Welcome to Stage Door Shrink, a regular column penned by Rachel Cole aimed at helping performers chortle their way to a #win.
There comes a time in every performer’s life, when work dries up and you find yourself pulling beers at The Beresford, selling over priced, bum lifting tights at Lululemon, or in my case sucking spit out of patients mouths at the dentist.
When you’re out of work, you can either kill time waiting for auditions in a part time job or you can diversify your skill and create your own work.
Think about what skills you have, and use them accordingly. Produce that show you’ve always wanted to see performed, write a cabaret, start a corporate covers band, choreograph a new dance show, be the new Manpower – look where Marky Mark ended up! (and I don’t mean Catholic with 45 children). This requires you to be proactive and creative. I give this advice as someone who has never successfully created my own work – I’m like Bjork giving you fashion advice. (Circa 2007, I was in a relatively unsuccessful covers band – we sang a few Asian weddings, then gave up.)
We live in an unprecedented time for creating your own work. In the age of connectivity – social media, Squarespace, LinkedIn etc. – everything is easier. You can efficiently find an Accompanist, MD or Choreographer through online recommendations, find a suitable venue, you can even rip off someone else’s jokes from YouTube…
According to Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen
Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen have multiple Helpmann and Green room awards between them. Both have been Principals at Opera Australia for 15 years and have performed seasons on Broadway, at the Barbican and Vienna State Opera. Kanen will shortly be appearing in Sweeny Todd with Vic Opera and Jacqui will be appearing as Mother Abbess in the upcoming Australian tour of The Sound of Music.
When Opera Australia recently moved to a contract work model, Jacqui and Kanen used their unique skill set to create their own work in their cabaret show ‘Strange Bedfellows’ currently selling out at Cabaret festivals around the country. Here is their advice for creating your own work.
1. Do something
You can either complain about your situation, or you can change your situation. The hardest part is starting. Self-devised work will widen your skill set and make you a bolder and better performer for future gigs. It is also great exposure, which will improve your public profile and keep the momentum from your last job going. If you work in a shoe shop for a year, you risk being forgotten and becoming irrelevant.
2. You have to buy eggs to make omelets
Publicity, photos and filming cost money. So, if you lack funds, you will have to be even more industrious about getting off the ground. Brainstorm with your most creative pals. For example, we made our own set from wooden doors we found on the street.
3. Spend money wisely (on marketing materials)
I can sew the sequins on my jacket, but having fantastic professionally shot images have opened doors for us. The key is knowing the difference. Spend the money on marketing material – images, videos etc.… That is the draw card for a journalist or the public.
4. Lead with a great blurb
Take the time to sit down and write a succinct, punchy, intriguing 100-word blurb for your publicity. Don’t waffle. Entice the public to want to know more. Don’t give everything away, but give enough to spark interest. Run your blurb by friends first and see if it is grabbing.
5. Call in favours (be nice to everyone)
Lots of your own connections will have pertinent skills for your work e.g. photography, videography, direction, arrangement etc… We have had so many wonderful offers of help from people, which saves on outlay costs. Performers know what the industry is like and that sometimes you have to get something going on the smell of an oily rag. People are willing and wanting to help.
6. Take risks: you will surprise yourself
Identify your strengths. We have both written songs for this Cabaret, having never written before. The payoff is as rewarding as the risk is daunting. You may even discover a new skill set. Don’t worry that nobody will like it- someone will! Be smart, by balancing risk and skill- if you can’t tap dance, don’t try to star in your own tap show.
7. Find unique ideas: be honest
Good ideas come from life, music, things that amuse you, unique experiences, and political statements or things that horrify you. Find a hole in the market- something you have that nobody else offers and run with that. We had our unique relationship as a gay man and a straight woman who bring up a child together and our opera background… and there’s a show.
8. Market your work
Make your show/band a website. (If you can do it, and make it look professional.) Apply for the cabaret festival. Social media is your best friend. Add the website URL to whatever you can – an email signature, your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn. If you have good quality footage – put it on YouTube. Perform some free gigs or charity nights, providing free advertising for your show. Aim high with journalists by approaching the big papers. More people are interested than you think.
9. If you can afford to, get a team around you
A team can be a double-edged sword. The fewer people who are involved, the less monkeys you have to wrangle to get something done. The tradeoff is, you have to do everything yourself. We would love to, but don’t have the resources at the moment. (We have a Musical Director.) Depending on your skills and funds, you might consider a director, arranger, choreographer etc.…
10. Treat it as a viable business prospect
If you treat your project as a time filler, that will come across. The more invested you are in the project, the better it will be. You can make an income this way, but it is lots of hard work. The benefit is, it gives you control over what you want to say, over your schedule and freedom.
Jacqui and Kanen’s show Strange Bedfellows plays:
Queensland Cabaret Festival- Powerhouse Sunday June 14, 3pm.
Melbourne Cabaret Festival- Chapel off Chapel, June 19,20, 10:15 pm.
Rachel Cole is a Research Psychologist and is currently in rehearsal for the Australian tour of Matilda The Musical. She likes to think about what makes people tick. She also likes: Podcasts, politics, pepperoni pizza, property, puns, puppies and cheap things. If you know of a political podcast full of puns we can listen over a cheap pepperoni pizza while we walk a cheap dog looking at cheap property, we might just be fast friends.