In defense of the "day" job

In defense of the "day" job

Emily Peragine
New York-based soprano Emily Peragine was the subject of one of our first-ever interviews. Now, she’s a first-time contributor to Schmopera, so let us know if you want her to write some more. If you/your friend are interested in writing for us, get in touch at [email protected]

Some of us singers are lucky enough to emerge from undergrad/grad-school and jump straight into young artist programs, performance diplomas, summer stock - gigs that not only pay the bills but conveniently act as stepping-stones to the career of which we all so desperately want to be a part.

Then there are people like myself…DIDN’T go to grad-school, ended up bouncing around in Europe, moving back home to the wild west, and eventually taking a risk to make the solo move to NYC to pursue the “dream.” The equation is simple. You work, you audition, and you repeat until you convince someone that you’re talented and worth hiring. Easy, right?

This is already common knowledge, but NYC is expensive. Perhaps even more common knowledge would be that living here is even more expensive. My first apartment was a shoebox in Bushwick. (Glamorous, right?)

As a result, I need work to survive. For me, that is to work as a waitress, server, patron saint of bringing food/beverage to your table. Whatever you want to call me.

Yes…. the day job. Queue music from Psycho, screams, and the unbridled horror of the mere words you just read.

Ha. Just kidding.

But for real…for some reason, I have found that the “day job” has a negative connotation within the performing arts/musician community. As if accepting the day job is a form of “giving up,” a “distraction.” That because I am focusing my attentions on this alternative to support myself, (and you know… feed myself,) that somehow I have lost focus and am not giving the dream my all, that I am in a sense… throwing in the towel, or “not working hard enough.”

I find this not only insulting, but also incredibly misinformed.

Let me also say, I would LOVE to support myself virtually on my craft alone, but that is not my reality at the moment. Are there times that I completely wrestle with this? Absolutely. There are days when people ask me what I “do” and saying “I’m an opera singer” feels like a horrible pipe-dream, a lie, whatever you want to call it.

It doesn’t feel like I’m being genuine given my current circumstances. In fact… I had a table guest within two minutes of meeting me psychoanalyze my entire being:

  • **Me:** Hi folks, how are you this evening? Can I bring you sparkling, tap, or bottled flat water?
  • **Patron:** Are you a soprano?
  • **Me:** Ha, how could you tell?
  • **Patron:** You have that "lift" in your voice.
  • **Me:** Oh… thank you! That’s hysterical! Would you like to hear our specials?
  • **Patron:** No, we want you to sing them to us!
  • **Me:** (nervous laughing because I feel like a failureeeeeee.)

The real reality that I am facing is that I could not SURVIVE in this city without my day job. I could not have the apartment, the flexibility to afford coachings, lessons, application fees, etc., without this job. That being said, being a server has quite a bit in common with being a performer, and has been nothing but a wealth of incredible life lessons.

It has made me a stronger person, has given me a thicker back-bone, how to respond better to criticism and rejection. It forces me to prioritize, to respect authority, how to be a better actress, how to problem solve, how to fail, how to keep my mouth shut, how to stand up for myself, how to be humble, how to be efficient, how to troubleshoot, how to schedule, how to manage my emotions, how to acknowledge personal weakness, personal strength, and most importantly: At the end of the day, how to come back down. to. earth.

It also has taught me that no matter what I do in my life, that it is important to put my efforts to the best of my ability into the position that I am currently in. If I’m going to be a singer, I’d better be a damn good singer, if I’m a doctor, I’d better be a damn good doctor, if I’m a waitress? I better be a damn. good. waitress making Sara Bareilles proud.

This is a general life lesson for one’s well-being. Why should I deserve any more, if I’m not happy with what I currently have? That doesn’t mean I should give up, it means I should give my best, regardless of my current circumstances.

At the end of the day you are taught what “service” means in the true sense of the word. As a singer I am never performing for just myself. I have an audience, and it is my duty to entertain, and ultimately to serve my audience… giving them something to remember, to react to, to “feel.”

So in the meantime, I will continue to serve my tables like I will serve my future audition room/audience. Would you like sparkling, tap, or bottled flat water? Maybe I’ll throw in a high-C at the end.

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