I thought it might be pertinent to say a few more things. There are so many layers to being an artist, and many of them have to do with your personality and how you bring that across to your public and your colleagues. The most important two words you can learn as an artist are « THANK YOU. » If someone compliments your performance, you do not show what a high standard you have by cutting down things you’ve done, saying, « well, it wasn’t my best, » « well, thanks but I really sucked today, » « well, I actually hated this production, » etc. etc.. You just smile and say, « Thank you. » You are insulting someone else’s taste, if they liked it, when you tear down what they just complimented. They are making an effort to show their gratitude for what you gave them, so resist the urge to apologize for your performance or undermine their impression of it.
When you are performing at an opera house, it is customary to give gifts. At opening night, you should at least write a little card to your colleagues (singers, conductor and director and anyone else who was extremely helpful). Wish them « Toi! Toi! Toi! » (the sound of spitting behind someone shoulder – an old opera tradition more in Germanic countries), « Merde! » (shit in French, but really with the intention of wishing them bad luck to give them good luck), or « In bocca al lupo » (the same idea in Italian, meaning « in the mouth of the wolf » – to which you reply verbally « crepi il lupo » – « may the wolf DIE! ») Or just a good old American « Break a leg! » It’s nice to include a personalised part about your time rehearsing the show, etc… and how you’ve enjoyed working with them, if you have, etc. And a little chocolate or a small gift is always really nice. Think edible or perishable, or usable. Don’t give knick-knacks or breakable things, as your colleagues will have nowhere to put them in their suitcases. For example, for Ariodante and for Giulio Cesare, I had t-shirts made up with our cast’s faces and costumes on them. Everyone now has a personalised t-shirt, that cost me under $10 a person to have made. You can write off gifts – they are legitimate business expenses. Make sure your gifts cost less than $25 a person, as otherwise they are not deductible (as far as I know.) Remember to include your director and any other pertinent people that you have gotten to know and who have helped you, as most of the production team – director, scenographer, costume designer, lighting designer – will not be there after opening night (except the assistant director, who usually stays for the shows.)
When the show is finished, there is more gift-giving to be done. You need to give your wig and makeup people, plus your dresser a tip. Depending on how much they had to help you in the show, I would think about how much you would value their help per show. (and depending on what kind of fee you’re getting.) If they had to run around carrying your train the whole night, with a ton of quick changes and stuff, be more generous. I try and count at least $10 per show in tip to my dressers in the U.S. In Europe, I pay less, as they are usually on staff and are well paid. Put the money in cash in an envelope with a note of gratitude, or give your dresser or wig and makeup person a gift at your last show. If you’re giving money, make sure it’s cash. Even if you can not afford to leave a tip, a thoughtful little present and note to your dresser and wig/makeup person is always appreciated at the end of the last show.
Also, if I have gotten tons of flowers at a show, and my house is going to look like a mausoleum, I make the dresser and makeup/wig person take a bouquet home. That does not get me out of giving them a tip or gift. However, it’s just being nice… Be good to the people around you – they are just as important in making the show happen as you are. Remember, dressers and wig/makeup people talk to everyone – even the artists that come in after you. You want to develop a reputation as being a person everyone wants to work with, and it starts with everyone back stage. Not only do you want to develop a reputation as a gracious person, you want to BE a gracious person, don’t you?? Sometimes the Stage manager and assistant stage managers (those are the people in the wings, telling you when to go onstage) are very helpful – why not give them a note and a chocolate at opening, too? It only takes time and minimal money, but people are always touched that you remember to ackowledge them.
If there are administrators or artist liaison people who have helped you a lot during your stay, send them a little note at least at the end of your stay, telling them your appreciation.
If you are singing in the U.S., and there are benefactors who have sponsored your show, it really makes a huge difference and is extremely appreciated if you could write a thank you note to the sponsors of your show. Find out who the sponsors are. Write a little thank you note. People with a lot of money who put a lot of money into opera make it possible for us to bring our art to the general public. They need to be acknowledged and know they are appreciated. The opera company will appreciate your effort to coddle their patrons. And their patrons are touched that they get such personal attention.
All of this takes time, but it will forge ties with people and let people know they are appreciated. Nothing effusive or expensive is needed, just honest gratitude and the fact that you took your time to say thank you is enough.
When you start to perform in Europe, you need to get some small envelope-sized pictures made of your head shot. When you perform in Europe and Japan, you should bring some autographed pictures of yourself to the shows. Otherwise, (especially in Germany), you will get pre-addressed envelopes from people waiting at the backstage door, or worse yet, cards from people that want you to send them an autographed picture. Always ask their name and how it’s spelled, and ask if they want you to dedicate it to them. « Best wishes » and « thank you » in every language are good phrases to know how to spell, I might add. I’m not going to share what I dedicate on my pictures, as that’s my state secret! Don’t write all over your face, and if your name’s not written under the picture, I’d print the role, place and date of the show (because you don’t want to have to print out your name as well as sign it, but you want them to remember who the heck you were!) This is a great way for people to connect with you, and I know there are people that just collect signatures of artists. I think they trade them like baseball cards. Remember to come up with some kind of flamboyant variation of your signature (QUICK!) for your fans, as you don’t want to use your same signature that you actually use on bank accounts, checks, official documents. (Just a thought…)
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