Back to the Equation

This time of year brings lots of difficult decisions. But before I get to them… a re-run of my audition season post in the fall of 2005:

S = (R + T) x LF

My son is the mathematician in the family. But even though my fling with math is decades in the past, I can still appreciate the eloquence of a beautiful formula. Yes, it’s dangerous to reduce difficult and messy things to a simple equation. But the clarity it brings is worth the risk.

S [Success] = (R [Raw Materials] + T [Tools]) x LF [Life Force]

I’m not particularly happy with the product side of this formula, but “Success” is the best I can do for now. Use whatever word works for you.

Raw Materials. The stuff you were born with. That gift from God. Good pipes, strong constitution, a body that is tooled for singing.

Tools. The things you learn. Your craft. Vocal technique, language mastery, musical acumen, dramatic chops.

Life Force. That essential energy without which the first two factors are brought to their knees. Soul. Guts. Sheer force of personality. Determination. Desire.

Every artist exhibits his/her own variation on this equation. And for each person, the strength of each element is different. Some singers with breathtaking raw talent somehow manage to skate by with basic tools. Others whose natural gift is more modest make fabulous careers by fanatically developing their ‘tool kits’, becoming consummate linguists, compelling actors, and innovative musicians. What’s critical is that the sum of these first two – raw talent and refinement of craft – are dangerously susceptible to the strength of the third.

The “Life Force” either brilliantly magnifies everything else, or brings it all to a halt. Worse, it registers on the negative side of the ledger. And it doesn’t take higher calculus to figure out what that does to the equation. Can a singer have a superhuman degree of dedication/enthusiasm/magnetism and overcome a lack of raw material or tools? Highly unlikely. And we see quite a few aspiring singers who fall in this category. It’s heartbreaking, actually. Desire is critical, but it’s not capable of standing alone.

Conversely, can a successful performer have excellent raw materials and a high level of craftsmanship yet lack drive? Just as unlikely. This scenario will get you through school… maybe… if you’re coddled…. But it won’t sustain a career.

The Tough Part

If I were to make a list of the tough stretches of this wonderful job, October would be near the top. There are other challenges in the year – financial hiccups, artistic disappointments, difficult personalities, mind-numbingly long production weeks. But October… well, that’s when we have to say no.

I’m spectacularly bad at this. Age hasn’t helped. I seem to get worse every year. Perhaps it’s my perpetually delusional and naive thinking that keeps me young.

So many people want to sing for us during this next month of auditions. And it’s simply not possible. The math is overwhelming. We have one more deadline to go (next Monday), but already we’ve surpassed the number of applicants we’ve had in any previous year.

We’ve expanded the number of days on the road this year – the previous high was 12 days of auditions. This year we’ve added 5 days for the Studio auditions and increased the number of Filene Young Artist audition days to 15. But we’re still going to have to say no to about 60% of our applicants.

The screening process is as scientific as something like this can be – which is to say that it’s almost completely subjective. Hell, the whole process is subjective. We do the best we can to be fair, but I’m sure people slip through the cracks. If we don’t see you on the audition trail this year, perhaps we’ll catch up in a future season. Or perhaps we’ll have the chance to see you onstage somewhere else.

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