Sara Duchovnay, soprano

Official website of soprano Sara Duchovnay

Talking With High School Students About Relationship Abuse and Pagliacci- Part 2

Yesterday I went to speak to my third and final High School of the week before beginning rehearsals for Pagliacci tomorrow. This was a combination of a theater class and a choir class, and included about 80 biggest class yet. To be honest, I thought that talking to High School students might be scary or intimidating, but I found the students at all three schools to be so respectful of me and of each other, open to the information, and wonderful at having this really serious group conversation. 

Now some real talk: I went back and forth for a long time about how much of my own experience to talk about with the students and on the internet. I have purposefully left things a bit vague in order to protect myself, and so that my story will empower others, but not overshadow the material and the tools that I’m teaching them. Another factor is that many details about my own experience still feel intensely personal and embarrassing to admit, even after all this time. 

While I am so proud of the work that I’ve done this week and so motivated to keep doing it, the aftermath of these school presentations was something I really didn’t expect from myself. I’ve spent a lot of time working through these experiences, both on my own and with my therapist, and I (naively) thought I was kind of fixed and over it. However, after visiting the second school on Wednesday, I burst into tears on my drive home and spent the rest of the day with a terrible headache. I had a really hard time sleeping that night and woke up from terrible dreams with my heart racing. Over the past couple days, I’ve experienced waves of that same low-grade anxiety, embarrassment, and shame.

During that unhealthy relationship, I lived in a 24/7 state of low grade anxiety, constantly walking on eggshells to avoid conflict, and not knowing which of my words or actions would trigger my ex’s anger and volatility. But I was also an expert on hiding the less than perfect aspects of the relationship. To the outside world, we looked like a perfect couple. I wanted to show the world a perfect image of our relationship and didn’t want people to see how I allowed myself to be treated. I was deeply embarrassed for myself, because I, a strong woman, was being belittled and degraded, controlled and manipulated, and I was staying. I felt a deep sense of loyalty to him and a need to protect him (and our relationship) from judgement. This lead me to isolate myself from many of my own family members and friends as the relationship continued. There were friends and family members of whom he approved, and it was ok to spend time with them because I knew that he would not embarrass me in front of those people or sabotage my relationship with them. But there were others, like my parents or certain close friends with whom I had to limit time for fear that my cover would be blown and they would see what my relationship really was. I even manipulated the truth when I spoke to my therapist, something that still fills me intense shame. Instead of saying “my husband keeps yelling at me and because I’ve put on some weight,” I would say something like “I’ve been feeling really anxious lately and I know my anxiety would improve if I exercised more often, but I just can’t find the motivation to do it.” Instead of saying “I can’t take this audition because I’m not allowed to be away from home for too long”, I would say “well, I really don’t want to be away from home for too long, so I’m only considering opportunities that are shorter or close by, but I do worry about how that will affect my career.” I was embarrassed to talk to my own therapist about my relationship! Ultimately, I knew that if I were honest with myself or anyone else about what I was actually experiencing, I would have to face the truth and I would have to leave. It’s so embarrassing to admit that wasn’t ready to do that. I felt a deep connection and sense of responsibility for this person who treated me so badly. I felt that I had taken a vow to be with this person who needed me, and that this person might one day treat me better if I could just do a better job of being the wife he wanted me to be. 

After speaking to the students on Wednesday, I felt anxious for all the students who raised their hands or came up to me after the presentation with questions about how they or their friends could get out of unhealthy relationships. I know that the information, tools, and resources that I provided them with will help them, but I still worry about them and feel so sad for what they are experiencing. I know intellectually that I can’t make anyone leave, but I worry that it will take them as long as it took me to do so. I also feel anxious that I will be contacted and asked to stop talking about my own experience in such a public way. My intention is not to get revenge or to damage anyone’s reputation; it is simply to create something positive and productive out of my experience, and empower the next generation to be better to their partners and to themselves. 

