Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to get over yourself and get a gig.

Allow me to set the stage… here you are, you’ve been training for a while, maybe a year, maybe two. Finding a class was easy! You find a school, you sign up for a class, you show up and learn in exchange for money and effort. Lots of other students are learning with you- the pathway is already paved. There is a set curriculum and a trusted instructor; your role in this story is clear from the beginning. Everyone dances into the sunset.

Then you begin to get better, you begin to get stronger. Your progress creeps slowly but steadily forward; your ambition is waking up. You catch yourself feeling a stab of wanting when you see a photo of a peer performing in a show. You know the is a dull, pervasive, uncomfortably urgent sensation in the pit of your stomach. This is not going to go away on its own. Perhaps you are even performing a little yourself. Perhaps you are years in and wondering why your career isn’t going anywhere while you watch the world around you creating weird, cool circus shows, auditioning for top notch schools, and traveling places to learn from master teachers.

At this point your inner dialogue should sound something like this, “How in the everloving crap are they doing this?!”

“How are they paying for this?”

“Don’t people work?”

“How did they meet the right people?”

If this sounds familiar, know you are in good company. If you’d like some answers to this question, I’ve written a post just for you, in which I outline exactly how I got invited to coach and perform in Europe the first time. At this time, I was a completely unknown performer. In fact, I was miserably writing copy for a tech company in Seattle, and that feeling in the pit of my stomach simply got so painful that I had no option other than to change the course of my life.

I will show you exactly how I did this. In fact, in this post I will give you the exact email I used to blindly solicit the director of an international circus company, which led to an invitation to join their ranks.

Don’t get me wrong, it is always better to have an introduction to the gatekeeper of a group you would like to be a part of. In fact, meeting someone in person is really the best way- but this is not always possible. So if there is no hope of a personal introduction or an in-person shmooze fest, how do you cross the velvet rope with a cold, hard, uncomfortably un-requested email? It feels something like this:

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Step one, find a thing you would like to be a part of. A festival, a showcase, a company; anything that gives you the stomach stab will do.

Step two, research everything you can find about this thing. If it’s a company, look at their shows. If it’s a festival, find out who goes there. Where is it? What characterizes their work? Why do you want to do this thing in particular? Answer these questions, you will need the answers. In the course of your research you must find…

Step three, procure the email address of the gatekeeper. If you cannot find this, you fail at the internet. You can find this thing. If it is not posted clearly somewhere (which I would sincerely doubt it is) you will have to follow the rabbit hole. Google their name, look them up on Facebook, do you have any friends in common? Ask those friends. You can find out how to contact them. Do that.

Step four, send them an email.

STOP! Do not proceed until you have read all of the following. Because here is where you can waste all of your above effort by making your introductory email to this person, who might hold your fate in their hands like a tiny bird, all about YOU. For example you could fail like this:

Dear Important Maker of Decisions who is Very Busy, 
I am such and such, blablabla way too much extraneous information about me me me, causing Busy Important Person to ask why is this person emailing me?
Anway I really want to come to where you are and do the things you do, and presume I can just because I want to. Gimme it! Do you like me? Check yes or no. How do I join your club? *insert more open ended questions that no one is going to take the time to answer*
Also since I’m really inconsiderate I’m not going to give you any relevant information I will just assume that you will take the time to look me up yourself and respond to me because it is an international law that all emails must be answered.
Someone you will never reply to
*insert pointed lack of useful links or contact information*

Grumpy face.

What must be made clear in this vital piece of communication is what you can do for THEM.

The gist of what you want in this email, in order:

1- Answer the question “who the hell are you and why are you emailing me?” Let them know you are familiar with their work and not just an internet troll. Tell them why you admire them, then tell them exactly what you want, and how easy you will make it for them.

2- Give them relevant information that is helpful. Why are you worth looking into? What is uniquely valuable about you? They don't need your life story, just what is useful to them.

3- Call to action. In the following example I invite them to have a dialogue with me, and I also attached a photo that showed them what I looked like and had my contact information on it. The link to my promotional materials is clearly given, as well as a phone number. Make it so easy to find out more about you that it’s hard not to follow up.

This is the exact email that I used to get my first international gig:

Dear __________,

I have been watching _____________ from afar (really afar...I live in Seattle, Washington) for the past couple of years. Your work possesses an aesthetic that try as I might I cannot conjure up doing my solo aerial work. I am a big fan of this aesthetic. I am writing to you in the hopes that you might consider me when auditioning for future shows. I can get myself there, I would be honored by the opportunity to work with your company.

To give you an idea of my skill sets, I'm an eclectic dancer, classically trained, turned aerialist and variety performer. I am developing two acts right now, one of which combines intensive belly dance muscle isolations with aerial fabric, and an aerial hoop piece that begins with an operatic aria in the air (I am a colortura soprano). I also teach aerial conditioning and solo single point hoop. Saturday I am debuting my newest piece which is swinging hoop with an intensive spin.

I would be happy to send you any materials that might facilitate more of a dialogue. Video, audio, references galore. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and please let me once again confer my regard for your work. I hope we can work together in the near future.

Sincerely yours,

Rachel Strickland

Here’s what I did wrong:

1- I didn’t leave them with a clear question. I invited them to have a dialogue, but it would have been even easier for them to follow up with me if I had asked them one pointed, easy to answer question. Such as “are you currently accepting applications for an audition?” Or “have you finalized your lineup of coaches for this season?” EVEN IF YOU ALREADY KNOW THE ANSWER, asking pointed, easy questions like these create a vacuum that encourages them to answer you right away, which creates a dialogue, and that is what you want.

Remember, you’re not expecting a year-long contract off of one lousy email, all you want is to get them to respond to you so you can have more opportunity to show them how wonderful you are and how much value you can give to them.

2- This email is waaaay too long. Kind of like this post is becoming. While I wanted to impress them, I could have done so in less words.

3- It's too formal. Never forget you are always writing another human being, who has many cares and tribulations, and truly is not that scary. A respectful yet conversational tone can get a better response.

With all these faults, I did manage to begin a conversation and many others- go forth and do the scary stuff.

1 comment:

Hannah Laura Anderson said...

My mind was screaming 'YES' the whole way through! Thank you SO much for writing this! <3