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So you want to be a Performer when you grow up...

Or if you are the parent: So Your Child Wants to be a Performer…

 

            You came to the right place. I’m ready to spill all the tea.


            If I’ve learned anything in my years on this planet, it’s that every performing arts field has all the core, important details in common. Talent, work ethic, confidence, creativity, compensation and the luck factor are all the same whether you are singing or playing an instrument or dancing or acting or flying!


            The cliché “Talent only gets you so far.” is a cliché because it holds true.



photo by Samantha Thorne

            Any performing artist who has been through a post-high school training program will tell you that a LOT of talented people can’t hack the program because they don’t know how to work. Any hard worker can out-perform the most talented simply by playing the longevity game.


            Therefore, if your child truly wants to be a performer, stop emphasizing their natural talent and start observing for work ethic.  Observing.


            If you do the work for your child, your child will stop doing the work and let you.


            Refrain from choreographing or writing for your child. Do not critique their technique.

            DON’T DO IT!!!!!!



photo by Samantha Thorne

           

A successful artist has to go through a period of messy work. Parents who intervene in this messy work actually sabotage their child’s chances for success as an adult artist.


            “But the child needs to learn.” parent say.


            Yes, they do.


            However, it is best if the teaching happens by a professional adult who is not the child’s parent.


            I am capable of teaching my child piano, but I don’t because I am mom. There is a needed boundary between instructor and student in order for the lessons to stick just right, and being a parent crosses that boundary. I pay a piano teacher for my child. I sit back and observe. I ask what their favorite part or hardest part of the lesson is. I sometimes mention that I notice the child is progressing nicely. Mainly, I sit back and let the child work.


            On the occasion the child asks me for help, I can teach in the exact same way I’d teach any other child, but my child will get frustrated with me. Because I am mom.


            The easiest way to get a child to quit is to step into a teaching role as parent.


            The easiest way to nurture growth, not only as a performer but as a human, is to observe your child’s work. “I saw you try that skill four times before you got it. You looked so happy when you when did it!” And then be quiet and let the child talk about the experience. Just listen.


photo by Samantha Thorne

           

Avoid equating your own emotions with your child’s achievements. Whether it’s a happy or sad feeling, it has nothing to do with the child’s work. Notice if the child displays feelings. It’s ok to tell your child it makes you happy to see them happy and you will love them even when they are frustrated or sad. But make sure we are drawing a direct line from the child’s work to the child’s feelings and perceptions.


            Do this across life skills, not just in their activities. Whatever they do in life will reflect these early experiences. If a child learns that they perform to make a parent happy, they will struggle to do their art for their own sake. If a child learns that an imperfect performance makes a parent sad or mad, they will be paralyzed with fear. That fear transfers not only to the stage, but throughout life events like job interviews and board meetings.


The photo below is an image of a perfectly healthy and wonderful, developmentally appropriate moment. We can see their brains working in their facial expressions. They are adapting familiar work to an unfamiliar stage with lights and big sound. Something didn't go as planned in rehearsal and they are working to adapt. Children MUST feel safe having these moments as they grow into performers!


These two are smart, strong workers! They are skilled aerialists and are such fun to watch!!!


This moment displays the tenacity required for success in life! If it were easy, everyone would do it. Learning to adapt is the primary lesson. I live to teach through these moments!


photo by Samantha Thorne

           

OK. Got it.


            What about preparing the kids for auditions?


            PHEW!!! This sounds daunting! And it can be!


You can’t expect a crash course in “How to audition” to do much. It is a good thing to prepare a child artist for auditions, but this takes years. Not days.


I observed Rachel teaching a child to delicately and precisely articulate through the foot as they learn to point their feet. That is audition prep at its finest. This child is gaining muscle memory at age ten that will carry throughout her life. When she’s (potentially) at an audition at age 18 for a dance or aerial program, her toes will speak volumes.


photo by Rachel Dart


She won’t have to boast about trophies won. Her form is the trophy. Access to opportunity is the prize.


Quality over quantity. In all things.


How you practice is how you perform.


Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Again, these cliché are time tested truths.

 

Let’s flip the script here: Practicing sloppy technique creates a sloppy performer.

 

You cannot undo years of subpar (or lack of) technique in a year or a month or a week. It takes a long time to untrain bad habits and then retrain good habits. This is true for musicians, dancers, aerialists, actors, and all performing artists.

 

If your child states they even maybe want to perform when they grow up, do them a gigantic favor and find the highest quality instructor that you can. Interview them and ask about their priorities when teaching children. You want to hear that they prioritize healthy child development and developing quality technique, muscle memory patterns from the start.



Photo by Samantha Thorne

 

            Simply Don’t Get Injured!!!


                        Longevity is the most effective technique. So don’t get injured.


