Tag Archive: Job Hunting

Expecting the Unexpected (Work Suddenly Wanted: Dec 1, 2013 – Feb 23, 2014)

I am a planner.  The further ahead I can plan, the happier I tend to be. So you can imagine my inner tension over trying to make a career of theatre, where things change frequently and without warning. Theatre: a world where contracts are only signed on the first day of work and until that time anything can happen. It’s certainly not a stable model on which to build a life. But this year was different for me. This year was booked up over a year in advance. Sept – June, with just enough weeks off to take some out of province/country trips to see friends (something I certainy don’t do enough of).

Sometimes I'm really classy when I'm working.

Sometimes I’m really classy when I’m working.

But then last night the unexpected happened. An email from a producer. It was longer, but the gist was: I’m sorry. The funding didn’t come through. The show is cancelled. And in a system as broken as the current state of the arts in Canada and more specifically BC, I shouldn’t be surprised. No matter how well planned a show or tour is they are at the whim of funding bodies with not nearly enough money for the number of proposals received. It doesn’t matter how far ahead the companies planned or even how carefully they planned to make the most of their money.That is the reality of theatre in Canada at any level. But I digress.

And just like that my plans go out the window. I adjust. I adapt. I re-budget.

The flip side of this, of course, is that this is potentially a very exciting opportunity to do something different. Yes, I need to work for financial reasons, sure. But I also need to work because I LIKE working. If I were to sit at home for three months I would go stir crazy.

So I’m asking for help.

I’m looking for work to fill my sudden gap from Dec. 1 – Feb. 23. I’m willing to travel to do it. Although I’m primarily a stage manager I also have experience as a production manager, event coordinator, social media consultant, teacher, FOH manager, technician, receptionist, festival coordinator, library assistant and one time I survived six weeks at Grand and Toy selling office supplies.

I didn’t expect to be here. But now that I am it’s time to embrace it. But maybe embrace it with a little help.

“Soft” Work Pays Off

A couple of months ago I got an out of the blue Facebook message from a friend of a friend.  She was producing a show and looking for an Equity SM and she figured I was probably busy but could I maybe help her come up with some names. I responded right away looking for more information: dates, responsibilities, etc.  I could certainly help come up with some names, but you never know – maybe it would work with my own schedule. Facebook turned to email and phone calls. Turns out I’d been recommended by a couple of cast members and she remembered my support of her show from a previous incarnation. Yesterday we confirmed things, and in December I’ll be joining the Atomic Vaudeville team as the Stage Manager for the national tour of Ride the Cyclone (please see the dates at the bottom of this post).

The cast of Ride the Cyclone at the Arts Club Review Stage, fall 2011.

Yup.  That Ride the Cyclone. The one I listed in my 2011 Year in Review: Theatrical Excellence post as “The Best Show that Everyone Agrees is the Best.” The one that Kelly Nestruck at The Globe and Mail called, “probably the most uproarious and outrageous piece of musical theatre Canada has ever produced” One of the things that excites me about this contract is that I will have the privilege of seeing this amazing show eight times a week for four months.

This is just the latest in a series of gigs that have come not from job postings or even resumes that I’ve sent cold to companies but rather from the network of relationships that I’ve spent the last seven years building. And to be honest, it’s a beautiful place to be. I’m booked from now until next spring with really cool gigs, have couple projects up my sleeve for fall 2013 and even a reservation on my calendar for spring of 2014. And I am starting think that this is really how it should work: it shouldn’t always have to be a struggle. And it is so gratifying to see all the “soft” work pay off.

Ride the Cyclone will be playing the following cities/dates in 2013:

Calgary, T.B.A. Jan 9-12
Vancouver, PUSH Festival/Arts Club, Jan 17-Feb 16
Edmonton, Citadel Theatre, Feb 22-Mar 10
Winnipeg, MTC Warehouse, Mar 21-Apr 6
Saskatoon, Persephone Theatre, Apr 17-21

Hope to see you at the show!

Mind the Gap (on thriving and surviving between gigs)

As a freelancer, there are often gaps in my schedule as one gig ends a few weeks before another starts. There are also times of overlap where I am rehearsing a show during the day and running performances at night. The overlaps are fun – full of adrenaline and though a little exhausting there is something remarkable about them. The gaps are different, especially if they last longer than two weeks.

