There are many reasons why those of us who have trained full time in dance may land up pursuing other careers.
For starters, a dancer’s longevity is limited by his or her body being able to take the strain. Whether due to age, injury or a combination of the two, there comes a point in most dancers’ lives when the physical cost of dancing outweighs the benefits.
Others may love dance but wish to work in the industry in an area other than performance. The buzz of performance, the unconventional hours and time away from home doesn’t suit everyone.
For freelancers, too, work is not always consistent and it may be necessary to have an alternative income stream to supplement performance income.
For all these reasons, each year we put together the Dance Australia Careers Special. In the guide we look at the many dance-related occupations that exist. We talk to dancers and ex-dancers working in new fields about their jobs, their paths to new careers and the rewards of their work. One of the people is Sydney Dance Company's Simon Turner, dancer turned stage manager/designer. Here is the conversation he had with Nina Levy…
Simon Turner , stage manager, Sydney Dance Company; Creative director, iCre8 (design company)
Simon Turner danced with Sydney Dance Company (SDC) from 1992 to 2008. He has been stage manager for SDC since 2010 and has also worked as a designer for the company. He talks to Nina Levy about the transition from an on-stage to off-stage role with that company.
NL: You had an extensive career as a dancer… what made you decide it was time to retire?
ST: I think there comes a time in every dancer’s life when they come to the realisation that unfortunately time has run out and you physically are not capable of performing to the level required and you desire to. This is different for everyone, for me I needed to weigh up the physical pain of performing at such a peak level and my love of performing. Age 36 and after a 16-year career I felt it was my time to walk away.
NL: You chose to retrain as a stage manager… what made you choose that role?
ST: For me it felt like a natural transition. I have a great love for dance and live theatre as a whole and value the role it plays in creating a nation’s culture, I wanted to find a way to still be engaged in the live performing arts sector and remain involved particularly in the performance element of it. When the opportunity came up at Sydney Dance Company I jumped at it and haven’t looked back.
NL: How did you find transitioning from a stage career to a behind the scenes career?
ST: Quite natural really. To be as fortunate as I was to be appointed stage manager of a company that I had spent all my professional career with was like my second golden ticket. I was still part of the family and felt fully supported as I transitioned into the role.
NL: What new skills/qualifications did you have to learn/acquire in order to become a stage manager?
ST: Where do I start? Stage management covers a boarder range of skills than that of a dancer. There is the administration side of things as well as the performance side. It was a steep learning curve and it was really sink or swim. I threw myself into learning all I needed as quickly as I could and I’m still learning. I think you never stop as new challenges present themselves.
I did a lot of practical hands on learning through Dominic Chang as my mentor, I seconded myself in the evenings to my lovely friends at Opera Australia observing them and listening to the practical advice they offered me. I had to re-engage and polish my ability to read music in order to call from a live musical score, learn how to compose a prompt copy and proper procedures for the health and safety of the company.
Being a stage manager you are responsible for the running of the whole performance and are required to know all aspects of it both technical and artistic. Calling shows is my favorite part, to be involved in real time with the performance still gives you that burst of adrenalin and to observe the extraordinarily talented dancers of the company perform each night is a joy.
NL: And then what made you decide to expand into design? What new skills/qualifications did you need to acquire to become a designer?
ST: I wanted to peruse my joy of drawing, a vocation I had not had time to touch on since I had been younger. I had to learn a myriad of new skills and delve into the Adobe Suite of design programs. I have completed my Certificate IV in Graphic Design and am currently undertaking my Diploma. In 2014 I launched my own design company iCre8.
NL: Dancers have a number of attributes that are transferrable to other disciplines… what skills do you feel have served you well as stage manager and as a designer?
ST: To be a stage manager and a self employed graphic designer you need to be extremely organised, disciplined, determined and have keen time management skills, luckily these are traits most dancers have.
NL: What do you enjoy about your post-performance career?
ST: I’m so very lucky to still be heavily involved in the arts and still play an important role for a company I love and indeed grew up with. I would be very unhappy if I wasn’t able to pursue a creative career. Not being in pain anymore certainly is a bonus too.
You’ll be able to read more interviews like this one in the October/November issue of Dance Australia…. Out soon!