There are times when the clues are hidden in plain sight. As much as we might talk about the arts, we are also in the habit of speaking about the industry. Dance industry. Entertainment industry. Etcetera. For creatives, this dichotomy can be hard to navigate.
We all know that dreams of artistry can founder on the crags of hard reality. Some find a way to deal with this, others do not. It is also clear that there remains a well-defined bottom line; and when you have been in the game as long as Melbourne based agent Trish Squire, there is little room for sugar coating.
As she likes to say, “If you have a single passion, that’s great, but have an open mind, and understand that it’s show business and not show friends.”
Far from being a bean counter or hard head, Squire is the classic dance dreamer, never having wanted to do anything else. From her first class at three, she pursued her passion. A varied career as a showgirl in Japan, working in music theatre and TV, and being one of the now legendary Tony Bartuccio Dancers, took her around the world and opened her eyes. Then, after years under lights, she segued into representing and training performers. These days, as an agent and educator, she surveys the space from the perspective of both industry and artistry.
Not long after starting the Spectrum Talent Agency, she began to see where the mismatch was happening. “What I came across was quite a lot of dancers not knowing the business side of show business. Not knowing how to interact with agents, how to interact at jobs and just be professional.”
From there, a move into the training sector was inevitable. In 2008, Squire and her business partner Katie Rappel launched Spectrum Dance Studios in Melbourne’s east. Their school was founded on clear and pragmatic principles. The aim: “lucrative careers.”
Although ‘resilience’ and ‘flexibility’ now seem cliché, the point, according to Squire, is as clear as ever. When choosing artists to represent or potential students to train, she looks for the mix of mindset and strength that can underwrite sustainable careers.
“An extraordinary understanding of work ethic,” she states simply. “You need to train hard to be able to work hard and to be able to get the job you want…to be open minded and not tunnel yourself into just wanting to be a contemporary dancer, because obviously, there just are not enough opportunities for that.”
Decades in the entertainment business has sharpened Squire’s gaze. “What I train my dancers for is to have longevity, which comes from attitude, understanding responsibility and resilience, and having the dedication to deal with an industry that might give you a thousand ‘no’s and one ‘yes.’”
It may sound tough, but recall that she, too, began as a singularly focused young girl who wanted to follow her mother into the world of dance. Years later, a life of twists and turns has created a deeper appreciation for both the challenges and opportunities that await young performers.
“I like to ask people, ‘What is your dream job?’ The answer I’m really looking for is ‘anything I can get.’ That says to me that they’re open and willing to explore every avenue of the industry,” she observes. “Of course, I love them to have big dreams, but I also want them to be open to anything along the way.”
The logic here is simple. There is more on the horizon than big ballet companies and working with star brand choreographers. The scope for triple threat performers in 2023 is global. Cruise ships, corporate entertainment, music theatre and, as Squire would doubtless remind us, the showgirl scene. In short, you can work, get paid, and do what you love if you look beyond the skinny silos of celebrity and critical acclaim.
However, beyond diversity of opportunity, powerful externals will always impact the industry and drive uncertainty, as a recent virus reminded us. Post-COVID, the live performance sector is, according to Squire, making a steady but slow recovery. “Tiny steps,” she acknowledges.
“It’s a lifelong journey as a performer,” she explains. “We never know what’s going to happen. We have no control over that, so we must be available to say yes to every experience we can get. And hey, once you’ve done that job and it wasn’t really for you, at least you can pop it on your resume and move on to the next.”
And here perhaps, without her needing to say it explicitly, is another industry survival tip. Humility. “It’s really up to the industry and not you personally. You just have to make sure that you can keep going.”
As economic conditions, industry trends and audience tastes change and move, the key for artists is to remember that no one has a right to the limelight, or even to a gig. “We are run by producers and production companies,” Squire concludes. “So, diversity is crucial. Actually, I don’t think we’ll ever lose that.”
Indeed, Squire is an example of such. Recalling her life as a performer, she says, “My first professional job overseas was as a showgirl in Japan, and I fell in love with the sequins and feathers the moment I stepped into my first rehearsal.” And although her current roles as agent and studio owner seem a million miles from the glitter and stage lights of showgirl life, Squire is now known for producing some of Australia’s best showgirl talent, and her showgirl/guy classes at Victorian Dance Festival (VDF) each year are an absolute hit! This pivot is testament to her willingness to be open to change and emerging opportunity. To this day, she is still following her own advice.
For more information on Spectrum Dance and Talent Agency, visit spectrumdance.com.au.
By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.