A little over a month ago, my artistic career went through a major shake-up. I had just received a string of rejections , the well of work was drying up, and I just wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to sustain this life as I currently saw it.
Then, after one 14 hour work day on January 24th, my perspective was broadened. I worked three different jobs for one production at the Canadian Opera Company. When I got home that evening at 2:00am, I sat down and wrote a Facebook post about my day and how it opened my eyes and changed my definition of success.
Just a couple of days after posting, Musical Toronto contacted me and asked if they could share it with their readers. That post can be read here: http://www.musicaltoronto.org/2017/01/25/letter-william-ford/#.WIk8nQexSaI.facebook
To summarize my day with COC’s production of “Götterdämmerung”: I began work early in the morning as a “lightwalker” (a stand-in for performers as the tech crew focuses lights), then attended a rehearsal as a spectator for study purposes, and finally that evening I sang in a rehearsal for the production as a chorus member. Three very different types of work, but all involved in one common production. You can read my full response to this experience in the above article, but basically I was awakened to just how many of my dreams have come true, even if it didn’t look like the success I was searching for.
Soon after, Ashley Boychuk of the “Coalition for Music Education in Canada” contacted me saying she had read my post and wanted to share it with members of her community. We met briefly to discuss my experience, and she challenged and inspired me to take my experience and find within it a message to share with other young performers. In the end, I was able to break my experience down into three reminders that resonated with me that day:
- Try everything and find fulfilment in everything you do. Interestingly enough, I had never sung a dedicated chorus role until I joined the COC. Since doing my first contract, I have found how fulfilling it is to be part of something so big without the pressure of being in the spotlight. It’s a different kind of fulfilment that speaks to a broader spectrum of art and collaboration that solo performing doesn’t always reach, and while I still actively pursue solo roles, I have a blast doing ensemble work as well.
- Set multiple goals of varying possibilities. This I learned from my dad, and mentioned a bit in my post. Torin Chiles, my teacher at Western, taught me that there are many paths up the same mountain. That mountain can be as complex as a solo career, or it can be as simple as finding a fulfilling job participating in the music and or performance art industry. I often work as a bartender at the Four Seasons Centre, and I thoroughly enjoy serving patrons there. I still feel like I am part of their whole theatrical experience. I also like to imagine the path not as a single lane road, but a four lane highway where you can change lanes to avoid obstacles as they arise. I say this because what I think I truly learned that day was that the reality of my goals included parts of each different version of the path that I had imagined. That to me is true fulfilment; a multi-coloured, shaded life with varying levels of achievement. Having one goal not only gives you a smaller chance of hitting it, but sometimes you come to realize that it wasn’t everything you dreamed it was going to be. Never let the achievements and failures of others define your sense of self-fulfilment, which leads me to my last point:
- This last part is kind of tricky, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. You will know when it is time to move on. In the end, this article as a whole reminds me that even though things still haven’t worked out the way I wanted them to, I would not leave this career despite the frequent roadblocks and rejections. It makes me re-focus, enjoy what I already have even more, and makes me work harder to become a better artist. This may not be the case for everyone, and sometimes searching for fulfilment elsewhere is just what you have to do. I have many colleagues that have moved onto fulfilling careers in law, medicine, advertising, and sales. But you always, ALWAYS have to recognize that no matter what happens, you should feel proud and blessed for the contribution to performance art, be it practical or through study. You have enriched the art community by simply being a part of it. Allow the art community to enrich you back, no matter what career path you take.
Never forget why you started performing, and let that be the core of every goal and experience you have.