A two-week gap is a like a vacation. Providing you are decent with money you can get out of town or you can use the time to relax – sleep in, see friends, and catch up with other aspects of life. A break of more than two weeks can become exhausting in its own very draining way.

For the time being lets assume that we are all good enough with money to see that three month gap in our schedule and plan for it, making sure to have enough to pay the rent, utilities and buy groceries. So now you have a couple months off, you don’t NEED to work in order to make ends meet, but you don’t have enough money to go out and do things. For the first two weeks it still feels like vacation – sleeping in every day, luxuriating with a book, partying with friends. But then the parties end, your friends have to work, and you start to wonder how you are ever going to fill your days.

  1. Read. Read books. Read plays. Read blogs. Read things you wouldn’t have ever chosen to pick up before. Read all the things in your “maybe when I’m not so busy pile.”
  2. Volunteer. Time is something you have a lot of without restraints on it, so give it away. Find a company you like, a festival you support and give them your time. Some of these volunteer opportunities will come with free tickets to performances – make the most of them.
  3. Study. Take a class at the community centre, re-certify your first aid training, take some of the free MIT online classes, teach yourself a new language, cook your way through a cook book,.
  4. Write. Write a play. Write a novel. Write a poem. Write a blog. Write your autobiography. Write a list of all the awesome things that happen during your unemployment.
  5. Create. Paint. Bake. Draw. Sing. Photograph. Craft. Dance. Color. Imagine.
  6. Visit. Take time to see all the people you are too busy to see when you’re working. Eat a meal together.
  7. Work. Take a gig with a temp agency, get on a casual labour call list, create your own show, work at Starbucks. It’s not about the money (though that’s nice), but it’s about filling your days. Giving you a reason to get out of bed and your house on a regular basis.

I’ve been off for six weeks now. I have another eight weeks until I start prep on my next project. I’m trying hard to follow my own advice, but some of it isn’t working right now. I struggle to get out of bed in the morning (or afternoon) and there’s sometimes that little voice in my head that asks if I’m ever going to work again. The answer is of course. Of course I’m going to work again. I have contracts booked. But logic rarely applies to emotions and there’s something about a long gap that screams “YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH” or “NOBODY WANTS YOU.”

Today I’m taking my own advice. I’ve got two volunteer gigs (one this afternoon and one this evening) for arts organizations and the one tonight includes getting to see a show. I wrote this post. My paints are out on the living room table ready to make a gift. And tomorrow I’m going to read a play with some friends.

Ultimately having this much time to use at your own discretion is a gift, so use it – use it positively – and keep your mind active so that when you do go back to work your brain muscle isn’t totally out of shape.

5 Quick Tips for Actor Resumes

I debated whether this post belonged on this site, or over at www.glasscitytheatre.com because it is through getting ready for those auditions that I have had these revelations. I decided to post it here because it is my personal opinion, and not that of the company.Stack O' Resumes

In the past two weeks I’ve had about 50 actors from around the lower mainland submit themselves to audition for Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train & I am very excited about those auditions. I can’t wait to see all of their talent in person.  However, there have been a number of things that could be fixed simply to make an even better impression.

1. Send your resume as an accessible document

So don’t use .docx files. I don’t actually use MSWord. I have open office, which is great. But it means that when people send a .docx file I can’t open it. I can open a .doc or a .pdf, but not .docx.  PDF’s are a great way to send resumes because they keep your formatting & don’t have any sort of spell check still going once I open it on this end. Not sure how to save files as PDFs? Check out this e-how article.

2. Correctly spell the names of productions you’ve been a part of

For example, if you played a principal role on Battlestar Galactica, please don’t spell it Gallatica. I’m aware of the show, and your poor spelling makes it look like you aren’t. And you were on it. The same is true for plays, director’s names, & theatre company names.

3. Put your name in your file name

I have downloaded 50 resumes from the e-mail account in the past couple of weeks and only a handful of them are identifiable. Most of them are simply called “Resume” or “theatre resume” or “acting resume.”  I don’t know who they belong to until I open them. Put your name in the file name so I can find yours quickly! When I send out my resume I send out “Lois Dawson Theatre Resume”.  It’s a slightly longer title, but it makes it easier to find once its on their computer.

4. Write a cover letter

It doesn’t have to be long – even a couple of sentences. But make it professional, even if we know each other.

