The Importance of Equalizing the Digital Playing Field

“Art isn’t easy.

Every minor detail is a

major decision.”

 

STEPHEN SONDHEIM

by JUSTIN WERNER

September 29, 2020

When I was in undergrad studying voice performance, I applied to a well known summer program. While waiting in the audition hallway,  I overheard a conversation that the program charged their very large tuition to “weed out those who don’t deserve to attend.” This wealth gap in the operatic industry has been made apparent to me through every job that I have had in this industry.  From studying opera in undergrad and graduate school,  being an artistic director and founder of an opera company, interning at an international artist management firm, and starting my own boutique artist management firm, so many of the opportunities

afforded, connections made, and engagements secured were acquired not only with talent and personality, but by having the resources to showcase themselves with glitzy websites, professional recordings, and a seemingly endless supply of glamour shots. In order to properly develop and assess the next generation of operatic talent, we must widen the scope of artists that administrators, colleagues, and producers, are consistently exposed to by equalizing the playing field. We must standardize how artists are assessed at all levels.

At the inception of this pandemic, my staff and I set out to strategize how to move Stratagem’s artistic philosophy and client services forward in the most efficient way possible. A vital part of my job as an artist manager is in person assessment of talent, whether that is through auditions, or during live performance. With that option no longer available for the foreseeable future, and the limited opportunities to create new audition footage due to social distancing, standardization is necessary to prevent bias and evaluation based on dollars spent, rather than how talent is developed and nurtured.

"We must standardize how artists are assessed at all levels...standardization is necessary to prevent bias and evaluation based on dollars spent, rather than how talent is developed and nurtured."

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered unprecedented damage, leading to both catastrophic losses of work and a rapid exposure of inequality that has plagued our industry since the system as we know it has been in place. While some discussions surrounding our industry's future emphasize preservation of “tradition,” other factions of my industry colleagues have made major efforts to forge a future of the operatic artform, that balances the line between innovation and pragmatism in both casting and future programming. A prime example of this innovation in Stagetime, which is an integral part of the evolution our industry so desperately needs.

When we begin a new partnership with an artist, one of the first things we discuss is the development of their digital footprint. What materials are accessible via the 2020-standard quick Google search? How can we expand and capitalize on that footprint? Too many times in my career, I have heard a promising singer in a masterclass, concert, opera, or competition, and I am unable to follow up with them professionally. Colleagues in the corporate world are able to quickly follow up via LinkedIn to gain the necessary professional context, but without that resource, our industry resorts to social media. Also, so many artists do not have any relevant media and if videos are available, they are difficult to find, poorly labeled, aren’t dated, and in some cases, aren’t at all representative of what they are currently producing.

Stagetime is an opportunity for artists of all levels to have a “one stop shop” to both showcase the most current version of themselves and share with their colleagues in an organic and professional setting. For the artists on my roster, building their profiles has been a highlight of these trying times, with beta testing of the platform acting as one of the few controllable aspects of their artistic lives during this crisis. My clients have consistently commented on the ease of use and intuitive nature to connect with others. While nothing can truly replace in-person networking, this platform facilitates the easiest connections with the lowest amount of unnecessary touch points at a cost of dollars and hours that any artist can handle. For myself and my fellow administrators, it is infinitely valuable to assess the most current materials of the talent we are assessing, to have all the materials we need on one platform and to include multiple options with which to connect with our clients, our colleagues, and new additions to our network.

Stagetime is an extremely valuable tool for artists and administrators alike. The platform is a network that is focused and designed to service the incredibly niche market of classical music, with utility, beauty and ease of use. In a niche that is so insular and traditional at times, it is refreshing to have a platform that has adapted to the pace of an increasingly digital artform and democratizes career development, decreasing the wealth gap that has always plagued our industry.

by JUSTIN WERNER

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