If you’re a performer and have moved or are considering a move to New York or any large theatre market, a goal isn’t going to get you there. And goals aren’t going to serve you once you land.

But there are 3 optimal areas of focus that will give you agency, traction, satisfaction, and help you build your career inside a wholehearted life faster than all the vision boards in the world.

I’ll explain —

When I moved to New York over 20 years ago, I’d already spent a year in London studying, auditioning, and performing. I’d landed an agent, and I’d done a few cool projects by the time my visa expired — womp womp.

In London, I wanted to perform on the West End. In New York, I wanted to be in a Broadway show — that’s what I’d set out to do when I studied music theatre at Elon College.

Not only did having that goal — to be in a Broadway show — not serve me, it held me back in more ways than I was aware of.

In fact, even when the call came with a Broadway offer (ironically after I’d left New York), I ended up turning it down — more on that later.

So, what if I told you — those goals you’ve been setting —

SMART as they may be — (you know: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound)

are not only slowing you down — they’re frustrating you, making you anxious, and distracting you from what will move you forward faster with more joy, peace, fire, and fun?

So, why am crapping on goals?

I’m not, really. You have an intention to be a working music theatre performer. Yes, that is indeed a goal. And a great thing to want.

And it’s a goal that depends on a lot of people, decision makers, timing, and putting your body in audition rooms doing good work for a certain amount of time.

What I’m pointing out is that when you focus on the goal itself — your dream to be in a certain show, win a certain award, gain respect from a certain group of people — it takes your focus off of the many things right in front of you that you actually have agency over.

And if you’ve followed the calling to be a singing storyteller, you’ll find out, if you don’t already know, that there’s a long list of things that are out of your control.

Why not notice the things that you can actually pick up and do something with and get to work?

Then one day you’ll look up, and a connection you made because you created a thing and invited people turns into an introduction to a person you didn’t know existed who then says,

“You know, I think you’d be great for this project.”

Or, “Hey, would you like to meet this terrific agent?”

Or “Hey, do you want to audition for Les Mis?”

All these things happened to me and in ways I could never have predicted.

And they popped up because I was doing the things I had control over. Then, surprises happened.

So, what are the three things that are worth your precious time as a performer?

And what will actually create a body of work and skill that makes you ready when opportunities do come? Because if you put your body in the place and do the thing, they will.

This first thing I want you to prioritize is going to give meaning, purpose, and nourishment to all parts of your life, and you’ll find when things get hard — because they will get hard — building this is going to make all the difference. 

When I first moved to New York, I ended up at an Episcopal church on the upper West Side called All Angels’. 

One of my first visits there was for an open mic talent show night, and at the end they opened the floor to any folks who wanted to do something. I got and sang, and afterward, a woman who was there told me I should call her agent and work with her vocal coach.

I called both her agent and vocal coach, and I ended up signing with the agent and coaching with the coach.

The funny thing is that the vocal coach opened more doors for job opportunities than the agent — I’ll talk about that in point number two.

All Angels’, and then later St. George’s Church, where I sang in the choir, provided places where I got to know people who didn’t know or care about theatre, I could serve in the homeless shelter find mentors, make friends who worked in finance, fashion, politics, and nonprofit.

It was a place where I was safe to make a lot of messy mistakes in my 20s, and folks loved me enough to tell me the truth and walk with me while I repaired things.

Throughout my time in New York and later Los Angeles, I had places and friend groups where I could contribute, and, honestly, got pulled out of many sticky spots.

I’ve had pay-what-you-can rent in neighborhoods I couldn’t afford.

I’ve been bailed out with interest-free loans. A few times.

I’ve been fed delicious dinners next to cozy fireplaces surrounded by people who wanted to make the world better.

I’ve been given coffee and hugs when parts of my life were falling apart.

And I’ve literally been Humpty Dumptied back together when things really did explode.

All this happened and held me together because somehow I knew it was important to find a community and serve.

I don’t know how much I actually served then. I was pretty self-obsessed in my 20s, but I knew when I was on the subway late at night with achy feet after a long shift or waiting and hoping to get seen for a union call before I was union, I had a tribe in the city — tiny living rooms where I felt welcome, and places where I could do something for someone else.

This made all the difference in the world, and managed to pull my head out of my introspective hole long enough to look around and notice other folks.

When you get to New York or any place you decide to live, you need to find a group of folks in whatever form where you can help and serve.

This will get you looking out to and for others, remind you that there’s a lot more going on than your career ambitions, and bring a level of sweetness to your life you can’t measure.

You can then pass that sweetness on anywhere you go.

And you might even get a surprise agent or vocal coach.

Which brings you and me to thing number two. The thing that helped me that I didn’t even realize I was doing.

My friend Jennifer from church sent me to a frequently messy studio apartment in the East 30s where this vocal coach I told you about, Steve Lutvak, lived.

We sang, he took a look through my audition book, and sent me to the corner store with a stack of music to copy. You’d Xerox the music and leave the scores with the doorman in an indestructible FedEx envelope.

