This musing comes from several conversations in the theatre world AND the opera world over a period of time, but even more recently as this weekend.
How is one perceived as "professional"?
Ultimately it has to do with several factors: How you are viewed and how you conduct your business. Notice, I have said nothing about talent, aptitude, or any of the artistic values. That is another side of it.
If we associate - for the purposes of this blog - professional with business, we eliminate the emotional from the equation. This is important. Business cannot be emotional. This is difficult for artists as we tend to be complex and complicated. We take things personally. I get that - I've been down that road. HOWEVER, if we are going to learn to recognize "what being professional is" within the boundaries of our business, whether actor, dancer, singer, it is crucial to our sanity to figure this out individually.
So the first thing is this: how are you viewed? I mean, physically? No matter what we say, we are visual beings and what we SEE does make an impact on us. So, when you walk into an audition room, how are you seen? How are presenting yourself physically? Is it how you want to be seen? You are in control of that! When I say PHYSICAL, I am referring to presentation - how are you dressing? how do you pull yourself together? do you look like you are trying to get a job or do you look like you've spent the afternoon in Central Park? Which one has more of a chance to be viewed as professional???
Do you have a team around you that you trust? We all need that small handful of people - who are professionals themselves - that we trust to help us find our best business/professional selves. These are NOT friends, or people you audition with. These are teachers, coaches,mentors, etc etc who will not tell you what you want to hear, but what is necessary to make your professionalism true and sound. FIND THESE PEOPLE! LISTEN to them. Recognize that what they say will make a difference in how you are seen and how you develop as a professional in your "shade" of the business.
Do you have your materials together in a way that is acceptable? What is the industry standard? If you don't know, find out! Lots of resources out there to draw on - again, that team of professionals who believe in you and want to see you find your place can help point you in the right direction!
Learn the etiquette of your "shade of the business" - what is expected of you? FIND OUT don't guess!!! Business is not about guess work! Learn how to write a cover letter, send a professional email, make a professional phone call. We don't come out of the womb knowing these things, and we have all had to learn - so welcome to the learning club!!! ASK QUESTIONS to get REAL answers from the professionals you trust to give you the truth.
Do not take it personally. Ah, the crux. This is the hardest one of all. Being professional and being in business as many of us are as we become CEO of "ME, Inc" is also about learning the difference of personal and business. I once heard that a singer I was adjudicating at a music festival who wasn't winning had said "I can't do anything right, she hates me!"
The irony is, when you make it personal, it somehow deflects the RESPONSIBILITY away from the person making the statement. If I hated that singer, then the fault she wasn't winning would have been mine.
However, that is not the case. My simple response was "I don't know you well enough to hate you." She wasn't winning because she wasn't, in my professional opinion, meeting the standard as well as somebody else in her category. She didn't want to hear that. She wanted to win. Easier to blame the person in charge than take responsibility that she was fine, just not where should could have been.
People do not have to like us. They need to respect our professionalism and our work. We EARN that respect. As we continue to find ways of being less emotional and take things less personally, we begin to realize we have control over many things, and some things are beyond our control and there is NOTHING WE CAN DO ABOUT IT. We must learn to let those things go otherwise we are consumed by them.
Finding the balance is the key - and a life-long commitment to it is necessary.
As you discover that business is business and art is art you will begin to realize that it truly is your professionalism that is the bridge between them - that will unify them under the umbrella of "Me, Inc" and allow you access to both sides without compromising either one.
Susan Eichhorn Young
Susan Eichhorn Young covers all things voice—strong and sophisticated singing and speaking.
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