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Preparing for the Big-Picture Career


No matter where you are in your career—pursuing a degree, auditioning for professional work, well established, or looking for another focus for a parallel or post-performing career—it’s never too soon to start thinking about your future career moves. Performing artists have many specialized skills (versatility, presence, commitment) that are adaptable to other settings, and there are many things one can do as a bridge to future transitions that are invaluable for artists at all stages of their careers. Let’s look at some ways performers can prepare now, while still in school or just starting out, for a passionate future that may or may not include art, but can always be an expression of the creative self.


One Juilliard graduate I know has never been without work. She currently has a contract for a long-running Broadway show. However, she has started taking business classes, found a financial advisor, and begun strategizing about business ideas. An undergraduate dancer is planning his nonprofit teaching-artist organization. He wants to know what he can do now, even as he prepares for the spring semester at school. Another artist has been struggling to land steady performing work since graduating last year. She has prepared for auditions, studied companies and roles for “good fits,” and has booked work perhaps six months in this past year. She found health insurance through the Freelancers Union and has worked at a furniture store around her auditioning and taking class. And finally, a recent music graduate is tiring of working sporadically on tour. He’s taking classes toward a nursing degree, with the intention of continuing his music career as well.

Learn about yourself—your likes and dislikes, skills and strengths, values and priorities. Keep a journal, do a self-assessment exercise (found in many career guidance books), or a licensed test such as Career Values Card Sort, Self-Directed Search, or Myers/Briggs Type Indicator. Get feedback from your mentors. Be curious about the world; go on some informational interviews to meet with people who are doing what you’d like to do—next year, in five years, 10 years from now. Read a magazine or journal or join a blog to stay current in your art and other passions (cooking, investing, international cultural exchange). Learn the language and culture of your interests.

Start setting short-term goals for performance and academics revolving around research, summer plans, and part-time work. Plan long-term for both artistic income-producing work as well as big-picture career moves, and do the same for other parts of your life. In this age of mobility, upgraded data storage options, and information sharing, it’s vital to organize your Web research, articles, business cards you’ve collected, information from seminars, and other materials so they remain retrievable. If you haven’t already, it might be a good time to create your own Web site or MySpace page. Share resources with faculty, classmates, and fellow artists. You already have the first foundations of building your network!

Once you’re more familiar with your self-assessments, values, and goals, look for “good fits” in roles, performance pieces, companies, contracts, and parallel work. You can begin trying out or “auditioning” for good fits by going on informational interviews with questions that serve your needs. Shadow, volunteer, or intern. And keep in touch! You’ll be able to offer information forward and back, sooner or later. Audit classes, rehearsals, performances; attend seminars or conferences. These activities can fit into a full-time student, touring, or work schedule with strategic and creative planning.

Continue to work on your performing résumé and drafts of non-performing ones, including functional résumés for adapting your skills as a performer to new parallel and/or subsequent non-performing careers (such as fundraising, arts management, writing, or business ownership).

Scout out health insurance and familiarize yourself with Cobra regulations. The Actors Fund’s Health Insurance Resource Center is an excellent starting source nationwide. Learn about unemployment insurance rules for both N.Y. State and elsewhere. Plan for your financial present and future by looking at budgeting, savings, tax deductions, investments. Investigate grant and scholarship resources for performing companies, specialized courses, non-profit organizations, and entrepreneurial businesses.

Take advantage of free, nationwide career services such as the Juilliard Office of Career Development (for both students and alumni); Career Transition for Dancers; the Actors Fund’s Actors Work Program; the transition and career services of your company and/or union; and options such as the Field, Small Business Administration, Score, and the national network of One-Stop Career Centers.

Creativity and expanded possibilities are only a click, text message, or meeting away. It’s never too soon—or too late—to prepare now for your creative future.


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