Archive for The Business of Aerials

Please, Stop the Music!

Yup, sometimes you just don’t like the music you’ve been asked to perform to. And sometimes artists make peculiar, I mean, interesting, choices as to what will fit an event.

So, what to do?

Your job is to sell it, no matter what your personal feelings are. I have had to perform to songs with lyrics like “A love emergency, don’t make me wait…” and sell it even though I’m dressed in pink and performing in an atrium with another woman and it’s not a love thing at all…

Another time I was performing to an electronic soundscape that wasn’t really countable. The choreographer added a ‘click track’ that we dancers could hear, but the audience couldn’t. Clever.

And then there was the aerial improv portion of an audition where instead of the super cool jazzy music everyone else had, I got “Send in the Clowns”. I’m not joking. This stuff really happens. After a brief moment of “What the…?!”, I channelled my inner Clown and got the job done. And, I got the part.

clown red wig
1. You’re a professional, so make it work.
Put your personal feelings aside. Laugh all you want in rehearsal. Then put your game face on.

2. If you really don’t like it, suggest alternatives to your client
Nothing is worse than, “I don’t like it” or “It’s just not working” unless you can offer suitable alternatives.

Make good use of YouTube. Many songs are available there, and it’s a great way to send songs to a client, without having to buy them all on iTunes first. Here’s a Beats Antique song I sometimes like to perform to.
http://youtu.be/k3LGdimsRF4

Some clients are willing to listen to your suggestions, and others, sometimes for reasons beyond their control, must require you to perform to a certain song. There’s no way to argue with someone’s favorite wedding tune…

And, Facebook is a great place to put up a post saying, “I’m looking for a piece that embodies the theme “Shine”. Any suggestions?”

3. Not liking a piece is not the same as the piece not being a good fit.
Just because a song is not your personal taste doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit for the event. You’ve been hired to do a job, so get it done. Preferably with a good attitude.

4. What makes a good piece of music:
Variety: Look for music that has a definite, beginning, middle and end. The music has to go somewhere. Avoid music that is too ambient: Brian Eno’s Music for Airports doesn’t have enough action, unless you want to put the audience to sleep.
music notes
5. Lyrics vs No Lyrics
Many people have a strong association with a particular song and it’s lyrics, especially if it’s a popular one. Avoid being compared to someone’s memory of the video or to whom they were partying with when the song was big. Look for instrumental or cover versions.

Performing for kids or for Bat Mitvah or Sweet 16? Make sure you Google the lyrics first. Daddy doesn’t want to hear the explicit version of his baby’s favorite song with Grandma and Grandpa watching.

That said, we’ve used lyrics with great effect to bring an event theme to life. We used Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me” and “New York, New York” for an Olde New York themed event to great success. For a large “Shine” themed gala, we tried several songs, starting with REM’s “Shiny, Happy People” (too commercial for the crowd), and Manfred Mann’s “Blinded by the Light” (too slow and just not the right amount of punch for a final featured act. The disco remixes were way too disco). The client’s friend recommended Spectrum by Florence + the Machine (a FB post in action), and it was GREAT!

Sometimes a cover version by another artist gives you a new twist on an old standard. And mixing old and new versions can be fun.

6. Practice Practice Practice
Try to get the music as early as possible. Listen to it over and over till you can hear all the nuances. The better you know the music, the easier it will be to perform the piece, rather than being stuck counting or listening for the end.

7. Two Songs, Two Styles
Have your act ready-to-go to two different musical genres. Maybe one version is dramatic and Cirque-like, and the other is suitable for nightclubs. Then, you can send your standard songs to the client, and chances are, one will be a good fit.

8.. There’s always ear plugs.
If you really can’t stand the song, get yourself a pair of earplugs that muffle the sound but allow you to hear your cues. And remember, that earplugs are intensely practical for gigs near super loud speakers…Always good to have a pair in your make-up kit.

Have fun – and make beautiful aerial music!

Love,
Mama Silk

Working for Charitable Events without Becoming a Charity Case

Today’s blog is inspired by a question from my esteemed colleague Amanda Goble. Amanda writes:

Over the years, like everyone else, I have gotten MANY requests to perform for free at this or that fundraising event. As an independent performer with no company (just me), I would say I get more of these than paying requests.

As much as I believe in helping my fellow man, I cannot perform for free. If/when I have performed for free, it was a) very early in my performing life b) in exchange for something of use to me (personal artistic collaboration with fellow artists, sometimes for excellent video, etc).

Every single time I get one of these requests, I find it very upsetting. I know that emotion needs to stay out of it, but it feels quite devaluing to be asked to do my job for free (or, more realistically, at a cost to me once insurance and other costs are taken into account).

I have never, for whatever reason, taken the time to draft a form response to this type of request. I do feel that it is not only an opportunity, but a responsibility, to somehow use the letter as an opportunity to educate about what it means to ask a performing artist to perform for free. Of course, I need to do it kindly and calmly.

