I can sincerely relate to Joan Rivers right now. In the brilliant documentary, "A Piece of Work," Joan's assistant asks her a question about future dates in her calendar. She sarcastically replies, "Wait a second. First I need to put on my sunglasses. All these blank pages are blinding me!" In January opera companies roll out press releases for future seasons, and friends share "thrilled to announce" posts on social media. Meanwhile I'm searching for an affordable pair of sunglasses before I can summon the courage to glance at the big empty portions of my schedule.
What is the most effective strategy for artistic growth in the midst of rejection?
Action Creates Attraction
It's incredibly easy to fall into the trap of "compare & despair" when I see colleagues skyrocket into superstardom. Naturally I feel dejected whenever I'm “on the short list” for a role and they end up choosing someone else. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, I try to redirect that negative energy into something productive. If I’m able to fill the well of my creativity, suddenly things don’t feel so grim.
Personal anecdote: 2 years ago my singing career was virtually nonexistent. My manager suggested I consider pursuing musical theater. Never one to refuse a challenge, I signed up for coachings and masterclasses with Broadway casting agents and music directors. These marvelous theater professionals encouraged me to think about my singing in a different way. Previously I had obsessed about my vocal technique to the point where I was trapped in my neurotic thoughts and stiff in my body; they taught me how to let go of those distractions and to focus on the text. Did these newly sharpened skills procure a Broadway debut? No, but they brought me closer to reaching my full artistic potential. The much-needed improvements in my acting crossed over into my classical singing, and suddenly my opera auditions were more effective. Soon I booked enough opera work to quit my restaurant job and financially support myself as a full-time musician.
Opera's Rejection Is Sometimes God's Protection.
A few years ago when The Santa Fe Opera Apprenticeship Program rejected me for the second time, I reluctantly settled for a summer at the International Vocal Arts Institute. It wasn’t originally my first choice, but spending the summer honing my craft in Tel Aviv is the best thing that could’ve happened to me. The impeccable music faculty graciously gave me essential musical tools, and the connections I made there led to three jobs in the following year. Fortunately Santa Fe Opera hired me the next year, and the timing was perfect. I was more prepared for the rigors of that program, and I was lucky enough to sing there with my brother two years in a row.
Drive-by Casting Is Now The Rule.
Of the fourteen operas & concerts I sang in 2015, only three came from auditions, and two of those three companies heard me several times before offering me a contract. All of those jobs came with less than 12 months’ notice; half of the gigs arrived less than 3 months in advance. This aspect of freelance work is a budgeting nightmare, but we all signed up for it when we decided to be artists. We can struggle against the waves of uncertainty, or we can climb on top and ride with verve and determination.
Most of our auditions won’t lead to an immediate contract, but we don’t need an opera company’s permission before we can call ourselves artists. Instead of fighting the reality of rejection, find a way to keep filling the well of your artistry. When you’re nurturing your creativity, your confidence will draw others to you. Darren Woods says he can smell a desperate singer before he enters the room. Admittedly I’ve been that timid person recently, but now I’m learning to take off my sunglasses, close the calendar and focus on achieving the highest possible level of artistry in 2016. Happy New Year!