                        Accidents happen. Bodies can get sick. There’s a lot we cannot predict or control, but there is a lot we can.


                        A quality instructor teaches children how to listen to their bodies.


                        A quality instructor teaches common injury points and how to avoid them. In dance, Rachel teaches us that if you force your turnout in the wrong way, you’ll hurt your knees. In aerial, I teach that if you don’t hold your shrug, you could dislocate your shoulders. And there are so many common injury points to teach across all the arts!!!


                        Being able to DO an art is not the same thing as being able to TEACH the art. Rachel and I are both constantly assessing body mechanics and teaching safe movement patterns to our students. It is hard work for the children to concentrate on not only doing the thing, but doing it right!


                        But, the sad and honest truth is we both know other people our age who dropped out of their art and live in chronic, disabling pain as adults because of sloppy, bad instruction as children. Children can and do develop muscle memory patterns that either help them succeed or lead them to knee and hip and shoulder surgery as adults.



photo by Paula Van Kuren

                        Precocious is not always a good thing in athletic arts. The Slow, Steady, Crockpot approach builds solid strength and muscle memory. A trophy at age twelve means nothing if it’s traded for a knee surgery at age twenty-two. The girl in a knee hang on the lyra carefully practicing her foot articulations learned in her ballet class is going to win the opportunities as an adult. Longevity. She’s going to have perfectly pointed toes at age twenty-two and can aim her focus on charming her audience.


Performing Arts is a brutal world to try and make a living. I won't sugarcoat the truth. But, if a child knows this is what they want, they know. It is what they will pursue. So let's be honest while helping to pave a doable path.


photo by Samantha Thorne


Paying jobs and quality training programs will probably require an audition. That audition is essentially a tiny sliver of time in which a person must display why they are the highest quality candidate for the position.


So, if a student tells me they want to be a Performer (in any field of the Arts), I feel it is the greatest favor I can give them to mentor them into working towards audition success.

Most of my audition experience is in the vocal arts. But the main concepts are the same in every field. I once won a full-ride scholarship based on a vocal audition, so I will share what helped me.


1.     I chose a primary piece that I am uniquely capable of mastering. It fit my voice like a glove. It showcased the things I can do that most other vocalists cannot do.

2.     I worked my primary piece until it was so far engrained into my muscle memory that I could sing it in a vacuum, sick, with or without accompaniment, wide awake or dead asleep.

3.     I studied my primary piece deeply. I didn't just sing it. I used the singing to communicate. I crafted Art, with a capital A, from the notes on the page. I allowed the character of the piece to come out and play as I allowed the music to flow. I engaged my listeners actively. I was able to do this because I had the piece deeply memorized.

4.     I backed up my primary piece with a variety of others to display my versatility on the chance I got a second look. I did.

5.     All of those other pieces had to be as well-executed as the first.

6.     I backed up my vocal ability with an academic understanding of what I was doing, both physically and in theory. I lived and breathed the Art for years, so I spoke in the vocabulary and I played in the theory. The auditioning board asked me to do vocal exercises, and I could do them perfectly because I had practiced them perfectly in weekly lessons for years. Second Nature Muscle Memory of Foundational Skill is the magical key to opportunity!


Any quality training program in the arts is looking for candidates who have mastered the basics to the point that the artist can do them by second nature muscle memory. They want candidates passionate enough to have a repertoire of work, not just one wonderful piece. They are looking for students who have begun the process of developing a deep understanding of both the physical and theory levels of the work, and who have an internal drive of work ethic.


photo by Samantha Thorne


Basically, they don't want to waste their time, energy, and resources on students who just want to play when it's time to work.


Hobby level art is wonderful! So valuable!


But if a student wants to become a Performer, capital P, there is a great deal of work to do! Hobby level work is not enough to pass through competitive auditions or sustain a viable career.


In the aerial world, an auditioning board will likely be watching the way performers warm-up as much as they are watching a prepared piece. They want to see a performer’s process.


Dance auditions include taking a class. They are observing a student’s work ethic and attitude.


What happens on stage is a direct result of process, attitude, and work ethic.


A serious note: No one wants to witness a person injuring or embarrassing themselves.


Auditioning boards looking to fill either a professional role or a student training program do not want a liability risk.


It does not impress auditioning boards to bring the most difficult work you can hack. In fact, that is a sure way to be dismissed immediately.


Bring your most advanced work, that showcases your unique strengths, that you can do cleanly and with second nature muscle memory. Be honest about where you are at in your learning journey if you have an opportunity to speak to it.


photo by Paula Van Kuren


Your passion and work ethic are the edge you need!


            Work ethic is taught through consistent routine over the course of years.


