Praised by Broadway World as a “compelling actor” with a “rich and powerful bass voice,” James Harrington returned to the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice program ... more
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YAP Bootcamp: Research

In the third installment of our YAP Application Bootcamp, we detail an oft-overlooked strategy for strategically building a career while leveraging limited financial resources: Research.

Today's topic is one of my very favorites. As someone who came to his singing career a bit later than most (at 31), and from outside the prevailing academic pipeline, research was and is how I leveled the playing field in growing my career. Since the YAP application process can be emotionally and financially draining, it is helpful to do what we can to cast a smaller net in a strategic area, rather than cast a very wide one and suffer the pain of repeated rejection and dwindling financial resources. If you learn the right questions to ask at this point, and where to find and analyze information, you will have developed a skill that will help you build your career long after you've graduated from the YAP circuit, too. So let's dig in:

What Stage of Development Have I Reached?
One of the first things we need to wrap our heads around is our level of preparedness — and this can be very difficult to discern, especially in isolation, so there may be some trial and error early on. Some bigger-picture questions are fairly easy to answer: most singers aren't ready to be heard by the top programs right out of undergrad, and many aren't ready immediately after grad school, either. It's a progression by design. It can be helpful, then, to plan to start at a lower rung in order to get experience and feedback about your next step. But prior to that external feedback, knowing how your experience stacks up to singers in the programs you're looking at can give you important context.

What We're Looking For
After you have a list of YAPs to target, go to the websites of those YAPs and see if they list their singers. If they do, see if they include a biography or list of previous experience. If not, do an Internet search ("singer name + voice part", "singer name + opera", "singer name + school", etc.) to see if you can find that information through those means. If this search doesn't yield something, move on to the next singer – research on 40-50% of the singers should start to paint a picture of the type of singer who generally gets accepted to this program.

Here are just a few programs who list their apprentices on their websites: Merola, Santa Fe, Saratoga, Glimmerglass, Central City Apprentice and Studio Artists, Wolf Trap, Los Angeles, and Nashville. Dozens of others do, too!

There is no set rubric here: a singer's experience is one of several factors that YAPs (and companies generally) use in screening applicants. What we're looking for is a ballpark sense of roughly equivalent experience. Clear as mud? Good. So, if it seems as though most singers in a given program have more experience than you, try moving down a budget level (or to Pay-to-Sings, if you were looking at level C/D houses). If you're more experienced than most, see who's in the YAPs at the next level up. If you're right in the middle, make a note: companies on both sides of the divide are probably good fits for an application.

Note: In order to save yourself money and some potential heartache, be as honest as you can about your experience vis-à-vis your colleagues in these programs. Singing Mozart's Susanna in your church basement with piano is not the same as singing it on stage with orchestra at a top graduate program or Pay-to-Sing. This is the time for brutal honesty, so look at your qualifications as objectively as you can. You'll thank yourself later.

Application Requirements: Screening at the Company Level
Often, companies try to help their potential applicants self-select in or out by including a profile or set of experience requirements in their application listing. If the program requires a graduate degree (rare, but it happens), don't bother applying until at least the second year of your Master's. If it says something like "Must have spent at least 1 year in a YAP," you're likely to get screened out unless you've done at least a partial-year YAP or a prestigious summer YAP, but may still get screened out if you don't have a full-year in aggregate. (There may also be exceptions if you are otherwise known to the company.)

There are reasons for these requirements, and they are usually very practical: as I mentioned in YAPs 101, many companies now treat their YAPs as Resident Artist programs, using their YAs in main stage roles, and casting slightly older singers than the average YAP. In this case, the company must know that you have experience on stage, and can be trusted with that sort of assignment. If you are not at that level (and again, be honest), it is probably wise to look at other YAPs where your responsibilities will include outreach, concerts, covers, and comprimario roles, and plan to apply to these bigger YAPs when you have a body of work to testify to your abilities.

Ancillary Benefits of Research
This discipline of research in your field will pay dividends in ways you probably haven't considered. For example, if you're just coming out of undergrad at a relatively small school (even at big ones!), you may not know what options exist for your next steps, that teachers matter, that schools matter (less so, but they undeniably open doors). But maybe you notice that 4 of the YAs at Central City or in the Gerdine program went to Indiana for grad school, and maybe even studied with the same teacher. Maybe you notice that school/teacher combo pop up in a few more programs, and so now you determine that you should go take a trial lesson with that teacher and submit an application to that school. Maybe further down the line, you notice that three of your favorite singers, or two of your favorite colleagues from a production you did are on the same management roster, and so you resolve to reach out to that manager for a consultation or audition in a year or two.

So, research, research, research! Equip yourself with as much knowledge as possible, and allow questions to lead to further questions, and then: be strategic with the information you find! If I can be of any help to you in the process, please don't hesitate to reach out to me via email.

OpusAtlas Summer YAP Bootcamp Series

1. YAP Overview
2. YAP List
3. Research
4. Application Process
5. Résumés

Praised by Broadway World as a “compelling actor” with a “rich and powerful bass voice,” James Harrington returned to the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice program ... more