5. Attach your resume

The number of e-mails that have come through missing attachments amazes me. And these are ones where they don’t follow up to attach it. I don’t have the time to chase after people to get my hands on their resumes.  Similarly, don’t put the resume in the body of the email. I need to download it to share it with the other producers & the director, and you are making that much more difficult.

None of these tips are rocket science, I know, but the small things really do make a difference.

Job Hunting: Networking

Inspired by Sabrina Evertt’s post “Do You Really Want a Job?“, this post is the second in a series on job hunting in theatre.  The first post talked about resumes, cover letters & references.

Networking tends to be a bit of a bad word in my circle of friends.  I frequently hear friends who can confidently strut their stuff on stage say things like, “I can’t go to that, it will just be a giant schmooze fest and I’m terrible at networking.”  While this is true of my actor friends, I find it to be an even more common refrain of my tech & design friends, for whom putting yourself out there seems to be an even more frightening thing.

In their eyes, networking involves going up to people you don’t know, or don’t know well and introducing yourself.  As Trisha Mead wrote over at 2amtheatre.com:

“I’m terrified of strangers with name badges.

I go to conferences and “networking events” scanning eyeballs and job titles desperate for something, anything, to latch onto that might be an excuse to start a conversation. But, what’s the right tone? The right opening line? How do I know I’ve found a useful connection? How do I know the nametag-attached-to-a-bundle-of-flesh I am currently talking to is not just standing there waiting for the next, more relevant person to talk to them?”

Sometimes these terrible events includes giving out a business card. Most of the time they are painful, even for the people who you think have it all together. Recently I have had friends comment on how “good” I am at networking and I wanted to laugh. I’m still as terrified as they are, I just have a little bit more practice and a new outlook on it all.

According to dictionary.com, networking is “a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.”

Let me highlight two words for you from that sentence: common interest.

I am never going to go into a room of investment bankers where I don’t know people and and try to network. First of all, I’d have no reason to, but secondly, finding common interests would take substantially more time. In my experience, theatre people LIKE to share their knowledge and information, especially with people who are just starting their careers.

That said, I have still been known (you can ask Brittney about this) to get too scared of a party of people I don’t know and insist on leaving before we go inside. I’m still shy. Still scared.

So for those of you who are as shy & scared of networking as I am, here are three ways to begin building your network without the scary name-tags:

#1 – Volunteer with local theatre groups.

The easiest way to do this is to volunteer as an usher. All of the smaller theatre companies are using volunteer ushers, and some of the larger companies do too. It’s just about knowing who to contact. Do you have a friend in the cast? Ask them who is running front of house. In Vancouver you can check www.vancouverplays.com and they often list companies that are looking for volunteers and provide contact info. Other companies advertise their search for ushers through their facebook pages, blogs or mailing lists.

The great thing about volunteering as an usher is that you have a purpose. So you are meeting the people who work at the theatre, but you don’t have to come up with any sort of introduction or questions. If you have them, then that’s great, but you have a job to do. And people talk about people who do good jobs….not as much as they talk about people who do bad jobs, but trust me, if you do a good job you will be remembered.

#2 – Use Social Media

Once more I’m going to point you to the writing of Trisha Mead over at www.2amtheatre.com. She wrote recently about building relationships through social media, and you need to go RTWT because she says it a lot better than I was going to. She gives some really great advice on how to manage your online presence and although her focus is on relationship building for playwrights it applies across the board.

Through social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, & LinkedIn I have gotten to know another whole group of theatre professionals both local to Vancouver and internationally. Sure, the first “off line” meeting still has that hint of “Are we really going to hit it off as well as we did online?!” but in my experience it tends to work out well. And heck, I’ve flown across the country to meet up with people I met online. I’ve also gotten job offers because someone I met online gave my name to someone.

The most important thing about each of these online media is that you use them to engage. Ask questions. Answer questions. Dialogue. Sure, there is room for self promotion, but if all you do is self-promote it is likely that you will be blocked out as noise. (If you are considering using Twitter, I highly recommend Dave Charest‘s FREE e-book called “The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter”. He has all the details you could possibly need to know about using Twitter effectively and he’s a hilarious, great, artistic type.)

But when you have the chance, take those online relationships offline.  I’ve been privileged to get to know such folks as Rebecca ColemanSimon OgdenKenji MaedaAmanda Ballard.  Do these relationships equal jobs? Not directly. However, I know that some of them have recommended me for positions that have come up and that their friendship has pushed me to step out of my comfort zones and try new things.  What more can you ask of friends?

