Pictured above: Photo:Mentatdgt
Editor’s Note: Scapi Magazine contributor Estelle Rosenfeld is writing a column series about starting a theater career, as well as tips and wisdom for resume writing, portfolio building, networking, self-care, and shifting mindsets. This is her second installment.
Curtain-up on our bi-monthly career wisdom series: how to craft an introduction that feels genuine and will see you through any type of networking event? Here is your second serving of career advice and ideas in this series for burgeoning theater artists.
Welcome to Threepenny Philosophy.
Okay, so hands up if you like networking? That’s what I thought. Now, what if I could wave a wand and take away all your fears around networking?… Wouldn’t it be great? Well, actually, I don’t think I can, sorry. But what I can do is share my journey from feeling like a dodgy car dealer and scared of ‘pitching’ to feeling myself and being so much more comfortable.
Death to the Elevator Pitch
For a long time ‘networking’ was a dirty word for me—together with ‘show-business’, ‘marketing’ and ‘outcome’. But why? I usually quite like people, and I’m not bad at making conversation. But if an event was labeled ‘networking’ and I knew I had to ‘pitch’ stuff to important people, I froze. I used to spend the event hanging out with people I already knew.
So I decided to do something about it. I signed up for a networking course. If you’ve ever looked into the ‘art of networking,’ I’m sure you are familiar with the concept of ‘elevator pitch’. Well, forget anything you know about it. In principle, it’s basically how to sell yourself to the person you’re with during the amount of time an elevator journey would take.
In reality, it means talking at someone and cramming as much possible information into the shortest amount of time. Somehow, it always feels too long, too salesy, too self-conscious. You both know you’re doing it and you’re left with two people who don’t know what to say to each other… Awkward!
But although this course felt mostly irrelevant to me or any creative types, I got one “aha” moment that completely shifted the way I approached networking: “you need to go to an event to find out more about other people”—and to me that meant I was not there to sell anything.
Warning, here is the golden rule of networking (if you remember one thing from this column, this is the one): You need to go a networking event in listening mode and ask yourself “how can I help?” So with this in mind, how can an elevator pitch, the holy grail of talking at someone, be relevant?
So I started to think, “surely, you want to keep it short and sweet and say just enough.” Then, if appropriate, if relevant, there is always time to have a dialogue and share more information about my work and me. And that’s how I came up with this simple introduction.
As I started to work with mentees, I formalized it into a ‘recipe’ and broke it down into three simple elements. I also started to notice the most common mistakes, so I’ll share the top four with you together with how to avoid them.
Long Live the Introduction
Ok, so here is my super simple recipe for a good introduction. You need three key ingredients: your name, your job title (or desired one) and what you’re working on at the moment. That’s it! So in my case, right now, it sounds like: “I’m Estelle Rosenfeld, I’m the creative producer for What’s Coming out of the Box, and at the moment, we’re working on a new show called Bonhomme.” Notice that I am not telling you anything about the show, the company or all the other things I do. I am leaving space for questions.
Let’s break it down.
That shouldn’t need explaining right? Depending on what the event is, sometimes I only say my first name. It keeps it informal and there is time to exchange details later.
YOUR JOB TITLE
What I mean by that is simply what you do or want to do in the theater. So it can be ‘actor,’ ‘costume maker,’ ‘dramaturg,’ etc. Sometimes I don’t say the name of the company and sometimes I say ‘theater artist’ rather than ‘creative producer;’ it depends on the event and on what I’m focusing on at that time.
WHAT YOU’RE WORKING ON
This is the crucial bit! This is where you can show that you’re a professional and that you are doing something. That’s also the part that can lead to more questions and leave space for an interesting chat.
If you’re panicking right now because you’re thinking “oh gosh, I’m not actually working in the theater right now,” don’t worry; we’ll talk about this in a minute.
THE TOP FOUR MISTAKES
So as I started to pass the wisdom on to a few mentees, I’ve noticed the following mistakes. Let’s get them out of the way so you learn from our previous mistakes.
1. Mentioning the day job
If you’re at the event to connect with other theater professionals, you want to be asked about your theater practice, not the art of coffee making (unless that’s part of your theater practice in which case please get in touch asap, I want to know more).
2. Saying “I would like to be”, instead of ‘I am’
Now, that’s a completely understandable mistake when you’ve just graduated or if you’re still studying. But you are a professional or you have started your creative journey, so use ‘I am’ to affirm so.
3. Saying “I’m in between jobs”
Again, same problem: this doesn’t make you look professional. This is basically is saying, “I’m not doing anything.” How is that going to prick the curiosity of the person you’re talking to?
4. Saying it in a down voice or apologetic way
That translates to, “it’s difficult,” or “I don’t really believe in it.” Well… Who would you rather talk to? The one who’s going to talk passionately about theater and inspire you, or the one that is going to moan about the industry and depress you? Well…
But don’t worry, I wouldn’t mention the disease if I had not found the cure. So here are the antidotes to these four faux pas.
HOW TO AVOID THEM
1. What if I’m really not working?
I get it, sometimes you really are in between jobs, or you really are still studying or just graduated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you should lie. So what should you say then?
You can mention your last job.
“I’ve just finished a tour of the Tempest.”
Okay, admittedly if it was a year ago, you might want to rephrase the ‘just finished’ or just consider one of the other options I’m going to mention.
Equally, you can mention a job to come. If you’ve got something in the pipeline, brilliant:
“I’m about to start…”
I think it’s perfectly fine to talk about a personal project. If you ask me, if you’re not on a job then you should always be working on a personal project. At first, there is no need to get into production details. If asked, you can just answer:
“Yes, I mostly rehearse my solo show in my living room, it’s in its very early days.”
Now in my books, if you’re serious about your theater career, if you’re not on a job and you’re not working on a personal project, then you should be in some sort of training to work on your skills. And it’s fine to mention that too:
“I’m teaching myself the ukulele.”
2. What if I really find it hard to say “I am a theater artist?”
If it still feels strange to affirm your professionalism, then you probably want to work on your mindset. It’s a whole subject for another column (the next one) but in the meantime say, “I am a theater artist” (or performer, dramaturg, director, etc.) ten times out loud in the shower every morning.
Like the living plan I described in my last column, you want to review your introduction regularly. So it’s best to prepare and have a quick think about it before each event.
Would you like to practice? Feel free to send it to me on Instagram: just message me or comment on a post, I’m always happy to hear from you. In my next column, I’ll touch on mindset and will share some tips about dealing with rejection. Because in the words of Albert Einstein, “you never fail until you stop trying”–it’s a Threepenny Philosophy column after all.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Threepenny Philosophy.
More installments of this column can be found under Impressions, our subsection in Underground.
Estelle Rosenfeld (she/her/hers) is a creative producer, theater maker, and mentor at What’s Coming out of the Box. She helps burgeoning theater artists start their career, sharing tips and wisdom from resume writing, portfolio building, and networking to self-care and mindset. Learn more about her and her work at her portfolio or connect with her on Instagram or Twitter.