Here are some of the tactics/questions I’ve developed for responding to and dealing with these types of requests:
1. HAVE A POLICY
It’s much easier to say ‘Here’s our policy for charitable requests’, rather than having to justify a personal position. My wife, who has been self-employed for 35 years, taught me all about the policy of having a Policy. It works like a charm on everything from cancellation policies to your policy about deposits to inclement weather clauses.

And, if you have your policy in writing, you don’t have to re-think your answer every time. You don’t have to get your emotions up, because the policy will save your bacon. It becomes about business, rather than a personal affront to my value as an artist.

People have a right to ask, and you have a right to say no.

Write your policy out, then practice saying it. “Performing is how we make our living, so we don’t perform for free. It’s our policy to offer a xx% discount to charitable organizations”. Practice now.

Remember that elephants perform for peanuts. Artists perform for decent wages.

2. KNOW YOUR LIMITS
My policy is to do one big charity event a year, at a significantly reduced rate. Some people do more, some people do less. Know what’s right for you, and don’t be nicer than you are – that’s just a breeding ground for resentment. As charitable event requests come in during the year, I will evaluate if the request seems to fit the bill as ‘the one’ for this year.

Then, the other events get my standard Policy line.

3. IS THE EVENT A GOOD FIT?
I am much more willing to devote my time and energy to a cause that is near and dear to my heart, rather than to a group or cause that I am not personally invested in.

For example, I performed for free for several years in a row at the CIBC Run for the Cure for breast cancer. A good aerial friend was Run Director and was donating her time for free. A bunch of us performed for the runners as they crossed the finish line, and it was a feel good time for all.

Now that I’m in business for myself, I’ve made it my policy to not accept a gig where the performers and I don’t make SOMETHING. Our hard costs have to be covered (performance fee, costumes, rehearsals, parking, Worker’s Comp). And my soft costs have to be covered as well (insurance, time, website, proposals) for events I’m not personally attached to.

4. TRADE / EXPOSURE
I also consider whether I will get anything out of performing for the event. Will I get to test run a new act? Will I get tremendous video or photos from it? Is there a professional relationship I want to cultivate?

Earlier this year I performed for a reduced, yet reasonable rate, at an incredible venue in NYC. I hired a photographer and videographer, because I wanted to make the event worth it for me. Here’s a couple of the fabulous photos we got from that event:
Capitale Heather Split Flutter

Capitale Guin Inverted Split Med
Photos by Christine Nygueyn

I’ve become skeptical of the line ‘This event will be great exposure for you’. I have yet to get another gig from having performed for free somewhere. Mostly I find other people who want me to perform for free or for a ridiculously reduced rate. Maybe you will be luckier than me, but probably not. I have, however, performed for free at a couple of events for event planners and have gotten a couple of leads.

Also chances are the charity is paying for the venue and the caterer and the DJ. So why should you perform for free?

5. CHARITABLE DONATION RECEIPTS
Often a charity will say they’ll give you a charitable donation receipt for your services. I’ve experienced a couple of problems wit this set up. Either you never get the receipt, or, you learn, as I learned after the fact from my accountant, that charitable donation receipts don’t count for a donation of services (but they do count for donations of goods).

If you want a valid charitable donation receipt, the cash actually has to change hands. This means they pay you your standard fee and then you write them a check for the amount you’re donating. Imagine yourself getting a check for your full fee (yum!). Now imagine yourself writing them a check for several hundred dollars as a charitable donation — how does that feel?

6. TO EXPLAIN OR NOT TO EXPLAIN
At times, I have felt in necessary to give the client my laundry list of what my expenses are and I why I can’t perform for free (or for peanuts, which is essentially the same thing). I’ve explained that we are the first to arrive and the last to leave, that we have to rent rehearsal space at $25/hour to choreograph to their selected piece of music, that I have to pay for insurance, Worker’s Comp, that I believe in paying myself and my talented performers a living wage, that we are not a charity even though they are… and the list goes on.

Mostly, I have found it’s helpful to know these things quietly for myself, so that when I deliver my policy line “It’s our policy to offer charitable organizations an xx% discount”, I can say it without defensiveness or anger. The client can take it or leave it, and so can I. Just as a client gets to pick whether we are a good fit for them, I get to pick if the client is a good fit for me.

7. BELIEVE IN ABUNDANCE
I have learned to believe in abundance. The more I say ‘no’ to gigs that I don’t want, the more better gigs come into my life. It was hard to believe in abundance when I first started out. I was much more willing to sell myself short to at least be performing. But, that model wasn’t sustainable for obvious reasons.

Are you afraid of getting a reputation as the artist who wouldn’t perform for free? Egads!

So the real work is to become comfortable with charging what we are worth. I’ve had to learn that just because someone doesn’t value my worth as a performer, it doesn’t mean I’m worthless. We teach people how to treat us. If we teach them we are not of great value by working for free or for peanuts, then we are our own worst enemy.

