Let me come clean from the outset. I am not a trained performer, musician, dancer or producer. I am however an experienced audience member and lover of the performing arts. Seeing the arts thrive and enhance people’s lives long into the future is very important to me and that is why I want to contribute to Jozara with my expertise from other areas of life.
There are so many positive results that grow from a flourishing arts community that go beyond satisfying the artistic needs of the performers. They directly and indirectly enrich the lives of those whose experience is as an appreciative onlooker (not least my own) and they broaden cultural awareness in the wider community.
What truly concerns me is why 70% of all performance graduates leave the industry within 5 years of leaving their university or drama school.
I think the answer is quite simple; it is difficult survive any longer.
Many artists and performers exercise their craft from a deep‑rooted and long‑held love for what they do. This very passion can be the key obstacle to making artistic work self‑sustaining and a practical career option.
Do you recognise this scenario?
A young person, graduates from drama school with a very good qualification. They are 24 years old and have been working in theatre since they were 5.
They do a job for free… and another… and again…
And the habit is normalised until after 5 years they realise they are unable to pay the bills; they feel forced to leave the industry and get a “proper” job.
Whilst the performer in question retains a keen interest and perhaps even continues to perform in a non-professional way, this situation represents an enormous waste of talent and a junking of years of training, practice and development, not to mention fees.
What can we do to address and hopefully reverse this trend?
Performers operate in an arena that has traditionally been supported by grant funding and the patronage of official or unofficial “Angels”. This suits performers in many ways because it relieves them of the unpleasantness of dealing with the financial and commercial aspects of putting on a show and allows them the freedom to perform.
But when the funding dries up or the angel has joined the other angels, where is the legacy and financial bedrock to continue providing this same freedom? I am afraid it is no more.
From another angle, imagine you are the chancellor of the exchequer and for some unforeseen reason, say we leave the EU for example, your budget decisions leave you with a difficult choice: should you invest in the NHS or the Arts Council? No matter how much benefit to wellbeing the arts imparts, medicine will always come first because of its more direct and immediately beneficial results.
It is therefore essential that in order to survive, arts and performance professionals understand the importance of generating profits from their shows that can be reinvested to secure the funds for future projects.
This leaves us with a further decision: do we lament the passing of the golden years of state funded arts and cry in our collective beers, or do we look at ways to make our own productions self‑sustaining, profitable and long‑term? I suggest the latter is the more practical, rewarding and personally fulfilling choice.
If there is one simple change that you can implement as a result of reading this article, it is “value yourself and your time.” By value I mean monetarily, there is a financial cost attached to every minute you put into a production and all of the time you spend working behind the scenes; if your audience, commissioning director or producer does not pay for it, then you will have to.
Do not allow me to mislead you, there is a very strong argument for networking, demonstrations, extended auditions, etc and in the retail world there is a long history of loss leaders being used to entice buyers. But, always remember that if you do a job for the exposure, make sure the exposure has a pay-off and some form of return to you as the performer.
A call to action
So, I hear you think, how do I go about changing the nature of an industry that has been like this for years? And the simple answer is that it is done in the same way as you eat an elephant: one piece at a time. Let’s agree right now to make a success of every project that we create from this day forward, in every aspect of the performance. I am sure we all produce great work that is artistically significant and technically brilliant; how about adding commercially sound to this list of criteria for that way, you will be able to create artistically significant and technically brilliant work long into the future.