Yesterday, I felt A LOT better after returning from the presentation. I felt so much more comfortable and confident after doing it a few times, and I was better prepared for the emotions that might arise. I had also planned to have a fun and relaxing afternoon and I was looking forward to it! Clay listened while I talked about the presentation and my feelings about it, and then we went on a really cool cavern tour and watched a lot of very funny TV. I made sure that I was gentle with myself and focused on the positive things that I had taught the students, instead of worrying about them or feeling sad for them. Continuing this project is extremely important to me, and I know that I need to protect myself and practice compassionate detachment if I want to be able to do the most good for others. 

I am currently in the process of formulating two free workshops for opera professionals (performers, creative staff, educators, and administrators) which I will hold this fall and winter in Chicago and New York. I want to teach and empower others to do this kind of work and bring this informantion and compassion to their companies and productions, as well as to their own relationships! If you are interested in learning more and being contacted with details about these workshops, please follow this link and fill out this google form

I look forward to continuing this conversation with all of you!

Talking With High School Students About Relationship Abuse and Pagliacci- Part 1

Yesterday was a really special (and emotionally exhausting) day for me. At the crack of 8:30, I started my educational outreach initiative with Opera Roanoke and One Love Foundation. I went to two high schools to talk to students about Pagliacci, relationship abuse, and healthy vs. unhealthy relationship behaviors. Both Opera Roanoke and One Love Foundation were so incredibly open and supportive when I came to them with this idea! The encouragement and assistance that I received from both organizations in facilitating this outreach has been amazing. I feel so inspired and fortunate to work with wonderful organizations who are doing their part to make the world a better place, and look forward to beginning rehearsals for Pagliacci this Sunday and making my role debut as Nedda.

I began each of the day’s two sessions by introducing myself, giving a brief synopsis of Pagliacci, and explaining why my presentation would be a little different...yes there would be opera singing, but there would also be a lot of conversation and participation. I told them a little bit about my own past and explained that I felt called to use my art as a way to give back and educate young people about things that I wish someone had talked to me about when I was in high school. 

While Pagliacci premiered in 1892, the content is still extremely relevant today! According to the CDC, about 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced and reported sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime; and over 43 million women and 38 million men experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Even more relevant to Pagliacci, data from the US crime reports suggest that 16% (about 1 in 6) of homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner, and that nearly half of female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by a current or former male intimate partner. It is important to note that partner abuse and unhealthy relationship behavior happens in all types of romantic relationships and are not limited to heteronormative male on female violence or abuse. LGBTQ teens are an especially vulnerable group as well. I made sure to use neutral pronouns and words like “partner” instead of “boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife” so that the message was applicable to everyone in the room. 

I started the presentation by showing a brief video created by One Love Foundation. I wanted to start the conversation from a place that would have direct relevance to their lives as teenagers. The 5 minute video (definitely take 5 right now to watch it) depicts a young couple in what is (unfortunately) a pretty typical unhealthy relationship. It also shows how social media can play a role in masking abusive behavior and can make it harder to leave an unhealthy relationship. I did a lot of soul searching, and ultimately felt that the conversation might flow better if we started with examples of modern teens in an unhealthy relationship before we moved on to the opera. People between the ages of 16-24 are 3X more likely to be in an abusive relationship than any other age demographic, so I thought it was very important to present them with these examples before talking about a married couple and murder. Everyone knows that murder is wrong, so I also thought it was very important to teach them about the more subtle forms of emotional abuse that are often normalized by society and can be harder to identify. 

The students were a bit timid at first, but as soon as a few of them raised their hands to answer my questions about their reactions to the video, many more students joined the conversation. We talked about 10 unhealthy relationship behaviors: intensity, jealousy, manipulation, isolation, sabotage, belittling, guilting, volatility, deflecting responsibility, and betrayal. We identified examples of those behaviors in the video and also talked about other ways these behaviors could manifest. 