So let me hear you, all together now, “It’s our policy to offer an xx% discount to charitable organizations. Does that work for you?” It works for me!

Happy performing!

A Heartfelt ‘Thank You’ from a Student

We were thrilled to receive this lovely Thank You from International Student, Sabine B. She has trained with Helium 3 different times over the period of the last year or so. She has grown by leaps and bounds, and has started performing for different circuses in the UK.

Sabine writes,

“Thank you so much for another great training time here in NYC. 

What I’m able to learn in your classes is so different, in a good way, compared to lessons with other instructors.

It was you that helped me overcome my fear of any kind of drop last year. Plus, I was getting my first job in a traditional circus after my first visit here, something I  wouldn’t have thought possible for me.

You have a different way of teaching that works better for me.

And I wish that if I ever come that far, getting more into teaching, that I can take some of what you’ve taught me.”

Thanks, Sabine. We’re delighted to have a dedicated and determined student like you! Hope we can make it to teach in London in 2014.

Pop Quiz: Creative, Controversial, or Clueless?

What makes an artist creative, commercial, controversial or clueless? What kind of artist are you? There’s an interactive Pop Quiz at the end, so read on, and please answer honestly, so we can have a fruitful discussion.

Today’s post is inspired by a recent article in the NY Times about the controversial Chinese artist and social activist, Ai WeiWei’s latest work. In this video called “Dumbass”, he graphically recreates scenes from his illegal detention, set to heavy metal music.

aiweiwei

Love it or hate it, Mr. Ai’s work usually provokes some kind of emotion. His work is often a staunch commentary on the Chinese government, which has landed him in jail on more than one occasion. So there’s definitely some ‘juice’ to his opinion, that seriously rocks the status quo in his environment.

So it got me thinking about what it means to be a controversial artist, and what’s controversial in the aerial arts world these days.

What’s controversy anyways? According to Merriam-Webster:
con·tro·ver·sy — noun
1: a discussion marked especially by the expression of opposing views : dispute
2: quarrel, strife

I used to shy away from controversy. I was too afraid to be on the ‘wrong’ end of a discussion, to be disliked or to be ridiculed. I’ve grown to learn, however, that controversy is positive. In fact, it’s a key component to the entire democratic system. Discuss, listen, agree to disagree, and perhaps change your mind or someone else’s. Controversy shakes us out of our complacency and helps us to evolve, personally, professionally, artistically, however painful that may be.

While my art is still far from controversial, I’m OK with that. I’m not ‘the disturber’, nor do I wish to be. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But as I’ve found my creative voice, I contribute to my art form in the realm of fusing aerial and dance and character for the WOW factor with beautiful lines and pointed toes for my corporate gigs, and emotion and humanness expressed inventively for my more artistic gigs. I’m creative and I’m commercial – a combination that keeps me busily employed at a high level and providing work for other artists.

Many aerialists are intensely creative and are really moving the art form along by fusing diverse art forms, media, props, incredible virtuosity, new apparatus, costuming and music. But how many of us are truly controversial, with a capital ‘C’? I’d love to hear from you about who you think is controversial in the aerial world, and what discussion or opposing views that artist brings forth with their work.

As a point of comparison, I found this list of 10 Controversial Artists of the last Century by Annemarie Dooling (God, I love the internet, sometimes). The list includes artists like:
-Georgia O’Keefe, who painted nature is ways that were interpreted at the time to be racy representations of the female anatomy,
-Pablo Picasso, who once stated, “For me there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.”, and
-Christo Javachev, whose work “The Gates” covered part of Central Park with orange banners. Art to some, a waste of fabric to others.

So, aerialists, do you have to get yourself arrested like Ai Weiwei to be a controversial artist? No. Does getting arrested mean you’re controversial? Not necessarily. Did your act lead people to consider the world differently? Were you challenging existing norms, commenting on the current state of society, the government or it’s people? Or did you just want to create a stir on Facebook, and gain some notoriety?

The aerial controversies I’ve come across lately have more to do with whether aerial instructors should be insured, and whether teacher certification is good for the industry or is elitist. But these are controversies for a subsequent post. And is bad rigging controversial, or is it simply bad?

I’m not suggesting you have to be controversial to be a respected artist. But I am suggesting that if you want to call yourself a ‘controversial aerialist’ you probably want to challenge the status quo in more ways than safety and creative costuming.

Here’s our Pop Quiz to keep the conversation going: We will tabulate all results.

Controversial, Creative or Clueless

Select the answer or answers that best reflect the artistic endeavor. We'll tabulate the results and let you know what everyone thinks. Replies are anonymous.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

References:
1. NY Times Article “Prison Was Awful, but He Likes the Video Version”, page C1, May 22, 2013. Full article here
2. Ai Weiwei website: AiWeiwei.com (accessed May 22, 2013)