(Originally posted on ARTSblog, accessible here.)
Rambling ten-page resumes. Headshots submitted for management positions. Cover letters written in one big, messy paragraph in the body of an email. And one resume that was somehow, inexplicably, saved as a series of stream-of-consciousness bullet points in an .RTF file.
I coordinate the internship program at Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group (CTG), one of the largest—and most prestigious—theatres in the country. These are just a few of the bizarre, sad, and shockingly common application faux pas I saw in our last application cycle.
Most undergraduates aren’t introduced to career options in arts administration within an academic context. An internship can provide an excellent introduction to the field. Many of the applicants I see are undergraduate theatre or acting majors, curious about career options in the discipline they love.
And many of them are woefully unequipped to apply for any job.
It’s tempting to fault schools for this lack of preparation. However, nearly every two-year and four-year college or university has a career center with free services. I’m also a big fan of personal responsibility.
So hey, arts major. Here are five tips for applying to internships or entry-level jobs in arts management.
Assume the position is extremely competitive. Actors, have you ever walked into an audition and seen 40 people waiting to try out for the same role? That’s what’s happening virtually when you apply for an internship. In my experience both at CTG and for very small arts organizations, it’s common to receive dozens of strong applications for a single paid internship. Hot entry-level jobs in arts management can attract hundreds of applicants. I say this not to discourage you from applying, but to discourage you from applying with sub-par materials. Which brings me to…
Write a new cover letter for each application. Talk about why you’re interested in the position, why you would be a good fit, and, if it’s an internship, what you hope to learn that will benefit your career. Research the organization, the supervisor, and the position. I can’t tell you how many applicants for development (i.e., fundraising) internships talk about how much they love script development. Cool, man. I love avocados.
Formatting matters, both for your resume and your cover letter. Visit a career center, or look at examples of resumes and cover letters online. I don’t care if your letter is block or semi-block. Here’s what I’m looking for: Does it look professional? Can I find your basic information? Does it reflect you, or did you plug your name into a template you bought online? Am I confident you will be able to write an email to a patron or send a thank-you letter to a donor without embarrassing my organization?
Follow the instructions. Our internships require a cover letter, resume, and a PDF application, all emailed to me as attachments. This is clearly stated on our materials. Almost 25% of applicants do not do this correctly. The most common errors are letters written in the body of the email, blank PDFs, and applications from people who are ineligible. The first two look sloppy. The third—the “will you make an exception?” application—is worse.
Look, internships and entry-level positions are designed for people without a lot of experience. Let’s say I were to let someone who’s been out of school for four years and has held several marketing positions have an undergraduate-level marketing internship. To quote South Park, you’re gonna have a bad time. I understand it’s rough out there, but when I see someone grossly overqualified I assume they’re either going to be miserable, or they’ll quit after two months when they find a full-time position. Think about whether you’re going to be happy in a position before wasting time applying.
Be honest about your goals and experience. The cover letter says: “I have always been passionate about theatre.” The resume lists internships in galleries, involvement with mural organizations, and a pending BA in Fine Arts, with no mention of theatre. Regardless of the applicant’s intent, she looks like a liar. We’re going to notice discrepancies between past experience and the focus of your application. This also goes for unexplained gaps on your resume, no work experience, or academic issues. We’re going to see it, so make it a part of your story.
She could have said: “I’m currently pursuing a career in visual arts marketing. However, this semester I helped with a friend’s theatre production, and realized I was interested in performing arts marketing as well.” If that’s true, that moves her out of the “not a good fit” pile to the “makes a good case for herself” pile. If it’s not true and we hire her based on it, well…she’s gonna have a bad time.
There’s a common thread in these five tips. Submit targeted, professional materials and think critically about whether you’re passionate about the position and a good fit before applying.
These tips come solely from my experience overseeing application processes for about forty internships and entry-level positions, and reading approximately eight hundred applications in the process. I welcome additional thoughts or disagreement in the comments.
And I look forward to receiving your application.
(Originally posted on RAWartists’ I am Indie blog, accessible here.)
I love my career. At 28, I have a job I love as the Educational Programs Manager at Center Theatre Group. I also serve as the volunteer Director of Development for Circle X Theatre Co. In late 2010, I joined the national Emerging Leader Council through Americans for the Arts, and have Co-Chaired the council for the past year.
Everything is great, but then I try to balance one– more– spinning– plate– like agreeing to help with a friend’s really cool art project, or assisting with the coordination of a local conference.
And all of those things are great too. That’s the hard part. Because as much as I want to do them, sometimes taking on one additional project is what pushes my life from awesomely fulfilling to overwhelming and stressful.
