Summer Programs are a wonderful investment of your time, energy and money if you have done your homework and chosen wisely. They are a way to expand your experience, try any new skills and tools you have learned and possibly move you to the next level of professionalism. If you have chosen a program in a foreign country you will be able to experience another culture up close and personal with the added bonus of being able to practice whatever language is spoken there. Make sure you pack your “foreign phrase book”. You may have the opportunity to work with more experienced performers, conductors, and stage directors. Getting to know those that might use their influence as a possible connection for you is also part of the experience. Maybe you can arrange to do some auditioning for other venues in the area while you are attending your summer program. Lots to think about and prepare for.
Here are some subjects you might not have thought about when planning for your upcoming summer experience.
If it is not stated in your materials, find out the dress code for your summer program. Weather can play a big part in deciding what to bring as far as clothing is concerned. Consider having cloths that can be layered, and bring an umbrella just in case. I learned long ago to pack everything I thought I might need, then with my luggage in tow, take a walk around a couple of big blocks to get a feel for how much physical effort it’s going to take when traveling to and from your summer program. I often found that I could do with less if I really kept my wardrobe simple, hand washable and coordinated color wise. You can always wash by hand things as you dirty them. If you will need an evening gown or tux, pack them in tissue paper to help keep them from wrinkling. For women, choosing a gown that travels well and doesn’t take up much room is always better. For men, choose a dress shirt that won’t wrinkle and one you can wash out that won’t need ironing. Don’t forget the accessories like studs for your shirt, tie, belt and shoes, socks, etc. Women make sure you have the jewelry, shoes, hose, undergarments, etc that are necessary. You want to look and feel great when performing. You want to appear and be perceived as professional.
“Networking with integrity creates a greater willingness of all parties to be part of a human conduit to serve as energy and resource to one another. Sometimes you will give more than you receive and sometimes you will get back more than you give. It’s not about keeping score.”
~ Chris London, Manhattan Society:
The Art and Spirituality of Networking
Networking is one of the most important parts of being involved in a summer program, so make sure you have plenty of business cards ready to hand out and always be looking for these opportunities. Also, for those of you who have taken my Bootcamp, bring your carpet with you and use it all the time when you start feeling a little unsure of yourself in public. Don’t forget to get business cards from others as well and write on the back something to remind you of who they are and if you need to contact them once you get home. It’s possible you could meet someone coming or going home from this program or while there, in a serendipitous manner that would put you in touch with a possible future engagement or opportunity to meet or work with an influential person in the business. On the other hand, maybe you know of an upcoming situation or are privy to someone of influence one of your fellow program participants has been trying to reach. This would be your opportunity to give by passing on this information to them. This is a two way street and always a win-win situation. Ask the artistic/general director of your program if they mind if you keep in touch. Include the conductors, stage directors and anyone else that might help you move forward on your career path. This sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but its well worth the effort. You are not going just to have fun; you are there to practice making singing into a business, your business. You are practicing getting better at being a professional. A nice touch is to write a hand written thank you note when you get home, to those that you have worked with saying how much you enjoyed the experience and thank them for their involvement in helping your grow as a performer and professional. You can also say that you hope you have the good fortune to work with them again sometime in the future.
“You have to do a thousand things one percent better, not just do one thing a thousand percent better. It’s doing the little things well, being on time for meetings, returning phone calls, saying thank you to people. It sounds like a cliché, but that is the reason one organization or one person is successful over someone else. Everyone knows what they ought to be doing, but the ones who practice daily excellence are the real difference makers.”
~ Buck Rodgers
Representing and presenting your Personal Brand at all times is the number one way you can show others you are serious about your profession. It demonstrates to others that you are consistent and they can depend on and trust you to deliver. One really easy way to show others you are professional is to go knowing your music and words cold. Also, do some homework on how you perceive your character and the story. Find out some interesting facts about the composer and the times in which he lived. Educate yourself. This will also help you when you are networking because you will feel you have interesting things to talk about when you discuss music and any time lines. Know that your ideas about all of it may have to change because of how the stage director envisions the opera, or how a coach may bring some new ideas to an art song or lieder, so remain flexible. Stay friendly with everyone and never get involved in the any of the politics that are almost always a part of every program. Remember, this is business.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
~ Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
There are instances where the program you have chosen does not turn out to be what you had been lead to believe it could offer you. There seems to be no organization, and the artistic side of the equation is defiantly not what was advertised. What do you do then? There are a couple of choices. You could turn lemons into lemonade or you could talk to the director and let them know in a professional, assertive way you feel they misrepresented themselves. It’s up to you to try to make it the best you can for you without acting like a diva. This is where you communication and listening skills come in. Also, remember to listen to the message, not the tone of the messenger’s voice. If you feel there is absolutely no other choice, leave the program. Negotiate to get all or some of your money back. This is why doing your homework before you make a choice is crucial.
Here are some questions you might find interesting to answer. They might help you understand better the how, what and why of your choice.
Why did you choose the programs you applied to? Where they appropriate for your abilities right now?
If you were accepted by more than one program, what influenced your final choice?
What kind of information and background search did you conduct to find out about the programs and instructors?
Did this help you better understand what the program was offering and identify what the benefits would be to you?
Did the background information given about the facilitator/instructors/teachers provide you with enough information to assist you in your search for the most appropriate program for you? Did you also do an individual search on line for each instructor, program director, stage director, and conductor?
Were you looking primarily for more performance experience to put on your resume, or was your main purpose driven by being able to use the program for networking, or an opportunity to get to know a particular person one on one or did you want the opportunity to work with a particular person? Or were you more interested in gaining some new skills and tools to help you release your creative self or help you with the business aspects of your career?
What kind of outcome do you want from this summer program? What will the benefits be for you as an aspiring artist or professional?
“Every artist was first an amateur.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I said in the beginning, summer programs can be of great benefit if you have chosen wisely and are prepared by presenting and representing your Personal Band at all times. It’s an opportunity for you to practice being professional; giving those whose program it is a clear idea of what you are capable of both on and off stage. That’s really an important part of being hired as a performer. Management is looking for not only a beautiful instrument with a great technique, but just as important, someone who gets along well with their colleagues and management; someone who can charm the patrons, and can capture the hearts of the audience. It’s about being unique, authentic and consistent both on and off stage.