A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Make it easy for them

It's been a while. My only excuse is that I have recently had a shoulder operation and typing with my arm in a sling wasn't comfortable. Besides, I don't think you've missed much, as I try to keep this blog less a journal these days than a diary of useful thoughts. This is why I'm not going to attempt to catch you all up on my life since the last post, although perhaps I'll revisit this year's BYO Easter Workshops in a separate post, and if you see me in person please ask me about my trip to Ischia (performing The Bear in the house it was composed in!!!). What I'm going to focus on today is some basic stuff that all singers (and even non-singers) probably know already, but there's never any harm in reminding yourself.

All that follows is courtesy of Sarah Playfair and Garsington Opera, with whom I'm fortunate to be working this Summer. The company has organised us a series of talks that we can attend, and the first one of these was on a 'getting your foot in the door' theme. The first thing Sarah touched on was the 'first approach', when a young, unknown singer attempts to contact a company to get an audition, or wants to appear on their radar some other way.

Make yourself findable online.
Apparently companies do look up names that are mentioned to them. If you've worked with an external director or conductor in college, or done a show outside, and made any kind of impression, there is a chance you will be mentioned to someone in a position of power (in a casting capacity, not evil mastermind or politician). Similarly if such a person happens to see you perform, they will want to find out more about you. Make it easy for them. Have a website, no matter how minimal, that gives them a bit of information about you along with your contact details (for technophobes, a quick tip, be careful when putting your email address on the site, as you may get a tonne of spam - guard against it by using hyperlinks). Your professional name should ideally be part of both your website address and your email. Once you have your website, keep it up to date and expand it as necessary. There's nothing worse than finding a site that hasn't been updated in months. Think of your website as part business card and part CV.

Think hard about how you write an email to a company.
So you want to audition to people? You'll have to write to ask them to hear you. Don't send a 'hi everyone!' email to all the agents and opera companies you can find. It looks awful. Take the time to research who you're writing to, how these people want to be contacted by prospective auditionees (don't write to the artistic director, it'll probably get lost), attach what they want (if in doubt stick to your CV), write politely.

When writing your CV, bear in mind what it's supposed to do: make it easy for the reader to get the relevant information about you at a glance. Yes, it's nice to stand out from a stack of identical documents, but it's a lot easier to stand out in a negative sense than a positive one (the tactics seen in Legally Blonde may not guarantee success). Avoid too many different fonts and colours. Keep it clear. There's no need for a huge photo, it can be distracting and also bumps up the file size when you attach it to an email (try to keep this under 300kB and in .pdf format to ensure the recipient sees it the way you designed it). Check and recheck your spelling, taking extra care with foreign names of roles and operas (accents, capital letters, etc). Make the things that matter stand out (easier said than done if you're sticking to a chronological listing).

Things to include in your CV:
- your age (don't lie! - if you feel tempted to, just don't include it; if you came into singing late, say so)
- training
- teachers (some people don't like to know though, you can't please everyone)
- performances (with dates!)
- languages you speak or can sing in
- full roles you've studied
- your working status in the UK (or whatever country you're applying to)
- a photo
- relevant skills (first aid, acrobatics, dance, playing an instrument, etc)

Don't include:
- education prior to music college unless it's relevant
- reviews (if you feel the need to brag, put them on your website)
- only include your religion if it's relevant (ie if it influences the way you work)

When attaching your CV to an email, be aware that it'll probably be filed by the company. Make it easy for them by making your name the beginning of the file name, and include the date of the CV.

On a personal note I can confirm that companies do file CVs! I sent mine to a company a year ago, never got an audition, however they offered me a job a month ago due to being in dire need of baritones. I couldn't take the job, that's life, but it is positive proof that if your information is easy to find, good things can come of it.

We didn't go into these in great detail, but here are some tips to bear in mind:
- don't offer repertoire you know the company simply doesn't perform
- you can't know what companies are looking for, and unfortunately it is a buyers market, so if you don't get something, don't let it get you down - there's probably nothing you could have done
- there are very few people who get in everywhere straight out of college, don't assume you'll be one of them, assume you're one of the majority who'll have to work for it (it's down to luck as well as talent)
- try to maintain your sanity
- be nice in the audition, and this includes the stewards and other auditionees

Sarah told the story of when they were casting the Kenneth Branagh film of The Magic Flute, and the steward in that case was Kenneth Branagh's best friend and reported back on everyone and how they behaved outside the audition room, which did lead to someone not being cast!

Being asked back.
Once you get a job, make sure they'll want to work with you again: prepare, don't distract people when they're working (as a lot of this job is sitting around and waiting, find something to do that is discreet), be nice to everyone involved (opera is a team effort and everyone is of equal value). Make it easy for them to work with you.

It may all seem obvious, but apparently a lot of people haven't gotten this memo yet, so I'm just doing my bit to spread the good word.

I realise that this is a post just for singers, so I'll try and make the next one more interesting for everyone else. How about 'A day in the life of an opera chorus'?

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