I have witnessed this moment many times. An artist is introducing themselves to a client/studio owner/agent, and things are going great. The chemistry is working, the client/studio owner/agent is totally vibing with them, and hands them a card. They say, email me your promotional materials and your resume. Followed by a split second of awkward balking as the artist realizes they have no such thing.
Think that moment of self doubt was undetectable to them? Think again. If you see it in yourself, they see it too. And it is totally, 100% avoidable, because if you had done the work ahead of time, you could shake their hand with confidence, knowing that everything you need is at home waiting on you to solidify the relationship with one simple follow up email.
I’ve seen people shy away from applying for residencies, festivals, showcases, audition for a great gig they were TOTALLY PERFECT FOR, all because they just couldn’t face building a damn resume.
Promotional materials are important, but this post is just a deconstruction of the one thing- the resume- that seems to make the bravest among us stare at their shoes.
What makes it scary is this:
“I don’t know the correct format.”These sentiments all have two things in common. One- they are commendable. They exist because of a desire to do something properly, because your work means something to you. Two- they are all focused on doing things “correctly.” And while there is certainly a wrong way, there isn’t a “correct” way. You’re a freelance artist, remember? You can take some liberties as long as you deliver the goods. But what are the goods? See above, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to put on it” rears it’s ugly head.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to put on it.”
“I want to do it right and I don’t know what order to list things.”
As a result, you do nothing; as soon as you try to find the “correct format” the internet is full of the most god-awful wretched advice I’ve ever heard, for all young professionals, and especially for developing artists.
Over the past several months I’ve been interviewing agents, owners, casting directors, and artistic directors on what they actually care about seeing in a resume specifically. And their answers might surprise you.
Because the truth is, no one gives a flying fart about your resume. The three best known names in contemporary stage circus are Cirque du Soleil, Les 7 Doights de la Main, and Cirque Eloize. If you have one of these on your resume, you probably don’t need a resume, and if you do, this post is not for you. Because resumes don’t get you jobs- relationships get you jobs.
HOWEVER- not having a resume ready can wreck your plans of looking like the professional you wish to be. You come off as just another flaky circus wannabe who couldn’t be bothered to conduct themselves like a commodity.
If you’re worried that everything you’ve done is small beans, consider this. The point of the resume in this instance is less about its content, and more about the fact that A) you had the foresight and professionalism to build one and have it updated and ready and B) you have actually worked before.
I’ve had students who have had way, waaaay more training than I ever did, even performed in Broadway shows, who insisted to me that they hadn’t done enough to build an impressive resume.
Ya’ll. Don’t make me come back there.
Once again, we are called to cease the dreadful habit of making decisions to soothe our own insecurities. Ok so we know no one cares about your resume until the moment in which you don’t have one, so you need one.
As I’ve said, in my research for this post I came across some of the most classically terrible advice I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing how many “articles” online prey on emerging professionals looking for real information; be they post-graduate students, artists looking for new opportunities, or high school students looking for their first job. Listen- these articles are largely written by poorly paid writers and are sold for SEO purposes. I know this, because I used to be one of them. It’s how I survived while putting myself through back-door circus school. Does that helpful article have tons of doubly-underscored links and advertisements? Yeah, you’re in the belly of the beast. Get out of there and go ask someone you trust for advice.
Now, how to write the damn thing?
Even if you’ve barely worked, if you are ready to work and you have a product, you can show us in the resume. It’s well known that hardly anyone reads them more than one paragraph in, so for the love of god leave the dull bits out. Focus on the cool shit you’ve done.
In order, you need this stuff clearly headlined, ideally on one page (as I’ve said, hardly anyone will even read the entirety of it) but more on this later.
- Special skills
CONTACT.Your name, email address, telephone number, and website. Actors and models need their stats (that means height, weight, hair color, etc.), but specialty performers don’t necessarily need to post this. Unless an agent is specifically asking for them, leave them out and let your other supporting materials (ie: amazing photos) show them what you look like.
TRAINING.Where did you train, and with whom, and for how long? This tells a lot. Definitely include this. Specialty programs? Name em. Festivals you trained at, intensives you completed, any certification you’ve earned.
What to list:Keep this limited to what you truly want to represent you. A direct quote from one of my sources:
“Tell me the big stuff. If there is no big stuff, tell me 3 or 4 of the small stuffs. Don't fill a page with small-time gigs.”What’s a small time gig? Your cousin’s wedding. That time you performed in that bar. That day you went with your aerial buddies to make a “show” in the park. HOWEVER, if this is all you have done, make it sound awesome. “Aerial fabric soloist for Private Event - Hemingway, TX 2015” sounds a lot more legit than “Wedding entertainment artist”, while being just as accurate.
Oh yeah, by the way, don’t lie. That’s bullshit.
What order to put these in?In high school they tell us to list from the most recent to the oldest, which is fine, but I would suggest listing in order of perceived awesomeness. As long as it was reasonably recent (ie: not 10 years ago) put the coolest shit first; like I said, you can expect to have their attention for about half a page. Make sure they know to take you seriously in that half a page. Also, include the years. Months are debatable. But for sure, no one gives a damn about the exact date of an event or contract. If it’s not necessary, chop it. We are going to readability and impact, not exhaustive detail.
Boldface any awards or special recognition you’ve had. Include locations- nothing vouches for you quite like black and white evidence that someone, somewhere, thought highly enough of your skills to pay for you to get on a plane. Locations look fancy, especially to Americans. Use them.
**A note on Burning Man.** This is a judgement call. There are performances of an exquisite caliber at Burning Man. There are also performances of very questionable safety standards and aesthetic merit. What I mean is, no one cares that you performed at Burning Man. The exception to this is applying to a Burning Man show or other like minded event. Use your best judgement.
This could apply to lots of things! For example, if you’re applying to Disney on Ice, maybe leave that naked hoop solo you did at Hardcore BDSM Fetish Night off the resume. You feel me?
SPECIAL SKILLS.This is where you get to mention all the random crap you can do. If you’re a singer, include your vocal range. List even more specific dance or movement training, ability to bake 15 minute brownies in 13 minutes, hold your breath and pass out on demand, wiggle your ears (I’m not being sarcastic… I’m not.) Other languages you speak? Put em here.
Should I combine my teaching experience with my performance experience?If you are applying for a combined role- definitely.
Some positions are a hybrid of a performance combined with teaching some workshops. In this case it could be a big red flag if you don’t have any teaching experience. I would recommend having two versions of your resume- one performance only, and one that blends performance and teaching beautifully, showcasing both your prowess on stage and your ability to be a dependable, high quality coach IF YOU ARE APPLYING FOR COACHING POSITIONS.
I didn’t come across anyone that only wanted to see teaching on a resume. Your notoriety as a performer lends credence to your classes.
Does it need to be one page?Well, it certainly would make it tidier not to have multiple leaves flapping about, or perhaps you could print out a double sided version when you need a hard copy. But (unless they’ve specifically asked for it) no one is going to throw you in the shredder for not having a one page. Probably.
That said, never take 10 words to say what could be said in 5. Look at your resume and ask yourself if it represents you the way you want to be represented. Ask yourself if it looks tidy and clean. If you didn’t know you, would it tell the Story of You that is accurate, supports your claim, and flatters all your hard work?
Still feeling lost and alone?
Never fear, I have a template, easy to download and fill in, that I made for just such an occasion- however it's only available to my mailing list- but you can totally join the dark side here and get access to it and some other goodies too: https://thoughtful-artisan-5947.ck.page/3ed9ac5ebd
Download, copy, bastardize, and make it better than mine!