Never say this to a Singer Please
As the main stage operatic season is winding down I thought there was still time for me to save you, dear reader, from making a major mistake when you meet the diva or divo at the post performance party.
I know that you have sat in your plush velvet seat, and gazed up at us with intense interest for the last three hours or so. And I know that you have read our biography in the program which condenses our lives into some 250 word maximum glittering travelogue experience. So it seems natural that you would want to come to us, you who sleep in the same bed most nights of the year, under your deliciously fluffy duvet, with your special neck formed pillow and your favorite mug waiting for you over breakfast, and ask us about our exciting life of travel, hotels and opera houses and never ending performances in exotic and glamorous cities around the world, and ask : Where are you singing next?
However, for a great number of singers that you will meet, we don’t have a glittering itinerary to share. We are struggling along with a few gigs a year, keeping our heads above water as artists, with either a noble capitalist spouse/partner helping us keep this singing thing going, or we work a few other jobs in between. I know the you love us, but our field sees government cut after government cut. Many singers don’t have much work, but they love singing, so they keep at it despite it being a low income job. A study published by The Canada Council in 2004 stated that :
-Artists’ earnings are very low, with average earnings of $23,500, less than 75% of average earnings in the overall labour force.
-A key factor in the low earnings of artists is the situation of self-employed artists, who earn 40% less than self-employed workers in the overall labour force. Self-employed artists also make much less than artists with a paid employment position.
When the first question I get asked is “So, what’s next for you” my heart begins to race and my brain desperately tries to come up with something fabulous to tell you. I want you to be excited and thrilled with my life, but the truth is, usually I’m flying home to do laundry, dishes and groceries for my family and I’m teaching some voice and I’m coaching some clients and in four months I might have a concert gig with the local symphony. The next opera is 6 months away and isn’t public knowledge yet so I can’t even name it. I call it ‘resume-ing’. Singers even do it to each other and it is painful if you don’t have an exciting resume to share.
Trust me, I try to give you my resume and make it sound like it was worth the time and money you spent coming to see me at the opera. Even after 25 years of this career, I still feel a little bit like I have to prove that I am a real artist. When I get asked that question, it still ignites that inner battle of “Are you really an Artist?”
If you want to honor the singer you meet and have a great conversation, throw the resume question in the trash and instead, ask us:
“Have you enjoyed your time in our city?”
That question allows us to involve you, as we share the ins and outs of your town. It also will open up the backstage discussion, which is often of great interest to those of you who grace the front of the house rather than the back. You’ll find out we were so busy on that finale that we rehearsed endlessly and we never saw your town really. And you know what, if that singer is having a mind blowing, great career with terrific stuff upcoming, they’ll tell you. Never fear. We don’t hide that news. You’ll get our resume and news of our exciting life upcoming if we have one to share, and if not, asking us other questions let us connect to you in a personal way without feeling embarrassed or as if we are a disappointment. Oh yes, and always lead off with “You were fabulous” no matter what you thought. It means a lot to us who make ourselves vulnerable night after night.
If you are in Winnipeg, maybe I’ll see you April 21st at the after party for Daughter of the Regiment! I have lots to tell you about how I’m enjoying your town.