One of the moments that stood out to me from the first school was when one of the students raised her hand and said “this is probably a really good example of what you’re saying about these behaviors being normalized by society, but these things don’t sound like abuse, these just sound like examples of normal relationship drama!” This turned into a really great conversation about movies and TV shows that depict unhealthy relationship behaviors as normal or even romantic. While it’s still totally ok to enjoy these things as entertainment, when it comes to our own relationships, we can identify these unhealthy behaviors and trust our guts about whether or not relationship behaviors like this make us feel good! Relationships that make us feel bad aren’t healthy.

It was really amazing to see the wheels turn as these students realized that they deserve more from their relationships. We all deserve to experience healthy relationship behaviors like equality, loyalty, honesty, taking responsibility, independence, comfortable pace, compassion, respect, trust, and communication. For young people who are just figuring out this whole relationship thing, it is also important to identify these unhealthy behaviors when they commit them themselves. I explained that it’s natural to slip up sometimes, especially if you haven’t been in many relationships before; the important thing is to be open to communication, accept responsibility for your behavior, and take steps to improve. This might mean that you spend some time alone until you can work through these issues and are ready to be a good partner. 

Another thing that was very interesting, but not surprising, was a fixation that the students seemed to have with why someone might be emotionally or physically abusive. They kept raising their hands and positing possible reasons: Could it be because they were cheated on in the past? Could it be because their parents got divorced? Could it be because they have anxiety or depression? If I’m being honest, these are the questions that kept me up with anxiety dreams last night, because I hope that if the students came away from the conversation with only one message, it’s this: It’s natural for humans, especially empathetic humans like this artists, to want to figure out the reasons why someone is acting a certain way and have compassion for them. As performers, when we portray characters who do bad things, we often have to get into their minds and figure out their motivation. This can be a really interesting intellectual exercise. However, when it comes to our own relationships, the most important thing to remember is that no matter what happened in someone’s past, there is never a justification for physical or emotional abuse. It is never ok. If you’re with someone who treats you badly, it is neither your responsibility, nor is it within your power to “fix” them. You do not deserve to be treated this way and there is nothing you can do to make that person change their behavior. There are many people in the world who have been cheated on, watched their parents get divorced, or have anxiety and depression who do NOT abuse their partners physically or emotionally. There are also people who have identified unhealthy behavior tendencies within themselves and have done the work on their own and with a mental health professional to become better partners. I just really, really hope that the students remember that it really doesn’t matter why someone treats you badly. You don’t deserve abuse. In that situation, the only person you can control is yourself, and you do have the power and the permission to leave.

We then went over the handouts I had given them, which laid out how to talk to a friend who you think might be in an unhealthy relationship, and how to form a breakup safety plan. FYI, a breakup safety plan is extremely important because statistics show that a woman’s chances of being murdered by an abusive male partner are 70% higher during the three weeks after leaving an abusive relationship than at any other time during that relationship. As we see in Pagliacci, the “if I can’t have you, no one will have you” mentality is not uncommon. 

Which brought us to Nedda. I think her story is very important because it’s not neat and tidy. Like most things in this world, it is complicated and it has nuance. Yes, Nedda has an affair. Betrayal is an unhealthy relationship behavior. It is not uncommon for both people in an unhealthy relationship to do unhealthy things to each other. It is a very good indication that it is not a healthy relationship and should not continue; but in many situations, victims of abuse stay in unsafe relationships out of guilt about their own actions, or because they feel that both of their unhealthy behaviors toward the other cancel each other out. At the end of the day, nothing justifies abuse and nothing justifies murder. Today, Nedda might have had more options for leaving her unhealthy marriage before having an affair, but I think in 1892, leaving with Silvio was her safest and most practical way out. 