I am a strong proponent of volunteering for events or projects within the community where you want to work, whether that’s geographic or discipline-based. In 2005, I started volunteering within the Los Angeles theatre community, and it helped me find my creative home and hone the management skills I’d use to build my career. Hours spent behind check-in tables continue to pay dividends; at a recent Los Angeles County Arts Commission grantee event, the Circle X board member I’d arrived with was impressed that I seemed to know everyone in the room. Becoming this kind of ‘known quantity’ did not happen overnight. I have been successful as an arts manager because I say yes to things, and then do them. (That last part is the important bit.) I like being someone my colleagues reach out to when they need a reliable, organized person who gets stuff done.
To say no to an opportunity seems anathema to how I’ve carved a niche for myself in the LA theatre management scene. Eventually, though, I need to become more strategic about saying yes to things.
How do you know when you’ve reached the point in your career when it’s okay to politely decline a high-profile, but potentially high-stress, request?
I think the key lies in selfishness. This can be a dirty word for artists and arts managers used to valuing collaboration, putting the group above the individual, and ensemble creation– all hallmarks of theatre and many other disciplines, too. But each member of an ensemble is still an individual, and that individual’s physical and emotional health has a major impact on the success of the group.
I love cooking, and curating a career and artistic life seems much like improvising a new recipe. I know I want to include family, my job at CTG and my volunteer gig at Circle X. That leaves room for perhaps one or two more flavors each month. One month maybe it’s a mentorship opportunity; the next, helping a colleague produce an event.
Just as in cooking, though, adding everything to that recipe spoils the balance and detracts from the quality of the individual elements.
We emerging artists and arts leaders need to honor that balance by saying no, even when our gut reaction is yes. It’s a skill that will become increasingly important as we become leaders of our field. We– I– need to trust that opportunities will continue to come, and giving 100% to the projects we take on is more important than spreading ourselves too thin by trying to take on the world.
Originally written in 2009 for graduate school coursework.
Within a week, the LA Weekly got rid of Steven Leigh Morris’ position as Theatre Editor and the Daily Breeze laid off Jim Farber, their arts & theater critic. These are huge losses for the Los Angeles cultural community; however, like many others on the LACN & BCT listservs and commenting on the Times coverage of the layoffs, I’m feeling powerless to do anything about it. The LA Weekly is a free publication and I don’t get the Daily Breeze, so I can’t cancel my subscription to either publication. There’s a movement for arts organizations to cancel their advertising in the LA Weekly, which seems to be pretty much our only recourse for this devastating loss of two longtime patrons & friends to the arts community.
When I’m not working for Arts for LA, I’m working for Circle X Theatre Company, one of the 99-seaters that owes much of its continued success to Morris’ intelligent reviews. He was one of the few critics who approached each of our shows with knowledge of the company’s production history and mission. Throughout the years, he critiqued us when we strayed from our mission and applauded our successes, all with tremendous wit and understanding of the 99-seat community and contemporary theatre in general.
Who will critique our work? Who will guide people to the good stuff and point out the differences between showcase theatre and artistically substantive offerings? Who will keep us honest, give us feedback, know & appreciate the differences among Open Fist, Sacred Fools, Theatre of NOTE, Circle X, Evidence Room and all of the other small theatre companies, and write with the 20 years of knowledge that Steven has? We know a lot depends on how a play is reviewed: good reviews = get audiences and break even, bad reviews = no audiences, no money. It’s a simple formula that will become even more tenuous as we lose our best reviewers to the poor economy.
Last May, I posted the following article about the need for a strong, educated group of arts critics in Los Angeles. It’s still getting daily hits, so I thought I’d re-post it here– especially as it seems sadly relevant given the loss of Morris and Farber.
I end the article with this sentence: “Educated critics result in educated patrons. When Los Angeleans and visitors can trust our art critics to give an intelligent, informed opinion, guiding us to the good and weeding out the bad, we can begin building LA’s reputation as a nationally recognized center for arts and culture.” It didn’t cross my mind that less than a year later we’d be losing two of the city’s best critics, with more layoffs imminent. As an arts advocate and a theatre administrator, I’m wondering what we can do as an arts community to speak out against these cuts and/or find an alternative venue for arts criticism. If anyone has ideas or suggestions, please leave them in the comments.
The elimination of the full-time dance coverage position at the LA Times generated healthy discussion within the LA theatre community about the inconsistency of our own coverage. Big Cheap Theatre, a Yahoo! Group for theatres in the 99-Seat Equity Waiver community, became the forum for lively debate about local critics and their reviews. Some members bemoaned reviewers’ tendencies to indulge in snarkfests for first-run shows at small theatres, arguing criticism should take into account the size of the company and whether or not the play is a work-in-progress.
