More on Artists and Facebook with @simonwoods:

I didn’t have a decent website until after grad school and by then I had already started establishing myself. Pretty much the only way to break into the live performing arts (unless one is famous for something else) is to start small and network in person. And be both lucky, talented, hard working, and lucky. At the end of the day, the people or institution that are hiring probably are not searching through websites.

Here was my route in:
1. Avoiding being on stage for my 9th grade musical by running the light board.
2. Let the drama teacher draft me into other shows.
3. Go to a college without a theater department, look into the student theater during orientation, and immediately be drafted to work on shows.
4. Stick around said student group and get some internships/jobs over the summer. Some through networking, some through cold calling.
5. Decide I actually want to peruse design as a career halfway through my senior year, research some internships, and apply blind.
6. Get lucky with one internship and take it.
7. While working on that internship, meet an associate designer who invites me to help start an art colony. I met that associate designer because I had worked with the primary designer during the previous summer. The only reason he was designing for a college theater was that he and the director were just married and it was a bit of an extended honeymoon.
8. Start calling myself a “Lighting Designer”.
9. Meet a woman at said art colony who gets me to sub for her at PS122 in NYC.
10. Have the production manager and staff at PS really like me and have not planned ahead on a staffing replacement. After the overhire week, get hired full time.1
11. Work really hard, meet artists and designers who hire or recommend me. Make friends with both groups.
12. Repeat step 11 until Graduate School.2
13. Do well in school, while continuing to do professional work over the summer.
14. More hard work, meeting people, and making friends.
15. Repeat step 14 until retirement.

Step 7 is probably the most crucial in determining the shape of my career and is also the most random. It’s closely followed by Step 10 in both respects.

(I’m leaving out the psychological collapse and hospitalizations between 14 and 15. That’s made things harder. On the other hand, I got really lucky a whole boatload of times, including being born into my family).

Most people I know have a similar round about story. It’s really hard to break into a field that’s so much about collaborating in person without being physically present where the art is happening.

Groups and company’s do need websites; producers will look at them for press and video of past performances. But for individual artists, they are much less important. Not sure if you caught the edit on my last post, but I talked about the purpose of a designer’s website: for people to glance at and confirm one’s basic competence. In the past 10 years, I think I have received one “cold call” through mine. And then I passed it along to a colleague. Networking!

Also, I’m being somewhat facetious by calling it networking. It’s mostly going to see shows, getting drinks after, passing names along of other artists you work with or admire. Basically one has to do good work and be a sociable person. Hell, when a director hires a designer to work at Perseverance Theatre one of the things they think about is: will I enjoy spending all day, practically every day with this person for several weeks in a row?

  1. And from that job, help get several people from my undergraduate college hired, which then helps launch their design careers. Networking!
  2. Decide to go to grad school practically on whim because my girlfriend’s brother is studying at Tisch and we go to the department’s Holiday Party. Probably part of the reason I get into Tisch is a friend lends me a book about the language of con artists and the professors interviewing me find my description of the book interesting. [return]