I also think Nedda is a great example to use when talking to people about abuse because she is a very strong person and she is also a victim of abuse! These things are not mutually exclusive. I think it’s important to remember that being a victim does not mean that someone is weak. Many victims of abuse feel shame about their abuse, or don’t want to admit it or talk about it because it doesn’t match the image of themselves that they want to put out into the world. It can be hard to reconcile those two things within oneself and say, “yes, I am strong, but I am also experiencing abuse and can give myself permission to ask for help.” 

After I sang “Stridono lassù”, I gave the students the option to ask me anything! One of the first questions was about how they could come to see the opera. The students all began asking their choir teacher if they could all take a trip to see it together, and Opera Roanoke General Director Brooke Tolley announced that Opera Roanoke would provide free tickets to any of the students present who wanted to attend! There was actual applause from the class! Another student asked if I felt a strong connection to this character because of my own personal experience. I thought that was such an astute observation, and the answer is that I really do!  

I truly believe that we as storytellers should not shrink from the challenge of telling operatic stories that depict violence and abuse toward women. While art can paint a picture of how the world could and should be, I believe it would be a disservice to us all to erase the stories that depict the sad truth of how the world has been and still is right now. We should feel obligated to do justice to the heroines of these stories because their experiences still mirror the experiences of so many women today. In addition, we should feel obligated to do whatever we can to educate the next generation about these issues. Opera provides so many chilling examples of these behaviors, and as artists, we can use our art form, and our gifts of musical and theatrical talent, empathy, and communication, to normalize the conversation around these issues and make a difference.

I hope to continue this conversation and to keep offering programs like this in collaboration with all my future employers. I think this lesson plan can apply to many operas, and my experience yesterday confirmed my theory that young people will have a strong connection to opera when it’s presented to them in a way that is meaningful to their lives and the issues that matter to them. 

Getting Back on Track

Technically this is a “sponsored post”! Look at me, I’m basically an instagram model now! #influencer #operasingersofinstagram #sponsored! By that, I mean that my lovely and brilliant friend from grad school, Cassandra Cardenas, posted about this very cool planner that she and her husband had developed, and I wrote to her and said “This sounds like exactly what I need to get my life in order...and I need it right now!” I asked her if I could try it out before it launched, and thankfully she said “Yes!”

Before I go any further, let me share this Kickstarter link, because you’re going to want to get your hands on this planner…also Cassandra, Gilbert, and their family are just the cutest, and even if you don’t like planners (you monster), you’re going to want to see their adorable dog and kids!

Now that you’ve seen these productive people in action, let’s get back to me. Let me set the scene: The RV where my husband Clay and I reside is in the shop for repairs and we are staying in my in-laws’ basement. This is already the stuff of aspirational social media fantasy, is it not? It’s the middle of the day and I’ve slept in way longer than any adult should. I’m sitting on the couch in an unshowered state (#iwokeuplikethis #actually), and I’m scrolling through Instagram like a zombie. This summer has been insane and I’m exhausted! Clay and I got married in mid June, took a glorious honeymoon in New Orleans, and then spent the next few weeks in and out of the airport while Clay enjoyed an amazing and crazy performance schedule! I’m so proud of him, and so happy that I’ve been able to travel with him and watch his career flourish! However, the reality is setting in that I need to get productive about my own career. I’ve spent the past few years in a bit of a protective pattern, and it’s time to get the F out there. 

Let me tell you a little (ok maybe a lot) about the past 5 years leading up to this pivotal basement couch moment. Up until age 28, I always thought I was a coloratura soprano. For any non-opera people reading this, a coloratura soprano is a soprano who sings very high, light, and fast. I had just started a career singing that specific repertoire and felt like I was on an upward trajectory. Five years ago however, around the age of 27 or 28, my voice started to change. The middle of my voice came in much stronger and fuller, and the repertoire I’d spent years perfecting and performing started to feel a very bad way. It was an absolutely terrifying feeling! I felt like my body was failing me! I felt like I couldn’t do my job.  

Also around that same time, my 5 year marriage (13 year relationship) with my high school boyfriend reached a point where I finally found the strength to leave what had become a very unhealthy situation. On the outside, I had always presented myself as someone who had her life totally figured it was very obvious that I did not. 

