Minda Larsen is presenting at the CS Music Online Convention, May 25-30. Register to attend the Zoom classes at www.csmusic.info/convention.
I probably found it in a woman’s magazine like Glamour or Cosmopolitan. A silly source for wisdom, I knew even then, but the words resonated with me so deeply, because I’d already had my first bitter taste of rejection when I failed to land the part of Maria in a school production of West Side Story. My best friend got the part.
Soon thereafter, I was not among those accepted into Carnegie Mellon’s “pre-admission,” having grown up in a small Florida town without opportunities to train and perform in musical theater and opera.
These two disappointments strengthened my resolve, much sooner than most, to create my own material and star in my own damn shows. Twenty-five years later, I haven’t stopped.
Here’s the rub, dear actors and singers: this industry is volatile at best, cruel and vindictive at worst. In the era of COVID-19, the uncertainty that has always attended a life in the performing arts is at a high water mark.
Even in the best of times, you couldn’t count on steady work. No one knows when the industry will return to normal (which was never normal in the first place). The week after making my solo debut at Carnegie Hall, I was waiting tables. That wouldn’t be normal in any other profession. In the arts, sadly, it’s typical. The one thing you can count on in showbiz is the rollercoaster of highs and lows.
That said, we have far more control than we think. The people sitting behind that table in an audition don’t have a monopoly on power. We can choose to reclaim our power as artists. It’s not easy. It takes courage and determination—and time. But it can be done.
STEP ONE: Defining Your Life
Start with the basics. Where do you want to live? How do you want to dress? What color hair do you want? What kind of restaurants do you want to eat? With whom do you want to study your craft? Where do you want to vacation?
The answers to these questions are more complicated than they seem. Do you really want to live in New York City or Los Angeles? Maybe you’re more of a small-town girl or country boy.
Even if you’re a city mouse, the cost of housing in New York or L.A. will affect your answers to the other questions. Specifically, if your rent is $3000 a month, you will be under constant pressure to earn enough money just to make rent. Many New Yorkers spend 50% of their gross on housing. This leaves little if anything for clothes, vacation, lessons, restaurants, and shows.
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Many artists believe they must live in one of these two cities, or worse, that they’re not serious about showbiz unless they make New York or LA their home base. I’m not sure that was true before the pandemic, but I’m even less sure it’s true now. The times they are a-changin’. People in all professions, including ours, have come to see just how much can be accomplished remotely, via Zoom and other such platforms. Self-tapes, once a last resort, have become the norm.
Beyond housing (and weather!), you have to consider the other aspects of life that shape who you are: friends, teachers, clothing, style, what you do for fun.There’s no right or wrong, here. Everyone’s answers will be different. But many people haven’t really thought about what they want. Either they’re living someone else’s answers or their idea of what others think they should want.
Have the courage to figure out what kind of life will make you happy. It may be different from the life you currently live. If the prospect of a larger apartment in Pittsburgh (with your own washer and dryer) makes you breathe more deeply and fully, put that on the table, naysayers be damned.
If shopping at H&M or Old Navy feels soul-destroying, stop it! Shop secondhand or vintage, or save money to buy designer at seasonal sales.Study with teachers you admire and who believe in you, even if they charge more. Take a Shakespeare class, even if it intimidates you, because you love Shakespeare and the thought of it boosts your spirits.
The industry is too fickle and life is too short to keep playing by someone else’s rules or striving for other people’s definition of success. Dig deep, get quiet, meditate, and pray. A Broadway show or major opera production aren’t the only metrics of making it (as I’ve written in Is It All Worth It: Making it as a Singer).
When you get them from the industry, follow the green lights. Follow the yeses: these are clues or signs. They’re the industry (and the universe) talking to you.
I so wish I had followed the green lights instead of plowing ahead, driven by my ego. I was going to be an opera singer,. It took me a long time to learn this lesson. Come hell or high water, I was going to be an opera singer.
In the process, I encountered both hell and high water. Still, I continued to ignore people and opportunities put in my path because I was hell-bent on one goal and one goal only: to sing opera. The few times I succeeded in that goal, professionally, I couldn’t even enjoy it because I was so depleted and exhausted.
When I started following the green lights (for me: acting auditions and classes, cabaret shows, and blogging), I realized that I had changed paths. I was no longer on the “opera track” I had convinced myself was the be all and end all of existence. I found myself on a much more interesting, joyful, varied, and lucrative path that was fully my own.
I was starring in my own damn show, and that show was my life!
I would have been on that path far sooner if I had just said yes to these opportunities. I could have been starring in my own show, rather than desperately trying (and failing) to co-star in someone else’s.
Friends, there is one way for you to live the life of an artist. What worked for others may not work for you.
Most of all, stop chasing fame. You are not less of an artist because you aren’t on Broadway or singing at the Met.
Your God-given talents and gifts are meant to be shared. Don’t waste time comparing or wishing on a star. Start now. Create work. Show people your work. Sing music that lights you up. Share it. Buy sequin trousers. Dye your hair. Move to Nashville. Star in your own damn show.
I believe in you.