Let’s just put it right out there: being a singer is hard.
On the one hand, it sometimes feels like a charmed life. I mean, I get to devote so much of my time to practicing, taking voice lessons and coachings, working on new music, and going to rehearsals and performances where I often get to wear beautiful costumes and experience an alternate reality for a few hours, and be adored by an audience at the end of it. What’s not to love?
That’s only part of what I actually do, though. In order to even make it to those exciting and glamorous performances, I spend a lot of hours at auditions or preparing applications or materials for them. I keep a running list on my computer of all the auditions I go to, including recorded ones that I send in, and whether or not they yielded anything. In 2013 I did no less than 43 auditions––some within driving distance, some that required overnight trips, and some audio/video recordings. Of those 43, 17 were successful in that I was offered a callback audition or a role, moved to the next round of a competition, or was accepted into a program as a result of the audition. So far this year, I’ve already been to or submitted nine auditions, and four of them have been successful in some way. In fact, I recently got turned down for a role that I really wanted and for which I worked very hard on the callback material. And that’s just one instance of many.
This gets really discouraging really quickly. Lately, it’s been causing me to rethink a lot of my choices and behaviors as a singer. I believe I’m currently doing the amount of work necessary to maintain my personal status quo, but not actually working hard enough or well enough to make significant progress. So I’ve been doing some soul searching to figure out if, somewhere deep down, I don’t want to succeed or am afraid of success.
For one thing, I’ve been struggling with taking myself seriously as an artist when I don’t believe anyone else does (which isn’t truly the case, but it feels like it). I’ve also become aware that I self-sabotage, consciously or unconsciously, because it gives me an excuse if I fail and/or a reason to be proud of succeeding “in spite of” some sort of obstacle that I set up for myself. I feel like I need those things as a singer because I want to feel better about not getting chosen for a role or competition or gig, even though the decision would still be out of my control if I performed my absolute best. Part of me thinks, “Why try so hard when it’s out of my hands and my chances are already so small?”
Secondly, like any healthy person should, I have several other things in my life that are just as important to me as singing: faith, marriage, family, and friends, to name a few. Every time I successfully get cast or hired from an audition, that automatically means taking time away from those things that I care about just as much, which comes with an entirely different set of consequences and challenges. That can be and has been really difficult at times, and I often end up feeling guilty for being willing to put those things aside for my art.
I think the next step for me is to figure out how to deal with each of those things. The first item is easier, because if I can recognize self-sabotage, then there are things I can do to prevent myself from doing it. I can carve out practice time every day and focus on making that time as efficient as possible. I can take more frequent lessons and coachings. I can take an acting class or work with an acting coach. In short, I can give myself the tools and the opportunities to succeed and do all the work necessary for success, instead of half-assing because I’m afraid of pouring myself into an audition and then being disappointed. As they say, knowledge is power.
But it’s the second item, the other important things in my life, that’s much harder to figure out and to manage. It involves not only my personal mental health, but the feelings of other people who I really care about, and that can be a very delicate situation to deal with. I think in some ways, I self-sabotage not only because of the fear of failure and heartbreak, but because of the guilt that comes with spending night after night at rehearsal instead of at home or out and about with T and our friends and family. That’s something I’m not yet entirely sure how to handle or assuage.
I know I’m not the only singer to deal with these issues. It’s just that no one ever talks about them, because we all want everyone else in the opera world to think that we have everything figured out and are supremely confident 100% of the time. After all, it’s all about acting, right?
This week there have been a few articles floating around the opera singer community on Facebook, regarding whether “you” will or will not be successful as an opera singer, and what that even means. Personally, I think “success” is whatever you want it to be for yourself. For me right now, at this moment in my life and career path, success is knowing where my next gig is coming from, whether it be paid or volunteer. If I’m currently working on an upcoming show or gig, and I can look ahead to at least one more after that, I feel I’m successful. If I’m having regular opportunities to sing and perform at the high level that I know I’m capable of, then I’m successful. That definition will absolutely change over time, but I need to remember that I’m the one in control of my success––and I need to take charge now.