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Article Published: 01 Jul 2018

New Life After Performing

Martha Graham famously said, “A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful.” Although opera singers’ careers tend to be somewhat longer than those of dancers, they’re still subject to financial uncertainty and the threat that physical injury could cut short their performing days. Meanwhile, the opera field has lagged behind dance in addressing the problem. The Actors Fund’s Career Transition for Dancers program has provided dancers with career counseling and financial assistance since 1985; in fact, according to a recent New York Times article, more than half of New York City Ballet’s dancers are pursuing or have already earned undergraduate degrees to prepare for life after retirement from the stage.

Up to now, opera has never had an analogous program. Looking to fill the lacuna, OPERA America this spring launched the pilot program Career Transitions for Artists, welcoming two dozen artists for a daylong seminar at the National Opera Center. The ses­sions addressed everything from per­sonal financial planning and the busi­ness structure of opera administration, to transferrable skills and the psychological effects of a career transition.

A panel of professionals provided their sto­ries of transitioning to careers offstage, both within and outside the arts. Ava Pine described her leap from singing high-flying coloratura roles to studying nursing; Ana de Archuleta dis­cussed how she founded her own artist-man­agement company after an early career as a soprano and stage manager; Darren K. Woods, who was a character tenor, talked about how he found his way toward developing new operas and men­toring young singers; and Dan Kempson explained how he was able apply the performative skills of an opera singer to a career in finance.

What emerged from their narra­tives was a sense of empowerment — having agency over their careers rather than being controlled by cast­ing decisions — as well as a sense of stability in their personal lives. They described, too, how they were able to remain connected to the art form they love: Says Pine, who continues to performs as she pursues nursing, “I went from singing being my job, to singing being my joy.”

This article was published in the Summer 2018 issue of Opera America Magazine.