Thursday, July 17, 2008

How did college fail you?

I'm working on a pretty exciting project with fellow Brazen Careerist writer Milena Thomas and my task, right now, is to figure out exactly what college didn't teach me about a life in the performing arts.  Re-read Milena's great analysis of what she got in college... and exactly what I got out of my dance major... here. At Northwestern University, where I got my B.S., they even instituted a 'Senior Seminar' to hopefully remedy some of what the typical curriculum lacks... but it was much less about networking and finances, and much more about honing your craft for the end of the year performance.  I feel that a real senior seminar, a sort of 'Grown-up 101' should be mandatory, but thats another blog post entirely.

I need to come up with a list of questions to ask people who've gone through performing arts training and have figured out how to navigate the actual performing life. Or those who are still struggling with it.

I was lucky enough to be in the 'professional world' during high school and college so that I was pretty well prepared to handle the transition from craft to career... but in the grand scheme of things I spent about eight months as an actual professional dancer (six of those rehabbing a knee injury) so I obviously don't know it all.  I need to put myself in the shoes of some undergrad Junior who has an hour or two with a seasoned professional.  What would I ask?

  • What do you feel was missing from your college education?
  • Were you aware of what was missing while you were in school, or did it not hit you until later?
  • What was most helpful about your college education?
  • Were you able to use college to build relationships that helped you get jobs?
Personal Finance
  • How did you figure out your personal finances? 
  • Did you have any problems?
  • If you teach/freelance, do you file as an independent contractor or have you incorporated yourself?
  • Do you have a retirement fund?
Getting Performance/Art work
  • Did networking come naturally to you, or did you have to work at it? Were you able to get additional gigs/jobs/etc. that you wouldn't have gotten through just an audition?
  • Did you/do you do any personal marketing? Do you have a blog, Facebook profile, Myspace profile, Linkedin profile, etc. to increase visibility of your work?
  • How has geography influenced your work load? Did you have to move to find more opportunities?
The All-Important Part-Time Job
  • What jobs have you held to pay the bills while performing?
  • What have been the best part-time jobs for you?
  • What have been the worst?
  • Do you think it is a good idea to work as a teacher in your field while performing?
Taking care of you
  • How do you solve the health insurance issue?
  • How do you stay organized?
  • Do you ever feel like you need to distance yourself from your art?
  • Have you ever felt like quitting? How did you cope with it?
  • Have you ever been unable to perform? What happened, and how did you cope?
  • If you have moved on from performing, how did you make the decision? Why did you make the decision? How did you move on? Are you still confident in your decision?
Have any of you out there graduated from college with a degree that helps you as little as a performing arts career? What would you have liked to know before you got out? Better yet, how would you improve the curriculum so that, when you get your diploma, you are ready to start working?


Milena said...

All right! you rock...

Ronnie Nurss said...

Thanks for the enlightening post...I could also notice some similarities about your experience and my college. Just entering my junior year, I can observe some uncertainty among friends who are about to graduate or who already are - can't find jobs yet, finances, etc.

I think, for any majors, have mandatory internships with qualified professionals (in what ever field you aspire to be) or assign you with a mentor/alumni. Also mandatory class of interpersonal communication, etc. The one constant theme I notice is people not know other people - not getting hook ups to a potential job, not knowing anyone on the inside. Gotta establish those relationships; build it (network) before you need it.

Keep hustling though! Watch Pursuit of Happiness!

Victoria said...

I agree with you Ronnie... mandatory internships and networking classes should be instituted. I know that at Northwestern, internships were required for the film and journalism majors because those are perfect examples of fields where there is NO way you will get a job without an inside source.

The sad thing is, all performing arts jobs are the same way, and internships were never really pushed (we were just told to go to 'intensives'). And I'm also feeling that EVERY field is going toward a tighter job market where the only people to be hired will be networking whizes.

Those of us who realize these things are the lucky ones... but we're paying for that bachelor's degree, so why not get the full workup? Thanks for the encouragement, Ronnie!