitude embraced by young and emerging performers, who are putting a lot of thought into how they can practice their art differently and rethink the way they present performances, and how to cultivate and engage new audiences.
They are also taking a lot of risk by doing this. All of the performing arts — music, dance, theatre, and everything in between — come with a set of established expectations of how one is “supposed” to engage with that art. To change the commonly accepted ways of creating, performing, presenting, engaging, communicating and marketing is perhaps easier today, as all arts organizations are having to adapt to how technology is changing the way a new generation of audiences expect to be engaged. Yet, the ever-present possibility of being seen as a disrespectful and unappreciative student would be enough to make them think twice before doing anything too adventurous or different, at least until they have paid their dues.
There is inevitably a disconnect between the “tried and true” practices that teachers and mentors advocate based on their own experiences, and the new challenges that young performers have to be prepared for today. In order to establish a career or a presence as a performing artist today, you need to have a balanced mix of having mastered your craft and a willingness, even an eagerness, to experiment.
I have become increasingly aware that there is great restlessness among young and emerging artists, many of whom have decided to take their destinies into their own hands.
Within the world of classical music, I have direct experience working as the general manager for Sneak Peek Orchestra, where the group fills the needs of both young instrumentalists to gain orchestral playing experiences and young composers to have a grassroots outlet to premiere their orchestral compositions. Through them, I also got to know the Toy Piano Composers, a group of composers that are serious about their work in what we might call art music or new classical music, but are equally serious about presenting concerts that will appeal to the general audience within the arts, not just to those devoted to new music.
There are other groups breaking similar grounds, and they have all been kind of happening within years of each other. (I cannot name every musical group I know nor speak to the other performing arts, but TorQ Percussion Quartet and larger cultural movements, such as Fedora Upsidedown, are two other great examples.) What they have in common is that they want to effect change from within the performing arts community, and they are willing to take risks, perhaps increasingly so, as they have nothing to lose and much to gain by simply giving it a go.
What I really want to emphasize, however, is that doing this is not easy at all. You not only have to be a good performer, you also need to be (or find) a publicist, personnel manager, administrator, event planner, writer, designer, social media expert and webmaster. These are not necessarily things you learn in dance school, but those that have cultivated some of these skills on their own have a great advantage.
Even with these skills, however, there is a tricky balance. I have heard many performers speak about the difficulties of handling administrative and operational duties while also maintaining a high level of artistic excellence. It is not easy to do both well, which is precisely why there is a whole industry of presenters, administrators and publicists that work specifically for the performing arts.
The performing arts groups that seem to be faring well are certainly those that have found, gathered and rallied the support of individuals, who bring their non-performance but essential skills to making the artistic vision of these groups a reality. They are an inspiration for being pioneers in their respective fields, and it is my experiences with such groups that have encouraged me to seek out solutions that come from within the performing arts community.
As someone who has always been most comfortable sitting on the border of the performing arts community, I feel strongly that we need solutions of the broad-strokes variety from within. There are practical limits as to what kind of support an individual can offer to the performing arts community at large or to specific performers. Those limits exponentially expand when the focus is on creating solutions that are built to utilize one of the most powerful tools we have today: the World Wide Web.
The possibilities that the internet offers the performing arts community is what we are focused on at BeMused, where we are committed to creating solutions that address the common challenges these performing arts groups encounter.
As performers work hard to build momentum around their own artistic vision, we are focusing our energy on improving the way performers and audiences connect. We are thinking about how to make it easier for audiences to discover new shows and artists. We want to find ways to simplify the way performers get the word out about their work.
So, what is your vision for a vibrant performing arts community? We would love to hear from you about the challenges you are facing, your success stories, and any advice and insight you may have for others. We’ll be publishing what we learn on this blog, so let’s start a conversation, shall we?