An Open Letter to Artistic and Executive Directors: Stop Making Dancers Pay to Audition
I write this letter knowing full well and first-hand the financial challenges of running an arts organization. I also write this letter on behalf of dancers auditioning for your companies. Lastly, I write this letter as a member of society at large and as someone who cares deeply about the culture we are leading and the climate we create in the performing arts.
This is a letter about the decision to charge dancers for their job interviews. I find it intolerable that of all of the positions in arts organizations, dancers are the ones who have to pay to be interviewed.
Wouldn't it seem ridiculous to ask your prospective director of development to come to their job interview with their resume, references and $30? How about your stage manager? How about you?
Looking for parallels in other fields, musicians auditioning for orchestras, shows or gigs do not need to pay to audition. Athletes trying out for professional teams are not asked to pay $30 before they suit up and go through drills.
When we ask dancers to do it, we say to ourselves, "We are a struggling company trying to make ends meet. We are incurring an expense and so we have to try to make that up."
This doesn't hold enough water (especially when the audition takes place in your home studio and you are not traveling or paying studio rental) because you pay this business expense when finding new employees or contractors for all other positions. The company incurs the cost to post all other jobs, go through resumes, perform phone interviews, carryout in-person interviews, check references and so on.
If you charge a fee and consider it a master class, then it's not an audition. It's not a job interview. It's a workshop, which has very different intentions. They are important for sure, but not the same thing.
I ask you to consider that unless all new hires in all areas of your organization are asked to offset the cost it takes to interview them, then please treat dancers with the same respect and let them interview for you like an adult, with dignity.
Tony Testa leads a rehearsal during his USC New Movement Residency. Photo by Mary Mallaney/Courtesy USC
The massive scale of choreographing an Olympic opening ceremony really has no equivalent. The hundreds of performers, the deeply historic rituals and the worldwide audience and significance make it a project like no other.
Just consider the timeline: For most live TV events like award shows, choreographers usually take a month or two to put everything together. For the Olympics, the process can take up to four years.
But this kind of challenge is exactly what Los Angeles choreographer Tony Testa is looking for. He's currently creating a submission to throw his hat in the ring to choreograph for Beijing's 2022 Winter Games.
In a studio high above Lincoln Center, Taylor Stanley is rehearsing a solo from Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer. As the pianist plays Prokofiev's plangent melody, Stanley begins to move, his arms forming crisp, clean lines while his upper body twists and melts from one position to the next.
All you see is intention and arrival, without a residue of superfluous movement. The ballet seems to depict a man searching for something, struggling against forces within himself. Stanley doesn't oversell the struggle—in fact he's quite low-key—but the clarity with which he executes the choreography draws you in.