Those who can’t do, teach. This phrase used to give me imposter syndrome….bad. The obvious answer to the “why can’t they?” question this phrase raises and the reason people quote it, is a perceived lack of talent or ability on the part of the one who is teaching instead of doing. But I argue there could be other answers to the “why can’t they” question.
Why would an otherwise talented and learned musician “not do?” Here are some other possibilities to curb our immediate judgment (of others and ourselves).
Time and Priorities
There are so many things competing for our time these days. While a musician may have the ability to masterfully execute a performance, they may not always have the capacity. There can be so many factors into deciding if one wants to prioritize an audition and/or accept if offered the role/job. Some things to ask yourself before auditioning or accepting could be:
- What are some things I will achieve or hope to learn from this experience?
- Will this experience further my education, my career, or my credentials if I choose to participate?
- Are there other things that are currently a part of my life that I should be prioritizing over this opportunity that makes this a “not right now” choice?
Answering these question and performing what is basically a cost-benefit analysis of each performance opportunity is a really important part of the process. And the answer to “why can’t they,” could be time and capacity in this season.
Sometimes the answer to deciding not to pursue an opportunity or to not being chosen, is simply not being a right fit for the job. As with any other job, there are several factors in addition to talent and experience. Other secondary factors include things like who else is up for the job? Will this musician fit with the other musicians already participating in this event? Is this musician right for the culture of the performance or the overall program/organization? Both the musician and the director need to agree to the “rightness” of the fit.
As a musician, do I want to pursue this opportunity? Would this fit with my style? Would I enjoy learning the music? Will I learn something valuable? Does this opportunity excite me or feel like drudgery? Musicians sometimes feel that they have to audition and try for every performance job in the arts they hear about. And, honestly, when you are first starting out, it’s not a bad strategy. But, at some point, the aforementioned factors are going to become equally (or more) important. And the best performers are the most genuine performers. If you don’t want to do it, it will be an uphill battle for you, your employer/director and the audience.
I recently saw an opportunity for an audition in a nearby community for a show that I was curious about. Here’s how I walked through the three thoughts outlined above.
As I evaluated my capacity to take on an additional project (anyone who knows my variety of commitments would find my even entertaining this laughable), here was my rationale and cost-benefit analysis.
Time and Priorities
- Short run time (less than 8 week total time commitment)
- Accessible audition – no monologue required, short minute and half song (I know a variety of those just form teaching them all the time), no conflicts with audition times
- What did I want to learn or experience? I wanted to stay relevant for my students and know first-hand what they are encountering in auditions these days (it had been over a decade since I did an audition of this kind).
- Will this experience further my education or enhance my credentials? It depends. If I was cast as the lead female role, yes. If I was cast as any other role or ensemble, no. I don’t say that out of conceit (and yes, I know we can always learn something), but from a time invested standpoint, the cost would be too high. I have done loads of ensemble and other roles and enjoyed it immensely, but to ask my family in our current life stage to also make sacrifices for 8 weeks – the answer to anything other than the lead needed to be no.
- Was I the right age or look for the kind of person the director wanted in the role I was going for? Did I go well with the person they chose as the male lead? I had some conflicts with rehearsal dates, did those factor into their casting decisions? Was my dancing a deal breaker? (Another reason I was only vying for a certain role – she doesn’t dance, and neither do I, really.) Unfortunately, I will never really know the answers to any of these questions. But they were all factors in the final outcome.
- What was my primary goal? To experience a current audition to be better equipped to help my students. Was it achieved? Absolutely!
- What was a secondary goal? To be cast in a very specific part for personal validation and to experience something different. Was that goal achieved? Does that mean I “can’t do?” I don’t think so. Does it mean I didn’t check every single box for this particular casting crew at this particular time? Yes.
- Would I have wanted to rehearse 6 days a week for a part I wasn’t super interested in? And that’s an honest, genuine answer.
I love teaching! And I keep a full studio, literally year round. So, I’ll take that as affirmation that I can still “do.” I also love directing. If I’m honest, I was much more interested in what was happening on the other side of the table and picking out who I would cast as what roles than I was on what I was doing in my audition. Does that mean I don’t also love performing and shouldn’t “do?” No, it’s good to stay current and relevant. But, I share these thoughts mostly for those who beat yourself up over every casting decision that doesn’t go your way. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them and so many other things. And if a teacher isn’t currently “doing” there are a ton of reasons for that too!