With the divorce came even more of a vocal change. The tension that I had been holding onto for years started to dissipate, and I was left with an even more unwieldy voice that I really didn’t know what to do with. I was also displaced from the Bay Area, the place where I had gone to grad school, built professional connections, and started my career! My ex and I sold the house that we had renovated with our own hands, and I said goodbye to the professional contacts I had spent years cultivating. I was free, but I was also a 28 year old who was now living with her parents. 

I was fortunate to have a very full performance schedule immediately following the separation and through the divorce, and I bounced back scarily fast. Many people close to me were actually concerned about me, because I seemed so much more “ok” than I “should” have been. They all kept waiting for me to break down. The thing about getting out of a situation like that (for me at least), is that at first, I felt this sense of out-of-body euphoria! Since leaving that relationship, it’s been 4 years since anyone has yelled at me, tracked my phone, called me a bad name, or criticized by body (to my face at least)! I felt so unburdened and empowered, and I cleaned house of other relationships that didn’t make me feel good either. This lead me to end my working relationship with my agent. I was now an unmanaged singer, unsure of her fach, living at home with her parents. 

As my friends and family had predicted, it was only a matter of time before my adrenaline subsided and the gravity of what I had experienced set in. When it did, I retreated inward and became very careful and protective of myself. I was careful about who I sang for and how much I put myself out there professionally. I was also very careful in the way that I sang. I wanted to protect my high notes and keep things precious, light, and close to me, even though my new voice required the opposite approach! I wanted to protect my ego, and live in that bubble where I could avoid rejection and criticism. I wanted to make sure I was “ready” before I really got back into my normal career hustle. The truth was that I was not quite emotionally ready to sing the way I needed to in order to embody the new roles that were now suited to my voice. The characters I used to play were sexy, sassy, and strong in a flippant and obvious way. It was hard for me to leave those characters behind! I had found so much comfort in embodying those fierce characteristics back during the days when my personal life used to make me feel anything but. Emotionally, I wasn’t quite ready to embrace lyric soprano characters because so many of their stories too closely mirrored my own past experiences. 

So I made emotional and vocal self-discovery my priority. I sought the guidance of many expert teachers and coaches, and focussed on getting to know myself and my new voice. During that time, I fell madly in love with my husband Clay, who had been a good friend of mine before we started dating. I had always admired his talent, confidence, and sense of humor. It was easy for me to fall in love with his kindness, patience, emotional generosity, openness, and honesty. He is my biggest advocate and support system, and the best person I’ve ever known. I’m so lucky he’s my person for life! 

An important and very scary step in my repertoire change was turning down opportunities that no longer suited my voice. I was lucky to be able to slowly add more appropriate roles to my resume, but my calendar was emptier than it had ever been before. I needed a job, so I tapped into my entrepreneurial side and helped start an opera-focussed, fashion e-commerce business called Shoperatic. I loved sourcing gowns and dresses for my opera colleagues, empowering other female entrepreneurs, and making new friends within the industry! I also really loved making money on my own after spending my entire adult life in a relationship where I was financially dependent and controlled. However, Shoperatic took up a good deal of my time and energy and felt like another place for me to hide from my actual goals. I loved the experience, but after a while, I realized that I needed to be real with myself about what I really wanted so I could focus my energy there. I knew it was time to move on.

So here I am now, 4 years later. I’m happily married and I live in an amazing travel camper with the love of my life. We drag our home all over the country, having adventures I could have never imagined. I’m still flexing my entrepreneurial muscles with a cute antique jewelry business that I started for myself, and I’m singing better now as a lyric soprano than I’ve ever sung in my life! I actually LOVE the way I sound, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to honestly say that before!! Vocally and emotionally, I’m so ready, but it’s been years since I’ve truly hustled the way I used to when I was a younger singer! It’s been years since I’ve done a super intense audition season, or blogged about my experiences in the industry like I used to. It’s been years since I’ve made a really aggressive plan for my career and saw it through. It’s been years since I’ve had that hunger for the work and the hustle...and wow do I have that hunger now! I’m ravenous! Up until a month ago, however, I felt paralyzed to do anything about it. 

