The New Normal for Performing Artists

The New Normal for Performing Artists

I’m not the kind of person who looks back at a year and lists milestones, or stresses how hard I’ve worked. I try to live in the moment and just get on with it.

But this year, I was going over some financial statements and decided to take a statistical look at the second (!) pandemic year.

It’s no news that Covid-19 has forever changed the lives of performing artists. Since Broadway shut down on March 12, 2020, I’ve written a good deal about weathering the Covid storm.

Our lives have become “Zoomified:” rehearsals, lessons, and auditions all went virtual. We got used to all this in 2020 but many expected a return to semi-normalcy in 2021. I can’t speak for others but every audition I did in 2021 was via self-tape.

The numbers are staggering.

I taught 718 voice lessons via Zoom.
I did 108 self-tape auditions. Of those, I booked one gig. One. 

There used to be two topics you didn’t discuss in polite company: religion and money. The second prohibition has been especially damaging to artists. Artists are somehow supposed to focus only on their art. But money matters. That’s why I’ve written in the past about multiple income streams. There’s no shame in talking about making a living—in art or anything else; how else is one supposed to achieve financial security absent family subsidy (which many artists secretly have but keep on the down low)?

I think it’s essential to be honest about the numbers and stats in the post-Covid era. As painful they are, these are our new reality. Not stating them doesn’t make them any less painful, and it certainly doesn’t change them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely proud of how many voice lessons I taught. Unlike Broadway and opera singers who abruptly found themselves out of work—not for a few months but well over a year—I already had a thriving vocal studio.

I didn’t, however, teach online. Teaching online is not like rehearsing online, or even performing online. I have mature, pre-professional or professional young students who used to come in with music learned and lyrics memorized. But I had a pianist at every lesson. Now I use prerecorded tracks. I find myself teaching melodies and rhythms far more than I used to.

Teaching online is exhausting in ways I hadn’t anticipated. 718 hours is a lot of screen time. It’s not like binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix. You’re alone in a room in front of a laptop. Lessons used to be a fundamentally social, collaborative experience. We laughed and cried; we danced and sang at the top of our lungs.

That’s all gone. I have students all across America. Working on technique is often easier online; there are fewer distractions. And my students continue to book work consistently—on Broadway, television, and film. But it’s deeply draining.

As for self-taped auditions, well . . . one-hundred and eight auditions sounds like a lot, but non-artists haven’t a clue about the preparation for each and every one.

The shooting of a self-tape audition is the tip of the iceberg. The tape doesn’t include the time it takes to:

  • Memorize the sides
  • Rehearse the scenes
  • Light and stage the scene
  • Tape the scene
  • Edit the scene: It has never taken me less than an hour to edit my auditions on iMovie.

All this yielded one gig. Yes, it was a big one: a co-starring role on a major TV show. For one day, I was “#blessedandbooked.” I’m also one of the few actors I know who booked a gig during Covid. Like me, my friends were auditioning more than ever, yet booking less. The move to virtual auditions may have allowed casting directors to see more work by more actors. That’s a good thing, but it makes for dismal odds.

Whatever the reason, the ROI (return on investment) is lower. That’s a lot of time for just one gig.

Am I complaining? Actually, no. It remains my choice to be an actor and to live the artist’s life. It remains my choice to be a voice teacher and singer.

Changing careers at 41 isn’t easy, but people do it. Many singers I knew in college or graduate school threw in the towel because no other profession has odds like this. Law and med school are long, hard, and expensive, but in those fields hard work has historically translated to success and stability. In the arts, hard work doesn’t guarantee you a thing.

Happily, at the end of the hardest 18 months of my life, both as an artist and a human being, I got to go back to my happy place, the place my spirit feels freest: the ocean. A week before Christmas, I performed as a headliner on a Viking cruise in the Caribbean. I used to do ten or so cruise gigs a year.

Performing on a cruise ship for the first time in two years was exhilarating. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it brought me back to life. It reminded me that I still do love this work. Even the long airport lines didn’t faze me.

The travel, the sequined gowns, the live band, the audience: I love it all.

Is the life I chose harder than it used to be? I think it is.

Where does that leave me? Where does that leave my fellow artists? I can only speak for myself, but I’m still in. I just have to make sure that I take care of myself in a world where 108 auditions yields one job. That means meditating, exercising, journaling, and spending time in nature. I have to unplug from social media sometimes because comparisons are deadly.

Will I want to live this life forever? Who knows? For now, I do. My answer might change in two years—and that’s okay.

What I know beyond a shadow of a doubt: art matters. We are essential and we matter.

Minda Larsen

Minda Larsen is a classically trained singer, actor, and voice teacher in New York City. She’s sung at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, traveled to over 80 countries performing her original cabaret shows, and acted recently on Gotham (FOX), The Deuce (HBO), and FBI (CBS). Larsen’s students have appeared in numerous Broadway shows and national tours. Larsen earned her MM at the Manhattan School of Music. Visit @mindalarsen on Instagram.