Way back in April I received a nice note from a lovely singer who hails from Minnesota (which is every prairie boy’s favourite US city… ). She was trying to decide which grad school to go to: the cheaper option, or the more expensive one (which was much more interesting to her).
So I wrote a bit of a response which you can read HERE.
Not too long after that, I found out that she walked away from the whole grad school thing, and took a year off.
It’s a hard choice, to step outside the ‘normal’ path, and so last week I bugged her again with a few questions about her year off, her decision to not go to grad school, and how she was adjusting to the balance of being an artist in the ‘real world.’
Thanks so much, Victoria, for telling your story.
So last we left you, you were deciding which grad school to go to…and then I found out you went completely off menu…no grad school at all. How did that happen?
There are two big reasons I decided not to go to grad school- the first being my gut was telling me that it just wasn’t the right places at the right time- and the second being money. I took out some loans for my undergraduate, and it seems so backwards to take out more for graduate school in a career field that may never prove financially fruitful. I wanted to make the decision before my senior recital because it was weighing me down. After a teary phone call with my parents a few days before my recital, I made the decision to put off graduate school. Finally just making a choice was such a relief.
Was it scary to walk away from that next step? What helped you make that decision?
TERRIFYING. I think that’s why I put it off for so long. My plan all year was go to grad school. Stay on the fast track. Again, I’d say my parents and my own gut helped me decide- my professors gave advice but ultimately encouraged me to make my own decisions.
How do you feel about that choice now? Any regrets?
No regrets, for sure. I had the experience of auditioning for grad school, traveling, what to expect from applications and recordings even if I didn’t actually go to grad school. And I don’t regret the year off at all anymore.
When I was driving home after graduation, I cried because I was so upset to be moving home. I felt like a failure, going back to the same restaurant I had waited tables at for years and living with my parents. It was like college had never happened. I had wanted to go back to College Light Opera Company where I had worked in summer 2014 but declined my invitation back because I thought I would need to save up money for grad school and find a place to live.
Now, I can’t imagine my life without all of the people I’ve worked with and experiences I’ve had since May.
So it’s been a few months into your year, walk me though the journey so far. I remember being pretty terrified the first time I had an ‘empty year’ in front of me. Have you been calm and methodical about it, or were there some … let’s say… emotional spikes?
Well, I started the summer singing in the chorus of Skylark Opera for their production of La Rondine. I met a cast full of Twin Cities based singers around my age who explained the ins and outs of the theater community in the cities as well as four immensely talented leads brought in for the production. During that opera, I started regularly looking at Minnesota Playlist for audition opportunities—the Twin Cities has such a rich and varied theater tradition—and was cast in two MN Fringe Festival shows. One was with a long standing Gilbert & Sullivan Company as a Bridesmaid in Trial by Jury and the other one of four women in a modern opera with a newer company, Really Spicy Opera. During rehearsals for those shows, I flew to University of North Carolina- Greensboro to compete in the National NATS Competition, which was an educational experience. I thought I would take a break from doing shows after doing two at once so I could focus on reapplying to grad school, but looking for an opportunity to distract myself, I auditioned for a production of Into the Woods, where I was cast as Rapunzel, a role I last played in summer 2014. We just opened tonight—I’m writing this from the green room.
Amidst all of those shows, I had made the decision to apply to some YAPs, specifically those that had studio artist levels to their summer seasons. Much to my surprise, I’ve been offered live auditions to all but one of the programs I applied to, so on top of scrambling to apply to graduate schools again (which I put off for way too long) I’m also preparing arias and making travel plans to both Chicago and New York for auditions.
Lastly, I started a voice and piano studio out of my house and have steadily acquired more students over the past few months.
Then, of course, on top of all of these artistic endeavours, I also wait tables and have started doing promotional work and a church gig here and there to basically pay for all of my applications and travel. If I wasn’t living with my parents right now, I don’t know how I would pay for all of this.
As far as emotional spikes go…they are constant. Some days, I feel like a superhero. I am amazing. I work various different jobs and have consistently been in a show and I still have time to socialize with friends from time to time.
Other days are more like today. If you watch 30 Rock, I felt like Liz Lemon in the episode “Sandwich Day” where she rushes to the airport to reconcile with her ex, but is stopped at airport security saying she cannot bring her coveted sandwich in. Sandwich Day came but once a year. She stuffs the sandwich in her mouth and shouts “I CAN HAVE IT ALL”.
Today was my sandwich day. It was tech week for Into the Woods at a theatre that is an hour from my house, so getting home by 11:30 is a treat. The rest of my life—waiting tables and teaching lessons—was still happening every day, and my voice was starting to suffer. I chose to socialize with the cast after our final dress last night even though I worked early today, and I woke up hoarse for opening night. Vocal rest and throat coat works wonders, but my life caught up with me a bit today. My grad school essays are awaiting some serious editing and I have yet to record. I only just solidified a week ago where I was even applying this year. Last year, I had recorded my prescreening auditions and applied by mid October.
After graduation, there’s no one accountable for you but you. And that’s a serious challenge for a girl who wants to have it all.
How are you finding balancing training, making money, and all the other projects you have going on?
It’s really, really difficult.
I’m not saving up as much money for grad school and living arrangements for the next couple years as I wanted, but I’m getting more experience and meeting more performers in the Twin Cities. I have a coach in the cities that I work with when I have time in my schedule and money in my pocket. The prospect of graduate school scared me so I avoided it until the last second- there are no teachers keeping you accountable on applications and decisions after leaving. I have the freedom of some financial flexibility right now because of my living situation, but I live in Northfield, Minnesota, which is 40 miles south of the Twin Cities, so I spend what feels like a fortune on gas for rehearsals, coachings, and work.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned so far?
Always have a good reason for doing something. Are you doing this project for the money? For the role? For the company you’re working with? Are you picking up this shift waiting tables because you need to pay for another application or because you feel guilty for having less than ideal availability? Are you applying to grad school again because you think it’s the next step in your career or because you feel like you’re supposed to? Ultimately, I applied to grad school last year because I felt like I was supposed to. This year, I feel like it really is the next step in my career.
Anything you wish you could have told yourself, back in spring, when you were trying to make that decision (now that you’re on the ’other side’)?
Stop feeling bad for yourself and look at the possibilities ahead. One of my favorite professors always said “there’s no right way to have a career”.
Towards the end of May, I decided to listen.