However–as others were quick to point out–quality is not proportional to budget. As theatre producers, we can’t expect an audience member to think, “This is excruciatingly boring, plotless, and aesthetically insipid, and these folding chairs are really physically uncomfortable; however, this company clearly has no money, so I’ll forgive them.” A bad play is a bad play. A small theatre producing trash shouldn’t be producing anything at all.
A more legitimate complaint addressed in the BCT forum was the general inconsistency of review quality among the LA publications. Although LA is home to a handful of outstanding critics such as Charles McNulty, Terry Morgan and Steven Leigh Morris, the overall quality of local criticism is offset by the many amateur, inept or petty reviewers writing for both large and small publications throughout the city. As theatre managers, we pray we’ll be assigned a “good critic” instead of someone who will either write a plot outline resembling an eighth-grade book report or an indecisive, poorly informed article betraying their limited understanding of theatre as an art form separate from television and film. While critics like Morris, McNulty and Morgan ground their reviews in a deep understanding of the theatre field, connecting each review to a larger discussion of contemporary performance on a citywide and national scale, many local critics seem to lack a basic knowledge of contemporary theatre. According to one BCT member, a reviewer commented on his company’s decision to mount a play as a musical when the play was written to be a musical and did not exist in any other form. While this anecdote represents an extreme example of critical ignorance, the theatre community cited countless reviews betraying critics’ insufficient knowledge of theatre on the local and national levels.
One blogger remarked that he often reads a review, sees the show and then wonders if perhaps there were two shows with the same name running in LA. Indeed, many arts patrons have seen a show based on a critical recommendation and wondered if they’d attended the wrong production. Seasoned LA patrons know a production receiving glowing reviews from certain publications and/or critics may in reality be a trite, uninspired showcase production with the sole aim of making money or attracting agents for aspiring television stars. LA’s problem with showcase theatre seems to be lost on many reviewers, who fail to recognize yet another production of Closer, Proof or Burn This as a self-serving vanity project that should be judged with a different critical vocabulary than artistically substantive “theatre for theatre’s sake.” New LA theatre patrons directed to sub-par productions by glowing and uninformed reviews could feel reluctant to attend future theatre events in the city, mistrusting even the most complimentary reviews because of their negative past experiences.
Unfortunately, there is little opportunity for the theatre community to blacklist bad reviewers and encourage potential audiences to trust only the handful of educated critics without sounding (or being) overtly self-serving. In truth, specific negative reviews probably inspired many of the BCTers’ complaints about critics, and one has to assume many of those reviews were justifiable given the abundance of bad theatre in the city. We all experience failure, whether it’s a single performance gone wrong, a poor choice of play or an entire season of mistakes. It’s a critic’s job to explain what went wrong and why, with respect and honesty. It is not appropriate, however, to call a production “crapola,” as one critic from a small local newspaper did according to a BCT member.
The Los Angeles theatre scene, like the city itself, is decentralized: there are a multitude of companies and venues stretched out over miles of fragmented neighborhoods. A company producing in Hollywood might as well be in a different time zone from a company in Long Beach. In recent years, many companies have moved from their original locations or chosen to become nomadic due to rising space costs, contributing to the difficulty of keeping track of who is producing what and where. The small army of critics needed to cover so much ground and the widespread itinerancy of theatre groups results in a lack of sequential criticism: a company’s artistic track record isn’t taken into account by the majority of reviewers, who treat each production as an isolated event instead of the next step in a company’s creative growth. This results in a lack of recognition for small companies consistently producing challenging, high-quality work, and enables artistically poor showcase companies to continue taking audiences’ money year after year. LA theatre thus lacks natural selection, the sheep-from-the-goats quality control that comes from a critical body educated about companies instead of individual productions.
Where could we send our critics to receive specialized training in writing and editing for theatre journalists? Los Angeles. Since 2005, LA has hosted the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theatre and Musical Theatre at the USC Annenberg School of Communication, a ten-day workshop for journalists. Although several of Los Angeles’ seasoned critics have participated as guest faculty and lecturers, none of the 100 participants have come from LA. Starting this August, arts journalists will have the opportunity to receive more in-depth training: according to a May 1st press release, USC Annenberg is developing the workshop into a 9-month master’s program in Arts Journalism. Program Director Sasha Anawalt says, “USC Annenberg offers this new degree out of a conviction that quality arts and culture journalism today requires subject matter expertise, advanced reporting skills and knowledge of how new communication technologies are changing the ways that people learn, think and behave.” Perhaps Los Angeles-based journalists could receive tuition breaks or scholarships to help develop these essential critical skills in USC Annenberg’s home city.
Educated critics result in educated patrons. When Los Angeleans and visitors can trust our art critics to give an intelligent, informed opinion, guiding us to the good and weeding out the bad, we can begin building LA’s reputation as a nationally recognized center for arts and culture.