Although YAP Tracker was designed as a service for singers, many of our members use it as a research tool for other related jobs in the field of opera. YAP Tracker contains a component where accompanists can list their availability to play for singer auditions and find out about vocal accompanying positions and competitions, and those on the production side have found it to be a great place to discover new organizations for their own career path.
Director and Choreographer Heidi Lauren Duke shared her thoughts with us last week about letters of recommendation; she is also a long-time member of YAP Tracker and friend to the site. We asked her to share her secrets on getting the most out of the site in a non-traditional fashion.
You trained as a performer originally; how did you get into directing, and do you still perform?
Yes, I trained as a mezzo -- and also as a dancer and actor -- for about a decade before I started directing. Though it's funny - when I was in second grade, I sang my first solo, but also wrote and directed a play for the first time. It was a good year, I guess!
When I began performing lead roles in musicals at a young age, I found myself drawn to thinking about the staging, the costumes, and was fascinated by unique talents of other actors and singers. By the time I was out of college, I realized I was more of a manager personality than a "technician," or performer. I also find that performing makes me somewhat self-absorbed, while I find that directing makes me a very giving, generous, and patient person. I think finding your vocation is directly related to discovering the best person you can be.
I still perform, not only because I enjoy it, but also because it makes me a better director to keep my empathy for singers fresh. Though my voice is happier in cabaret and jazz music than opera. Last year, I performed in Barcelona and New York in my original music-theatre piece, Lorca en Nueva York.
What advice would you give artists interested in directing?
Two key things: broaden your skill set as much as possible, and become a relationship-building expert. It used to be that a director started their career as a stage manager, but it's really not true anymore; they are separate, specialized fields now, just as different kinds of singing has become. However, stage managing is still a skill a director needs; as equally important as training in acting, choreography and movement, musicianship, history, languages, and design. The list is infinite, which makes the career so fascinating...right now I am studying aerial silk choreography, and studying Othello for a project I have coming up. These skills can be learned in a school or in the 'real world', but the more useful the toolbox you have, the better.
And of course, relationships. Relationships are really the only way a director gets work. Read Keith Ferrazzi's "Never Eat Alone" and subscribe to his blog at www.keithferrazzi.com -- he the foremost relationship guru, and has been deeply influential to me. Think of every artist you meet as a lifelong friend and colleague in this career, and you will reap rewards.
How can an artist use YAP Tracker if they are not a singer?
Again, relationships are paramount for directors, conductors, and stage managers. YAP Tracker is an information database, and anyone can use it to track what companies are doing, who to be in contact with, and success with developing those contacts. It can be daunting, however, since YAP Tracker has so many different opportunities. You can narrow your searches to Mainstage opportunities, and perhaps by audition location -- try arranging a meeting with someone while they are in town for auditions. If you are a stage manager, sometimes a company is looking for people to be runners for audition days, which is a great way to show off how personable and organized you are! Think creatively and set a goal to reach out to a set number of old contacts, as well as a set number of new ones. Think of ways you can help them, rather than them helping you. Think about what companies need, and make a list of your top skills they want. And remember, building a career is a marathon, not a race.
And as Mr. Shakespeare says, "Many strokes - though with a little axe - hews down and fells the hardest timbered oak."
When not directing regionally and abroad, Ms. Duke makes her home in New York, where has directed several new productions, and also coaches singers on auditions and role preparation. Find out more about her work at www.heidilaurenduke.com and subscribe to her blog at www.operathinktank.blogspot.com