Melani DeGuzman is a professional dancer, choreographer, producer and teaching artist. If you’ve ever wondered how to move into a new city successfully– find a community that support you and your art, make a living doing work you love and stay focus on pushing your craft, than Melani is an example to follow. Here’s Part 2 of our interview.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: getting paid as an artist.
I believe we’re at a crossroads and have to find different ways to cultivate our skills (and get paid). We need to have backups. It can be fitness, teaching movement, teaching artist… but it has to be something flexible that allows you to leave on tour or juggle 8 different projects.
Its also important to attract the right people who will pay you to help them with their work. Its important to believe in yourself as an artist, but also believe in your ability to help other people make their vision come to life and be paid for that. You have to value yourself first.
Talk to me about your experience producing shows!
My last couple of months in LA I was working for a non profit arts organization and, under great time pressure I produced a show in 2 months. My first show! Called FRAKTALS, it was a multidisciplinary dance benefit concert. I made almost $1,500.
In general its very stressful, but you put in the time and it all works out. You have to let go and just trust. You pull onto your resources. You find a venue. Create a plan for your social media marketing. You start by saying, “what do I want to produce and why?” “What is the mission of this?” “Why do I want to bring a community together for this?” Then you narrow down what audience you’re trying to reach. You pinpoint why your message is important and why people need to stop throughout their day to pay attention to it. You have to be extremely passionate about what you’re showing because it shows throughout your branding and content.
You just helped Natalie Deryn Johnson Produce a show—how was that experience?
It was challenging because we were a very small team. It was just us! We didn’t have a “go-to” person; she was both my boss and the performer. But, you do things day-by-day and it all comes together.[Pro tip:do not do more than one kick starter within 4 years].
The best thing was the Kickstarter. I was a little nervous because it was a lot of money for one person and it was her second Kickstarter within the last few years. There is this guy in LA I added on Facebook because I saw that he is active in supporting the arts and I guess he’s been following me. The last 24 hours of our Kickstarter we were $249 dollars away from our $7,500 goal. I posted a cute picture of myself and said we were down to the last 24 hours…This guy likes my post. I check the Kickstarter and there is an anonymous $500 donation. He doesn’t know me, he hasn’t even seen me perform. He just supports LA artists (even though I’m not there anymore!). It goes to show that people are following you without you even knowing it.
On Being a Teaching Artist:
In LA I despised being a teaching artist. I did it 3 days a weeks, felt like I had no time to audition and the pay wasn’t great. But right before I moved to New York I was astonished and excited to find an hourly rate of $50/hr (which is more than LA). One of the first jobs I said yes to was this smaller for-profit organization Em Arts Technique. He offered me three days a week and a rate of $55/hr. Plus it was walking distance from my house!
A week later I interviewed with another lady, once again an amazing person — so sweet! She was opening up a studio-esc space at a church called St. Veronica and she had these grand ideas. She was promising me 6-8 classes a week at $50/class. So I said yes to her and got a little too excited.
If you want a home feel go with a smaller organization, but if you really want to hit the ground running and make money, go with a larger organization. I stayed with her but only ended up getting 2 classes a week starting in October.
That’s the hard part of being a teaching artist, it is not always guaranteed. Its all about enrollment. I had to listen to my gut a lot. End of August I got a job with a massive organization I knew was amazing. Its called Marquis Studios — they have been around for 40+ year, serve 150+ underprivileged schools, and have 90-100 teaching artists.