When I saw Cassandra’s post about the Magna Planner that she and Gilbert had designed, I had a feeling that this tool would provide me with the guidance and accountability that I needed to get back on track! Filling out the worksheet portion of the planner was really emotional for me! I was definitely not where I thought I would be 5 years ago. In the personal sense, my life is leaps and bounds better than I ever thought possible; in the professional sense, it is definitely not. But as hard as it was to admit it to myself, I think I really needed that time “off” in order to become the singer I am now. I needed to heal, grow, and figure out who I was before I could get back out there. I’ve spent a lot of time working really really hard, both vocally and emotionally, and I know that that work has made me a better colleague, singer, and performer than ever before. Taking that time to focus on loving myself has also made it easier for me to embody my new lyric soprano characters with dimensionality and compassion. I am them, and I love them. 

Using the Magna Planner, I made a plan for myself with a mission statement and actionable steps that really got me moving. I was not only asked to outline what I wanted, but asked to examine why I wanted it. How would achieving my goals not only change my life, how would achieving my goals support my community? The latter question really resonated with me. These days, I feel drawn to a deeper mission. I want to use my life experience to bring my characters to life and tell their stories in an authentic way that speaks to the audience and makes women feel seen. I want to go even further than that and work with opera companies and nonprofit organizations to develop educational outreach programs that use opera to talk to teens about healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors. The CDC cites “social-emotional learning programs for youth” as one of their top prevention steps for reducing Intimate Partner Violence, an epidemic that includes behaviors such as physical/sexual violence as well as psychological aggression and stalking. There are examples of these behaviors all over opera, and I think we are presented with a unique way to engage with younger generations regarding these issues, while also presenting our art form in a way that is meaningful to them. I want to be a resource for my colleagues, and a force for positivity and growth in an industry that is crying out for it. Having that why is what made the difference for me and inspired me to get my career back on track. I have a lot to say and I really want to get out there and say it so I can help as many people as possible. 

I’m excited to say that I’ve already put so many of my steps into action and have seen major results in a very short time. I’ve always been a person who makes things happen, I just needed to remind myself of that fact! The focused work that I’ve done over the past month makes me so excited to share my voice with others, and I’m looking forward to my upcoming role debuts in my new repertoire! My goals are big, but the Magna Planner breaks down my goals into milestones, and my milestones into targets, so I can keep moving forward without getting overwhelmed. Daunting tasks are broken into more manageable tasks. Whereas before, the thought of making new recordings while on the road might be overwhelming, the Magna planner helped me break down all the related tasks so I could just attack them one by one. (Stay posted for those new recordings soon!) I also love the Praxis discipline plan, which has really helped me retrain new habits in a fun way. At the end of each week, I do a detailed and honest assessment of what went well and what I need to work on, and then create an actionable plan to work on the areas that were lacking. That accountability has really kept me honest. Learning from my mistakes has taught me that difficult situations that I might have previously perceived as “failure”, are the ones that actually provide the most opportunity for growth! When I reach the end of this quarterly planner, I’m excited to look back and see how far I’ve come.

Dealing with Rejection in 2019

Photo credit: Suzanne Vinnik

Photo credit: Suzanne Vinnik

An entire decade ago, I decided that if I were going to seriously pursue this opera career thing, I had to find some way to embrace rejection. I developed a plan wherein I would collect my rejection letters and reward myself when I reached 50. In 2013 I reached that first milestone and wrote the very first iteration of this blog post, which I published on my personal blog. In 2015, I published a reader’s digest version of the same post for another website, and received countless emails and messages from singers who were inspired to adopt my system for themselves. When I read back on both posts, part of me just has to laugh! I can’t believe that I felt qualified to write about rejection at those early points in my career, when I had only experienced a small taste of what it is actually like to live with the habitual occupational rejection that accompanies life as a performer! My younger self was actually onto something though! I’m incredibly proud of my system and it continues to work for me. I am proud to say that I have now been rejected more times than my teenage mind could ever fathom, and I’m still standing here ready to be rejected some more.

