Smartistry by Jade Lorna
There is no recipe for success in the crazy kitchen of performing arts, however, taking a conscientious and pro-active approach to the industry will set you aside as a smart artist.
There is no recipe for success in the crazy kitchen of performing arts, however, taking a conscientious and pro-active approach to the industry will set you aside as a smart artist. It will set you leaps and jetés ahead of those who think a qualification from a good college is going to give you instant bookability. It won’t. Training is definitely a helpful tool of the trade but without the whole toolbox, you won’t be working to your full potential. It’s 2017; we all work in sales now, whether it’s through Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, Snapchat, LinkedIn or Twitter and if you are a self-employed performer, you are now, more than ever, both your own brand and your own business. The same business rules apply.
This is one of our most vital tools. We work in an industry where supply far outweighs the demand. If you have ever been to an open call cattle casting, you know that ‘the struggle is real’! So what is your USP (unique selling point)? What makes your product stand out on the shelf? Is it a quirky freestyle you’ve created, the cheeky smile you give when you dance or is it your own kooky dress sense?
I’ve worn my hair in the same up-do since I was 15; I get booked on projects and told to recreate how it looked at the audition. So much so, that it has now become a trademark for me and my brand. Find what makes you individual. This is why, when dancers ask me ‘how I do my hair like that’, they should actually be asking themselves whether they really want to look the same as someone else.
Know Your Market Value:
Undercutting in business as a self-employed performer is bad practice. For you, and for everybody else. There is a big community of dancers that offer their services at a discount rate until this becomes the norm and it is now commonplace for working dancers to also have a ‘regular’ job on the side. You have to know your worth and understand that you have the power to say NO! Respect your brand and it increases in value; be a rare commodity.
Some artists compensate for talent, reduce their rate and devalue the work. Others work on improving their craft and wait patiently for someone to open a door of opportunity. The magic comes from those who graft but also understand what makes them shine; bold and unapologetically. It may mean that they are not fit for certain things but that they are the stand out choice for others. These are the people that don’t wait for those doors to open; but use the tools they have to batter them down themselves. I recently auditioned for the lead role in a music video for an LA-based artist. I wasn’t right for the part but they bought into my brand. Instead, they re-wrote the video treatment and created a whole new role for me.
You have to know your consumer. NEVER walk into an audition room without knowing exactly who will be investing in you. This means the casting director, the director, the production company, the choreographer, the client, the artist and so on. We now have a world of resources at our fingertips, so cyber-stalk your way through YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, IMDb, Instagram and the Google archives. Use your tools! Heck, do you have any Facebook friends in common?! You may get a callback as the ‘director’s favourite’ but are you providing the client or the record label with what they are looking for? You wouldn’t hire a lazy accountant or a lazy lawyer, so why would a director want to hire a lazy performer?
The industry is built on synergy. This means that good communication, co-operation and trust are vital in successfully creating a career for yourself. If people are confident in your capabilities, they will invest in your product and they WILL direct book you on other projects. This is why you always go the extra mile, show them that what you did in the audition is only a slice of the full pie, even if the role doesn’t fill you with excitement. At the end of the day, every music video is promoting YOU as an artist, every commercial shoot will be selling YOU as a brand.
I shot a music video for a relatively unknown British artist but made sure that I gave it as much passion as I would have given had it been my own music video. The producer from that ‘seemingly insignificant shoot’ subsequently booked me on a video for Sir Paul McCartney, followed by a global commercial and billboard campaign for a well known car brand. In addition, I decided to offer up the commission to one of my agents to negotiate the campaign on my behalf. He not only started promoting me to casting directors, he even took me to dinner to say thank you. Communication, co-operation and trust.
You have to be on it, or someone else will. While waiting to audition, don’t feel like you have to exchange awkward small talk with that dancer you always see about but aren’t even sure what their name is? Why?! You should be thinking about what choices you are going to make in that room. Becky or Jessica or whatever her name is, isn’t going to give you those answers. Similarly, you should never be sitting in a corner while on set, listening to music or scrolling through Instagram. BE PRESENT. If you can, you should always be in earshot of what’s going on so that you are READY for what’s coming next.
I used to live outside of London, so I had to be extra efficient. Nothing can be an excuse when you are your own boss. Whenever I was in town, I would always have a bag with an audition outfit, some heels and a routine to my favourite track, just in-case. A few years back, there were transport issues on the way to a performance with my dance troupe and I was the only one that made it to the event on time. My pre-prepared routine definitely came in handy and I even got the opportunity to perform a solo piece!
NEVER walk into an audition room without knowing exactly who will be investing in you.
Input vs. Output (THE GRIND)
There is no escaping it. You really do have to put the work in to reap any kind of rewards. Everyone has different obstacles to overcome; we weren’t all born with the same aptitude or affluence, nor are we all blessed with a solid support structure but whatever the end game is that we are striving for, the grind is unavoidable.
I started working from the age of 15, so mine included: rehearsing for my GCSEs while on set; home-tutoring myself big chunks of the curriculum I had missed while filming; commuting two hours into London sometimes for one, five minute audition; lugging a suitcase of audition outfit changes around London everyday and rehearsing for rehearsals to make sure I was just as clean as those that had trained for three years.
However, it is important throughout this process to have the end game in mind. My advice would be: don’t be afraid to daydream, even if it’s only for 5 minutes each day. Every business bases their next move on their projections – let your daydreams guide yours.
So where does the brand stop and the human being start? Are they one of the same? If someone chopped off my hair tomorrow, would I be any less special? No. The truth is that people wear their hunger in their heart and that’s what makes people buy into whatever you have to give. I was told by an agency that I was too short for editorial fashion, not curvy enough for commercial jobs and too old for the Asian market but they wanted to sign me across the board. Why? Because I’m hungry. Not desperate, but bold, unapologetic and ready to batter down those doors. And that sells itself.
Being a smart artist is vital to progression in the industry but without that raw, driving force behind the day-to-day grind; your brand, your business and your art will slowly run out of steam. There is a sadistic side to a true performer that thrives off of a challenge and feeds off of failure. These are the twisted tools of the trade; some people have them and some do not, so you have to ask yourself whether you have the right sense of self to be self-employed. If you can answer that honestly, then you can call yourself a smart artist.
By Jade-Lorna Sullivan
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