Amy Baker Schwiethale
Coleman Fellow- Final Report 2011-2012
As a first year Coleman Fellow it took me a while to understand my role in the program as a whole. I knew that I, myself, possessed an entrepreneurial spirit in my approach to the arts and that it was very important for me to impart that to my students. However, thanks to the coffee cup sessions, the SEA Conference, and my director I know have a much clearer understanding on how I can truly disseminate this approach in tangible modules to my students.
I created three modules titled “The Business of Show Business” that were added to a team taught Musical Theatre Scene Study course as a way to engage the students in an active and ongoing discussion about taking charge of their careers by viewing it as self-employment in the arts. The first module, “Embracing the Entrepreneurial Mindset Within Your Craft” encouraged the students to recognize opportunity by asking them at the beginning of the semester what they wished there were more of on a daily basis in their lives as artists/musical theatre performers. At first their answers were generic, such as JOBS! By the end of the semester their answers were more specific, such as wishing that more information existed on how to get these coveted jobs. This lead us to take underclassmen along with our Seniors to New York City for the agent showcase and partake in workshops where industry professionals answered these questions. Hopefully next year I will see them take what the industry professionals said about the business to a new level and begin to question and analyze how they could do this even more effectively.
Module Two, “The Performer as a Commodity,” asked the students to define what specifically they have to offer the performing arts world that is truly unique. The hardest part of this exercise was to help the students understand that just having passion for performing was not enough and that because they have been accepted and declared musical theatre majors that indeed that was passion enough. Now they needed to go beyond that. Many of them were very resistant to thinking of talent as a valuable commodity. They preferred to think of themselves on a loftier level as “artists.” However, with targeted questioning I was able to help them each start to pinpoint what exactly made them unique and different from the next person which began to empower them and help them define how exactly they fit into the business. Due to the nature of self-discovery in the college years students find this module very difficult because many times they do not know “who they are” yet. In order to facilitate this I need to ask more specific questions in order for their answers get more specific.
The third Module, “What Market Are You Best Suited For,” was designed to help students compare their skill set versus where they want to live and work. In the beginning many of the students thought that they wanted to go to New York City because “that is where Broadway is,” but by the end of the semester some realized that their skill set is better suited for another market such as Chicago, L.A., or Branson. They had measured the risk versus reward and realized that they wanted to move to a city that may not reward them at all. On the other hand it also solidified that New York City was the perfect market for many of them who before the assignment were going there blindly. They realized that the risk was sufficiently worth the reward.
Overall, I feel that these modules are a successful first step in changing the mindset of performers to one that revolves around self-employment in the arts and less on wishing and hoping of seeing their names in lights, which in my opinion has plagued our performing arts department for years. The students are starting to become aware that talent is a valuable commodity if analyzed and strategically positioned in the right market. Moving forward to next year, I plan on implementing these three modules into all of my dance specific classes and gathering more data to update the modules as I grow as an ambassador of entrepreneurship and our department embraces this integral aspect of performing arts in order to facilitate our students making a living doing what they love.