            My vocal audition prep began when I was in the preschool level Suzuki violin lessons. It was impressed upon me how to respect the instrument, how to listen, and how to be precise when I play. I may have been playing “Twinkle,” but it was a clean and thoroughly understood Twinkle.


            My vocal audition prep was a second grade pull-out music program where I learned to sing solfege from the tuning fork. I thought my teacher was magical because she could find any note with just her ears. I wanted to be magical too!


            My vocal audition prep was classical technique begun at age 14, singing classical music for the sake of building a strong vocal anatomy, whether I liked the song or not. (Usually not.)


            My vocal audition prep was a series of low-stakes auditions and performances between ages 14-18 for things like showchoir and all-state choir and solo opportunities wherever I could find them. I got passed over for so many roles I wanted, but I also had amazing opportunities to sing with conductors and composers who shared their Art, with a capital A.


            My vocal audition prep was a class entitled Sight-Singing and Ear Training. Four years of collegiate sight-singing and ear training sessions by a meticulous instructor who cured me of any hubris and set my mind on building muscle memory until I couldn’t fail. (And, just like that, I was Magical like my music teacher in the second grade! Magic = Work.)


            My vocal audition prep was a total eight years of private voice lessons with 2 instructors who both pushed technique over output or trophy winning. The result was excellent output and plenty of award winning.


            Most people think the audition prep happened in the month before the audition. Nope. I had a newborn baby at the time. Physically and mentally, I was at a low point to be honest. The month leading up to the audition, I chose the pieces from my repertoire and practiced them regularly. I rehearsed potential interview questions. I chose what I would wear. I organized my audition binder. I typed up the required information. The real work took over a decade before the audition.


It was worth it. I won a full-ride scholarship for a master’s program.


More than that, I gained genuine confidence and self-worth.


Auditions for aerial arts are still a comparatively new thing in the world. Aerial Arts didn’t really exist as a thing until 1997 with the popularity of Cirque de Soliel.


I work to maintain awareness of what aerial arts opportunities exist and how to obtain them. In order to win spots in amazing aerial jobs or training programs across the globe, you have to possess all the basic fundamental skills at a second nature muscle memory level. I’ve chosen the silks/lyra/pole/hammock or sling/rings combination for beginner and intermediate aerial classes in order to ensure that all AerFire students who make it through an Advanced Program have the foundation built strong.


Most circus school and aerial performance programs require or prefer a minimum of beginner level ballet technique. It just makes sense. Dance technique enhances aerial artistry. Tumbling, acting, singing, flow arts, and general performance skills are all beneficial when competing in a pool of talented aerialists.


As current young people are transitioning into post-high school dance opportunities, collegiate dance programs are incorporating aerial arts. It is a major benefit in the college acceptance and scholarship process to round out a dance background with aerial arts experience.



Aerial is new. Aerial is hitting HOT TREND status right now. By the time our current preteens are looking at college and beyond, aerial will be taking a more core place in the performing arts world, as a whole. My prediction. Having that dual Aerial & Dance muscle memory set into stone upon entering adulthood will give these kids a leg up. Pun intended.


Being awesome at one thing only will limit a person’s opportunities.


This brings us to the next point…


Professional Performers rarely choose their own work. They audition for a paying job. If they get it, they perform as directed.


An example from my vocal experience: I have enjoyed a role playing Jenny Lind, a famous opera singer from long ago. I got the job because I can sing opera and I can act the role, and I’m willing to study and make it an enjoyable experience for the audience.


If I showed up to this event as myself and decided to just sing whatever songs I wanted to sing, I would not be asked to ever play Jenny Lind again. It wouldn’t matter how awesome I am. The job is to play a role, to be Jenny.



Real world performing is NOT anything like a recital or competition! It is a job, like any other job.


Recitals are great experiences as we are learning, but if all we ever do are recitals and competitions, we will not be prepared to actually do the work of a performer.


Experiencing shows where we play a role that isn’t our first choice is a vital piece of arts education! Our attitudes and work ethic in those situations are truly what define our ability to make it in a brutal, tough field like performing arts.


photo by Samantha Thorne


AerFire aims to provide a variety of performance opportunities at all levels. A child who grows up at AerFire will be equipped to learn, grow, take direction, create their own art, manage a practice routine and body care, and work within a framework of a whole studio or team.


I hope one day soon to hear around town that AerFire kids have a reputation for being smart, tough workers who don’t compromise on quality or safety.


If we can make that happen, these AerFire kids will succeed at anything they choose! Some may become professional artists. Others may be doctors or physical therapists or school teachers or engineers or lawyers or entrepreneurs who utilize the same success skills!


In the aerial studio, as in life… "Hang in there, Kiddo! Trust your grip! You got this!!!"


photo by Samantha Thorne



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