Singer Jamie O'Reilly has been a professional performer for over 25 years. Her she talks the nuts and bolts of how artists can steer their careers, how to be paid fairly for work done, and ways that successful negotiation can lead to better gigs and the right audiences.
Artists in Conversation:
I knew from a very early stage in life that I wanted to be a performing musician and nothing else. When I was in my late teens, studying violin, musical theater, and getting ready to attend Indiana University as a vocal performance major, I defined success as nothing less than being famous and having a lot of money as a result of performing. I pictured myself on stage, surrounded by adoring fans that would rush out to purchase my latest recording as soon as it became available. The music? Well, that was secondary to all the accolades and money.
About a year ago I began my tenure as Executive Director of The University of Chicago Presents (UCP), the University’s professional music presenting organization. It is my first time being the “boss” and I’m enjoying all aspects of it, from artistic planning and programming, which I’ve done for years, to fundraising and marketing, which are both firsts for me.
The basic service that ASCAP provides to musicians is royalty collection and distribution for public performances of their songs. We have evolved to become a major advocate for songwriters' rights here in America.
I grew up as a serious bun-head. I studied ballet 6 days a week, I only listened to classical music, and, yes, I was even a Young Republican. I remember watching my first modern dance concert and literally thinking, ‘Why do they always think dance always has to be about something? Why can’t it just be pretty?’ The irony that I have since grown up, come out, fallen in love with gravity, danced ferocious Body-slam works with guns and gasmasks as well as classical modern dance pieces filled with line and grace, never ceases to amaze me. But I think that I always come back to these questions of who is watching modern dance. What do they know about it? How do we increase audiences for this fabulous art form? How do we create a strong community that enables audiences to engage with, be inspired by, and change their lives for the better because of modern dance?
The Space/Movement Project is a non-profit modern dance collective in its fourth season. While roles have shifted and new members have joined, the overall mission of the group has been maintained throughout its existence. The company has committed itself to operating under the condition that each member’s voice is valued and all resources are shared
I didn’t think so. Dance for someone who uses a wheelchair? I thought, you’ve got to be kidding! I must admit, as a professional actor and vocalist, the inclusion of dance in my career was a hard sell to me initially. I did not think artists with physical disabilities could legitimately compete, nor be taken seriously in the arena of dance.
But in 1995, I was wowed when I witnessed my first physically integrated dance performance by the Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels (now known as “Dancing Wheels”).
How magnificent, to live the life of the working artist. Work? It’s great, I tell you! I get paid to do what I love. Most artists work a job to pay the bills; I get to pay the bills with the same camera that feeds my art. Beats telemarketing. Right?
Sure, my greatest passion is for pictures no one hires me to take. But I try to let my work placate the muse. I churn out pretty pictures for my client base all year. I make actors look intriguing and, I daresay, hot. I help the noble theatre artist tell his story. (Never mind my own stories, I get paid. At least enough to keep the basic cable on.)
How can artists or
galleries get on your radar?
Polly Ulrich (1950-2011) was a well-respected art critic in Chicago for many years. This interview with her was conducted by CAR associate Tom Burtonwood in 2008.
The main question I get from artists is a request to write about their art work. My reply is that if an artist takes the time to get in touch with me in person in order to ask this question, I will always ask for more information about their work if I don't have it already. I will also say that I don't always have control over whether I will write or not--it must be approved by an editor at a magazine. I take a great deal of time and research in writing about an artist which means that I write fewer reviews and essays in general.
I don't have a story, I have a plea to the arts community, based on hundreds of stories told by the artists who come to us for help. My plea is simple, and not very original. I am urging each of you to realize that, whether or not you like it, you are in business.
The decision to attend graduate school became a turning point in my career path and artistic life. Some people advised me that one should clearly know his or her career goals and skills before even applying for graduate school. Honestly, it wasn't precisely like this in my situation.
UPDATED: Dominic Molon left the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2010. He is now the Chief Curator at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.
Interview conducted by CAR associate Tom Burtonwood
Typically the question I hear most from anyone regards the process by which exhibitions are conceived, proposed, and scheduled. My answer is basically that, in the case of a solo artist, of the many artists whose work interests me I decide which one(s) might be appropriate for a particular kind of exhibition at the MCA, often taking into account whether their work has been presented in a solo museum show in the United States.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
The more public relations and marketing work I do, the more this quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead resonates.
"Our music produces many images
painters would seemingly go
berserk with images
God has thru us
revealed all these, images"
- Laurence Jones, Images.
Running a theatre ensemble can be a contentious, aggravating and, ultimately, fruitful experience for all concerned if the right combination of personalities and talents come together. A lot depends on the sort of work the ensemble is interested in pursuing.
You have spent months in preparation. You have fine-tuned
the script and show concept, agreed to pay five times your apartment rent for a
venue, rehearsed with your cast. Opening night approaches and suddenly it
occurs to you that you have to actually work to get an audience that is
comprised of more than just your friends and family.
In our limited experience at Theatre Seven, I think I've found the most difficult challenge is achieving a balance between planning for growth and success and realizing that you've never done this before, and haven't the faintest idea of how things are going to go. We created Theatre Seven believing, as I still do, that the reason so many companies fail is that they look at their first production as the finish line, gearing all their operation around just "getting the first one off the ground." Then, once that's over, they seem to come to a dead stop for a while. I have no idea how true that is, but operating under that assumption has helped us incorporate a vision for the future in everything we do, even with the awareness that we're not quite sure where we're headed.