How it all began:

My wonderful voice teacher in undergrad once told me a story about how when she was a young singer living in New York, she was rejected so often that she was able to use her rejection letters to wallpaper her bathroom. She had gone on to have a wonderful career! The wallpaper idea was cute, but in my opinion it lacked actual payoff. Also, did she own that apartment? If not, how was she willing to risk losing her security deposit for such a stunt? I decided that I would set a rejection goal, and when I reached that goal, I would reward myself by buying something very special that I would treasure forever. It would be something that I would gaze at when I was feeling down or lacking motivation, and it would remind me of the challenges I had faced and overcome. From the very beginning, my idea for this reward was always jewelry. If there is something that I enjoy almost as much as getting hired, it’s getting diamonds.

Here are two major tenets of my system:

1. A freelance career is a numbers game! It is a given that we are all prepared, talented, wonderful, unique, and bursting with our own special magic. We’re still likely to experience a good deal of rejection because only one of the many qualified people who auditioned for that role will be getting that role. Putting ourselves out there to be rejected is simply part of our job.

2. It is totally ok to reward yourself for not “succeeding”! Getting the gig already feels great. You don’t need to reward yourself for that...that’s the easy part! The hard part is being rejected and continuing to put yourself out there again and again. How many people go through what we go through on a regular basis? Treat yourself! You deserve it!

If you want to start your own Rejection Reward System, here’s what you’ll need:

1. A shiny new email folder marked “rejection letters”

2. A shiny new savings account or one you already have. The important detail is that it must only be used for this one purpose. You cannot just dip into it whenever you want. You ABSOLUTELY cannot use it toward application/pianist/room rental expenses and/or work-related travel!

3. Rejections

Each time you get rejected- be it in the form of an actual rejection emails from a program or company, feedback from an agent, or just that enough time has passed that you can safely assume that you did not get the gig- contribute some money to your rejection savings account. Feel free to add a larger or smaller amount each time, depending on the sting of the rejection and the current state of your finances. When, and only when you reach 50 rejections, you may use the money that you have collected to treat yourself to something special. You can celebrate the fact that after 50 rejections, you are still standing tall, resolute, committed to your career, and ready to be rejected another 50 times!

What I’ve realized through many cycles of this process is that the biggest benefit is not in the material reward. If I’m being honest, my collection of jewelry is pretty baller and I don’t hate that perk; but the true benefit is in the mere act of collecting and analyzing the rejection notes. In my rejection emails, I often write myself notes about what I sang, what I wore, what I ate before, and how I felt. Sometimes I write objectives for my next audition. If I received feedback in or after the audition, I write that down too. There is always the temptation to put the rejection as far out of my mind as possible, but if I had done that I would have missed out on very useful data. Because I have kept careful records and analyzed my rate of success-to-rejection, I’ve learned that if I put myself out there enough times, I will eventually find success. There have been times when I’ve seen my ratio of success-to-rejection improve dramatically, and there have been times that it feels like all rejections and no success. In the latter case, I’ve been able to analyze my rejection notes to look for patterns and figure out what I can try to do differently. After my last cycle of rejections, during which I unsuccessfully tried to squeeze my voice into the coloratura and soubrette rep I had sung in my early 20s, I analyzed my rejection notes, made the switch into more lyric repertoire, and was able to reward myself with a stunning pair of earrings. #winning!

So go forth and get rejected, my loves! It’s part of the job, it’s rarely personal, and you have rewards to earn!

© Sara Duchovnay 2018