#3 – Go See Theatre

When I defined networking above, I highlighted the phrase “common interest” from it. One of the best ways to ensure common interests with the theatre folks you are about to meet at various events is to actually attend theatre. It always amazes me the number of theatre artists who don’t go and see anything that anyone else is doing.  Last calendar year I saw about 70 shows. In the first six months of 2010 I have seen about 40.  These excursions to the theatre do not always include an opportunity to make a connection there, but they provide the groundwork for future connections.  They give you a chance to say, “Oh yeah, I saw you in XYZ and thought you were great” or “I thought your work in XYZ really took a new direction from ABC”.  It also gives you a chance to meet the others in the audience. I don’t know how many times I have run into an acquaintance at a show and had a fantastic conversation about our shared experience there.

These networking opportunities do not lead directly to jobs. That is not the point. They lead to relationships, and in an industry as small as the theatre industry is, relationships matter.

Job Hunting: Resumes, Cover Letters, & References

Inspired by Sabrina Evertt’s recent post “Do You Really Want a Job?“, this post is the first in a series on job hunting in theatre.  Each post will look at a different aspect of job hunting.  It is my hope to turn these ideas into a workshop to help emerging artists get a better sense of how to go about getting a job in the theatre.


I take job hunting very seriously.  Some might suggest that I take it too seriously. I mailed out my most recent batch of resume packages two weeks ago.  This time I mailed out 50 of them which were sent to companies across the country (70% of them were within BC, the other 30% divided between Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto & Ottawa).

Each of my resume packages contains six things.

  • First they each have a cover letter. Each company gets a personalized letter that talks about why I like that company, what I’ve seen of theirs recently that I liked, and if I personally know the person to whom it is address I like to include a hand-written note at the bottom.  Is this time consuming? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.A theatre twitter-er recently posted the following: “Another pet peeve: people who write 1 cover ltr, then send to 15 people. Then don’t even use the bcc field! #jobhuntbasics”.  I take the time to make the cover letter personal. And if I haven’t seen any of their shows in the last year or don’t know them, I mention a show that I am excited to see or something positive I’ve heard about them from others in my network.  It is about making sure they understand that I have taken the time to learn about their company & what they do and am not just applying from out of no where.
  • The second thing that goes into each packet is my resume. You can view my resume online here.  The first thing I focused on was the header. I wanted something that would make mine stand out in a pile.  Then I focused on what information I wanted it to contain. A one page resume is standard practice so it is often necessary to only list selected credits – not everything you’ve ever done.  In choosing my credits I had the following criteria:
  1. Is this director already listed on my resume?  I have done 5 shows directed by the same person and they don’t all need to be on my resume.
  2. Is this a play the reader will have heard of?
  3. What does this play say about my abilities? When I list Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses most readers will automatically know that entails a show with a swimming pool for a set – a special circumstance that shows variety in ability.  When I list You Can’t Take It With You the reader knows that it is a larger cast show (minimum 17 people). As an actor you list roles that show diversity & depth. As a director you show that you are capable of a variety or genres OR that you specialize in one area.
  4. How many shows have I listed with this company?  I’ve been the Resident Stage Manager at Pacific Theatre for three years so I have a lot of credits with them, but showing variety is more important. Therefore, one off shows with the Shameless Hussies, Pi Theatre, Meta.For Theatre, Project X Theatre & Secretly Women Productions make the cut.
  • Third comes my headshot. For actors it is important to keep headshots up to date so that directors know what you look like as they are casting their shows.  For folks behind the scene it is less important that they be recent, but it is still important to have one.   A headshot gives the recipient a visual for who you are.  This helps them know if they’ve seen you somewhere before or if they see you in the future at an event.  Last year after my mail out, I met an Artistic Director who said, “You must be Lois. I have your headshot & resume on my desk right now.”  That lead into a conversation about possibilities for me to work in his company that would not have necessarily happened if he didn’t know what I looked like.
  • The final three items in my mail out parcel are some reference letters.  Whenever I finish a project I ask those involved for letters. Why?  People remember best what they like about working with you when the project is still fresh in their minds.  Often, people will ask what you want them to focus on or if you have any sample reference letters they can look at.  My only advice there is to keep track of things that the letters you already have focus on and ask them to talk about something else.  The more variety the better!By having a stack of reference letters it is possible to pick and choose which letters will have the most impact on each company.  Is this a reference from someone they’ve worked with? Is this a reference from a company that does a similar type of work (black box, site-specific, emerging artists, big budget musical, etc)?  Mailing letters with your resume also gives the Artistic Directors  an easy starting point.  They are getting other people’s opinions of you without having to do any additional legwork.

