This is a short challenge for anyone wanting to move forward in the arts business, as an administrator, a producer, a creative (for those who like to differentiate between admin and creative), actor, singer, dancer, or even commentator/critic.
I hear far too often the wailing of individuals … “I don’t know anyone”, “my agent isn’t getting me a job”, “Mrs Big won’t be interested in me”. Instead the individual sits at home, goes to the pub, goes to the movies, and waits for the phone to call. I challenge you to Make Connections…Just Do It.
Yesterday I spent £8 to have the privilege of meeting the Chief Associate Director of the RSC, and the senior Voice Coach of the RSC. Not a bad investment to make to meet two of the most important people in classical theatre today (*) How did I get an audience so cheaply? Who do I know? What’s my method? I will tell you the secret. I heard a rumour that they were together on a panel talking about language and the bible. I was in Stratford seeing the extraordinarily sexy “Song of Songs” created by Struan Leslie . I walked to the box office and said “I gather Greg Doran is doing a talk about something, somewhere in Stratford, tonight…can I get a ticket”. They sold me a ticket. I was making connections.
The talk was fascinating, they were both stunningly eloquent, and I learned loads. And at the end of the talk I went up to the platform (as did a number of the audience) and said “thank you, you were inspiring, you were great” etc. I had made a connection that no amount of cold letter writing, or waiting for your agent to sort a meeting, or emailing could achieve. I was standing face to face with two major talents of the RSC and chatting on equal terms.
Another example from 30 years ago. ABSA (Now Arts and Business) were doing a roadshow around the UK talking about raising sponsorship and linking to the business community. I was a student at Bristol, trying to raise money for our theatre company, the British Universities Shakespeare Company, to produce a tour of Romeo and Juliet. I went to the talk (free). There were around 75 people there from all walks of SW Arts sectors. It was a good talk. Mary Allen from Mobil Oil (later Arts Council, Royal Opera House, High Tide Festival) talked sense about making the right pitch to business. At the end she, and her colleague panellists, said – any questions do come and talk to us afterwards. I did. No-one else did. [PS I was scared witless…but get over it]. I asked an inane question of Ms Allen, and she was interested in what I was doing. She offered to meet with me sometime if I was in London and talk more about the project and the challenge.
She didn’t sponsor us, but she was immensely helpful, and in the end we found sponsorship from ICL (but that’s another story). I continued to gain good advice from her for 3-4 years after. The reason she was so interested is because, she told me, Bristol was Day 6 of the roadshow, and she had made the offer every day, and I was the first person to come down to the front and ask for help. Just Do It.
I offer one bit of advice all the time to emerging creative colleagues – and its always the same. You probably know many people (by name and reputation if not yet personally) who could give you good advice and maybe help directly. Find where they hang-out. Go and see their work. Go to their talks. Read their books and go to signings. Tell them you admire them / their work (that’s the special ingredient !!) and then ask for their advice. Don’t ask for a job, don’t drop your portfolio or 10×8 photo in their beer, don’t stalk them, don’t interrupt a private conversation – but just introduce yourself and be interested in them. They may just be interested in you.
(*) for this Blog I am putting myself in the shoes of anyone who wants to meet useful people they don’t know. I admit to knowing Greg…but the point hopefully holds valid even if I didn’t. For factual accurancy Greg and I ran the Shakespeare Company mentioned in Part 2 of this blog.