Sunday, 5 July 2015

On signing the contract...

Another season is coming to its close, and, as my friend has been saying, change is in the air.  It seems these days almost everyone I know is on the move.  Some are going away to study, some are beginning new jobs, and some have won places in young artist programmes.

As for me, I am preparing for my fourth move in six years – and this time, my new home will be Austria.  I've just signed a two-year contract with the opera chorus in Innsbruck. 

My shiny new workplace

In a way, this turn of events has felt very sudden.  In another way, I sensed for a while now that it was going to happen.

You may have noticed I've been blogging a lot less lately.  The fact is, I've been too busy singing!  In the past six months or so, things really began to cook, and I had a very full calendar.  Lots of projects, lots of travel, and lots of performing.  It would seem, as a freelancer, I was doing pretty well.  Some people might even go far as to call me successful.

There's just one thing.  And I feel like I’m committing some kind of cardinal sin by saying this.  But here it is: freelancing made me unhappy.

I was exhausted by the constant travel.  I hated being away so much, and never feeling like I had a steady home base.  I was sick of airports and hotel rooms.  I worried constantly about money.  And I really struggled with the extreme emotional highs and lows.  Performances could make me feel on top of the world – but as soon as a project was over, I would crash into a post-performance slump, and feel like it was impossible to recover.

"Help!  I've fallen and I can't get up!"

I felt bad complaining, because I knew I should feel lucky to be making a living doing what I loved.  I knew some people might even see the work I had, the places I was seeing, and feel jealous.  I didn't want to seem ungrateful, or come across like I was having "first world problems".  But the truth is, freelancing made me feel anxious and exhausted all the time.

Some people love freelancing.  They love the adrenaline and excitement, the novelty of exploring new cities and working with new colleagues, the feeling of being a free agent and answering to nobody.   I have friends who thrive on the freelance life, and it's a beautiful thing to behold.  As for me, I've never managed to get past the feeling that I'm barely coping, struggling to survive.  It has never felt like a safe or sustainable way to live.

As my calendar got fuller and my "success" continued, I felt like the walls were closing in on me.  Something had to give.  Something had to change.  And then it did.

As I went from project to project, I continued to do auditions.   Nothing new there.  I've been doing auditions since I arrived in Germany.  It's become a predictable sort of routine.  I get invited, I prepare, I travel, I sing, and they say no.  Rinse and repeat.  The no's get less shocking every time.  I know it sounds twisted, but I've actually come to expect them.  I sigh, shrug my shoulders, pick myself up and start preparing for the next audition.  That's just the way it goes.  As it was, is, and ever shall be, world without end Amen.

But as I continued to audition, some small, almost imperceptible adjustments were taking place.  My German was improving.  I was settling into a more comfortable, confident attitude with audition panels.  I was more relaxed.  I felt more like myself.  I even began to – shock, horror – crack the occasional joke!

Perhaps most importantly, I was always busy with work.  Which meant that I was too busy to overprepare, overthink, or put too much pressure on myself to succeed in any one audition.  I had just enough time to practise my arias and sing them for the panel.  No more, no less.  In short, I stopped caring so much.

One day, I went to sing for a government agency in Stuttgart.  I had already sung for this agent a year ago, and it was completely fruitless, so I wasn't expecting anything.  To my surprise, they took me on, and immediately started advising me on some upcoming jobs.

I didn't really know how to react.  They said… yes?  That couldn't be right.  Surely it was some kind of mistake?

Who, me?

Once I got over the initial shock, I realised that, somehow, I must be doing something right.  I decided to keep the momentum going and audition immediately for the government agency in Cologne as well.  This time, the agent told me there was a job I'd be perfect for.  Could I audition in Innsbruck before the end of the June?  The next day the theatre phoned and asked when I could come and sing.

I couldn't believe it!  It seemed like everything was happening so quickly, so easily.  I was so used to hearing "no".  I was so used to struggling for everything.  Now suddenly I had taken a turn, and everything was falling effortlessly into place.  "Well," said my singing teacher, "it sounds like the universe is telling you that you're on the right path."

"That's right, this way, just keep going!"

Sure enough, a week later I found myself at the theatre in Innsbruck.  The audition went well, and they hired me on the spot!

This all happened over a month ago, and it still feels pretty surreal.  I've since signed a contract, had my first costume fitting, found an apartment in Innsbruck, and applied for my Austrian visa.  I've also gone through the business of informing employers and colleagues, and cancelling other upcoming work.  And yet no matter how many people I tell, somehow I still can't believe it.

Change is in the air, as my friend says.  And this change is a big one.  I'm still struggling to wrap my head around it.  Not only because I'm moving to a new country.  Not only because my fiancĂ© and I will – once again – have to adjust to a long-distance relationship.  In fact, the very idea of having a job is blowing my mind.  It seems as if the whole definition and purpose of my life has changed.

For as long as I can remember, I've been practising so that I can perform well in auditions and win a job.  That was always my focus, my motivation, my raison d’ĂȘtre.  Now suddenly, I've got that job.  It's everything I've been working towards.  I'm finally safe, and I know I'll be able to stay in one place and receive a monthly salary for my work.

Strangely enough, as much as I’m happy and relieved by all this, it's also opening up some deep existential questions.  What do I sing?  Why do I sing?  Why do I exist, if not to work towards the next big audition?  What can I strive towards, what can I struggle with, now that this big question mark has been removed from my life?  How will it feel, no longer living on the edge?  Who is Diva on a Dare, when she's no longer Daring?

As I prepare to begin this new phase of life, I'm looking forward to more security, more stability, a better quality of life.  I'm sure I will feel much happier and healthier than I ever did as a freelancer.  I'm also sure that I have some soul-searching ahead of me.  It's time to discover who I really am, and why I really sing.  Once I stop struggling to survive, once I remove this relentless worry about what-comes-next… what will remain?

I can't wait to find out.