I choose to mail my resumes rather than e-mail them primarily because it puts something tangible into the hands of the recipient.  I am, however, aware of the environmental costs of mailing out 50 envelopes that each have five pieces of paper plus a photograph.  In an effort to reduce the environmental impact, I print my cover letter, resume, & reference letters on 100% recycled paper and also used 100% recycled envelopes.

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Next time:  Networking.

How To Succeed in Theatre: By Really Trying

On March 5th of last year I mailed out a mountain of resumes.  I sent out 30 envelopes on that day (and another 25 e-mailed or mailed resumes over the course of the year).  13 of those initial companies  sent e-mails saying they would keep my resume on file or expressing interest in having me work with them.  Of those 13 I was able to arrange meetings with four different companies.

And yesterday, almost exactly a year later I started my first Equity apprenticeship credit as an ASM for Pi Theatre – a job that was birthed out of that batch of resume mail outs.

Since March 5th of last year, I met with Emma, the general manager of Pi Theatre twice, volunteered for Pi three times, & exchanged over two dozen e-mails talking about options and often simply following up on a previous conversation.  I did my best to make my interest known without being pushy.  And this time it paid off.

Some people assume that it should be easy.  Give one good audition. Meet the

Image by Flickr user Campru

right person at a party. Mail your resume on just the right day.  And sometimes that is enough.  But for every time that a job magically falls into someone’s lap, there are hundreds of times that a job was landed by auditioning multiple times, dozens of e-mail conversations, & simply never giving up.

And now it’s March again. So out comes my not-so-trusty laptop, the stack of headshots, photocopies of reference letters & the process starts again.  But this year my goal will be to mail out to 50 companies, get responses from 25-30 of those, and land 2 jobs over the next year.  But only if I keep really trying.

Look out Toronto!

Photo by Flickr user ChoudhrySaab

I’ve been saying for a few months that this year I was going to go away for my birthday. I talked about Chicago. New York. But I’m going to Toronto.  I’ve booked my flights and arranged a place to stay.

Part of the purpose of this trip is professional – I want to see some theatre & hopefully arrange some tours of theatres & even better would be if I could arrange some meetings that might lead to work.  I’ve been so frustrated with the state of my job hunt in Vancouver that it’s time to expand outward. See what the rest of the country has to offer. And I have a friend out there who has offered to shoot me some new headshots.

But part of this trip is my birthday present to myself. I’m going the day after my birthday and I want to have some fun.

So now is the fun part.  Now I get to spend hours searching the internet for shows I want to see, tourist attractions that I find interesting, bands I want to see play, anything & everything I’m interested in that’s happening while I’m in town. And then I get to explore.  But right now I’m just beginning, so your input is valuable: What would you see/do if you were spending a week in Toronto in May?

Support ME as an Emerging Artist with Pi Theatre

Dear Readers,

I am writing to tell you about Pi Theatre’s Prime Placements program, an opportunity for emerging artists like me to gain professional experience and mentorship. I hope you will consider supporting my placement.

As a registered non-profit theatre company, Pi Theatre is seeking sponsorship for apprentice placements for new artists to be a part of their upcoming performance as part of HIVE 3. The performance is a unique collaboration with some of Vancouver’s most renowned theatre companies and a part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad.

I’ll be assistant stage managing  for HIVE 3 and earning my first Canadian Actors’ Equity Association credit.  Your support will help give me a much-needed bridge to professional status — please view this proposal for more information on how you can help.

If you’re interested in supporting me, please drop me a line – either by commenting on this post or e-mailing me: lois@loisbackstage.com. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact Emma Davis at Pi Theatre should you have any questions about the proposal or Pi Theatre.

Regards,

Lois Dawson

  • Pi Theatre
  • 1411 Cartwright Street
  • Granville Island, Vancouver, BC
  • V6H 3R7

ph 604.872.1861 | news@pitheatre.comwww.pitheatre.com

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