From Performer to Performeur….Creativity with Prosperity

by Srijat Mishra

Photo Courtesy: Global Rasika

Photo Courtesy: Global Rasika


A classical dancer, or for that matter any classical performing artist’s life, is generally is fraught with economic uncertainties. This will remain until the public at large doesn’t pay to watch classical performances. In our fast-food world of instant gratification, spiritually uplifting classical performances are far behind the pecking order. This trend is inevitable; despite the classical performer lending strength to a critical dimension of the society – i.e. aesthetics – India, in large sections, remains in survival mode or hygiene living. Food, housing, education and health continue to monopolize the household budget. Entertainment also has its small share of the wallet, but it is largely limited to Bollywood, Cricket (or other sports) & reality shows, with TV serving as the primary medium.

In different eras in the past, arts and artists had flourished, but under the patronage of the rulers of their day. Nevertheless, artists have and will continue to be, an integral part of society. There will always be a crop of people, who will listen to their inner voice to pursue classical performing arts professionally, despite the potential financial challenges they may face in the future. They will continue to dedicate themselves to their art, because of the spiritual connect and the divine experience during those moments of resonance. This article is to dedicated to those individuals, who unselfishly listen to their inner voice and in the process give their audience many moments of inner glee and spiritual uplift.

It is unlikely that classical artists ever flourished in the domain of market economics in the past. That said however, large sections of the society (including in emerging countries like India), have already been exposed to Indian classical dance and music (thanks to promotion through government grants, sponsorships, scholarships, Doordarshan / All India Radio (for music) and, organizations like SPIC MACAY), and realize their intrinsic value. In another parallel development, Indian society – post economic liberalization – has dramatically changed and is more open to dignified and genuine efforts that create meaning in one’s life. These developments can provide a lot of sustainable opportunities for the classical performers.

Many talented classical performers have to manage two full time careers – one to earn their bread and butter, while the other to follow their passion. This is an extremely taxing path and the performer needs to juggle multiple lives, often with substantial emotional and physical stress. Some other lucky classical artists are able to find employment in established organizations like performing arts departments of universities or other arts institutes. But such examples are far and few in between, at least in the current context.

Performers will have to not only perfect their trade, but also learn to successfully spread their wings in a free market world. Most have to become both performers and entrepreneurs at the same time, so shall we say performeurs. The performeur needs to plan a career, or rather a life, early on. The same way a corporate planner will do to their business. How does the performer become a performeur?

In the absence of an institutional mechanism or a large organized company, the performer to will need weave one’s way around the social fabric to make oneself relevant economically. To be truly successful, one will have to integrate a number of management skills into their training like goal setting, strategy development, value building, skills & competencies development, investments & returns calculation, team building, branding management, etc. It is possible that an ecosystem that manages these various facets of a performer’s life will evolve sooner or later. However until agencies are established to manage the careers of artists, the performer will have to take on the role on their own to ensure a reasonably comfortable life and to prevent the possibility of leaving their art because of practical material objectives.

In a country like India, the success of any entrepreneur will depend on how one is contributing in growing the market. Dividing a small pie amongst more people is not only stressful but also is intrinsically unviable. A new performeur will first and foremost need to ask oneself the following: How can I (my art) be more relevant to needs of the society? More importantly, how can I communicate this relevance to society? What can I do to retain the integrity and the essence (i.e. deep aesthetic joy) of their art while simultaneously connecting with the people at large at their levels of understanding? Considering the low levels of penetration of classical performing arts, building awareness is a great option. SPIC MACAY is doing this wonderfully well, bringing art and artists to young people where these art forms may not be so easily accessible.]

I suggest performeurs familiarize themselves with key business concepts (all of which can be found on the internet) such as product management, branding, differentiation, pricing, SWOT analysis, etc. Subsequent to this the performeur can form a vision of one’s life to articulate their goals. This needs to be documented and reviewed periodically (say every 2-3 years). One will also need to document his/her own SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. For example a dancer should be able draw phases in one’s life to include multiple roles, from among (say) student, performer, teacher, choreographer, organizer, thought leader so on and so forth. In different phases these roles may coexist, but the dancer needs to select which ones focus on. Career (or life) goals will have multiple dependencies – like training, skill development, fitness, finances, network skills, etc. – hence it is useful to articulate goals across multiple dimensions. The personal SWOT also needs to be dynamically managed accordingly.

For a performeur, like an entrepreneur, the behavioral competence will be most critical to success. Typically a performer or an artist is highly perceptive, and this is one’s strength. As a result, the performer listens to one’s instincts quite a lot. This, unfortunately, runs counter to a planned approach. The performer needs to be a free bird and listen to one’s voice, however that will not work while donning the hat of a manager. Like many ‘perceptive’ managers they will run the risk of listen to their instincts a bit too much as opposed to weighing options objectively. I would like to emphasize here that in any profession or vocation, the truly successful are those who can continuously challenge their natural instincts and selectively decide which ones to change and to which degree.

Once a performeur achieves a moderate level of financial success, it Is strongly recommended that they hire a manager and start off-loading as much routine activities as possible (like logistics, managing social media, blogging, scheduling classes etc.). This will free up the performeur’s time and mental bandwidth to help focus on the core creative aspects. Similarly, he/she needs to consciously focus on skill development – not just artistically– but in other areas like business concepts, world view, technology tools, communication, people management, financial management, self-management, social etiquette, negotiation, etc. Besides broadening the performeur’s scope of possibilities long-term, it will also allow them the ability to work in a wide range of situations and cultures.

Planning therefore, is critical to the success of any artist. Articulation (read documentation) of vision, values, goals and strategy, combined with the appropriate management tools will allow for a greater chance of artistic and financial fulfillment.

Lastly, I believe the performeur is first a performer. A true performer of classical art form is an embodiment of divinity. It is extremely critical that the performer delves deeply within oneself and connects with ones own spiritual reservoir. This will not only give true meaning to one’s chosen path; but also will help the performeur to not get trapped by the rat race (and its associated jealously, envy, greed and insecurities); and thus help the performeur address the physical, emotional, familial, entrepreneurial demands of the profession in a holistic and value based manner. Most importantly, this connect will help the performeur to joyously embark in the journey of holistic self-transformation.

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