At one coaching, Steve asked me, “Hey, you want to audition for Les Mis?” The casting director had asked him if he knew anybody.

I got an appointment! No waiting in the outer lobby at Actors’ Equity hoping to be let through at the end of the day to sing 8 bars this time.

I sang all right, and I didn’t hear back.

But a few months later, I got a call to come in for an immediate replacement on the Phantom tour. I did get that job, and that’s how I got my union card — a year to the day that I’d moved to New York.

Steve often joked — I think he was joking? — that the agent commission should have gone to him. He wasn’t wrong.

But, somehow, I stumbled and scraped my way into the studios of some of New York’s best teachers.

I sought out the very best training I could, and the surprise benefit of training with the best folks you can find is that when you work hard and they see you growing in skill, they’re likely to recommend you for things when their director friends call and say, “You know anybody who can sing Gilbert and Sullivan?”

So, thing number 2 you need to do: seek out the best training with the best folks you can find. Do what you can to make it happen because it’s worth it.

I wanted to study voice with Joan Lader; she was and is one of the best voice teachers in the city.

She didn’t have room for me and referred me to one of her terrific associate teachers. But I wanted to study with Joan.

So, I told her when she had a same-day cancellation to call me, and I’d be there.

After I spent my tour savings on therapy and lattes, I couldn’t afford her rate anymore, so I ended up doing half-hour lessons on my lunch breaks.

I learned a ton from Joan, and what I absorbed from her allowed me to start teaching at a decent level when the time came in LA.

Find the best people and the best people for you, and invest in yourself. 

A good teacher needs to know their stuff, tell you the truth with love, respect you, see the best and call out the gold, and have an open and curious spirit — they need to demonstrate intellectual humility, because the more anyone knows, the more they should know they don’t know.

There you go — strategic and top notch training.

So, you’re investing in a community of folks where you can serve and belong.

You’re on track with your training. You’re working and growing with terrific teachers.

Now what do you do?

Well, if you’ve moved to New York or Chicago or London or Minneapolis to dress up and pretend to be other people and tell stories on stage, there’s one thing left to do.

And for this point, I need to put you on a plane and fly you to Greensboro, North Carolina.

I was teaching at Elon University, and I realized I was itching to sing art song again. And some Sondheim. Because why not? I like to sing a lot of different things.

So I said to myself, “Self, how can I make something up where I can sing art songs I love and a slew of Sondheim? And maybe cook for people. I love that, too.”

So, I made up an event.

Friends of ours knew somebody who owned a terrific old house in Greensboro. There was no piano. There was no concert hall. There was just this terrific house with a charming parlor where I knew some great music could happen.

I talked to Mindy, who owned it, made a date, and got to work.

We found an upright piano that was being donated in a house move, I rented chairs from a party supply place, and I made up a terrific heavy hors d’oeuvre menu.

I asked my friend Katherine to play, I made a postcard, and I started bugging everybody I knew in a 30 mile radius who might enjoy Richard Strauss and Stephen Sondheim to buy a ticket.

I roped Melissa in to helping me make all the food, bought wine and fizzy water, set the whole situation up, asked students to usher and wrangle folks, set up an event on Brown Paper Tickets, and lo and behold, I sold seats and did the show.

It was terrific and exhausting and wonderful to do. Lookit!

Did it lead to a Broadway show or a movie deal or any kind of immediate career outcome? Nope.

Was it worth it? To me, yes, absolutely.

The structure of that concert led to my first faculty recital at Boston Conservatory and the beginning of a terrific collaboration with the best pianist in town, Scott Nicholas.

Now he and I are developing recitals that feature art song, musical theatre, and since we’re both avid cooks, we may throw some food in the mix, too. I’m excited to see where it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

The point is — work works. Work will work ON you. If you get to work and acknowledge that you cannot manufacture an outcome, it’ll set you free.

And while you’re at it, you will CREATE a community where you and your friends can serve, and you’ll be strategically training yourself because there’s no better way to learn your craft than by crafting. You have to do it.

And when you’re in an audition room, when you leave, you’ll have that project to think about.

And when you’re sending a postcard every six weeks to the casting director you want to call you in, you’ll have something to invite them to.

So, that’s the third thing. Get to work.

Look at your skill proficiency, decide what it is that you do best, and create a way to share that.

Ask yourself, where can something like this happen? Do I need an actual theatre? Or will a living room work? A corner of a park? A bar or coffee shop or bookstore? Start asking and trying things, and the next steps become clear.

So that’s it.

Invest and serve in a community of folks who want to make the world around them better and more loving.

Figure out how to train with terrific teachers. However you have to do it. Offer service trades, cycle your areas of focus, pick up an extra shift or two at work.

And get to work.

Make your own stuff. Ask friends you love who will get in the trenches with you and put up with you when you get unreasonable and cranky.

And do the work to do the work. It’s its own reward. And it can’t do anything but benefit you. It’s worth it.

I heard this from Myron Golden who’s a business leader — Stop asking if it will work FOR you, and let it work ON you.

And then you might find that the GOAL you wrote down in your manifestation journal shows up, and you feel differently about it than you did when you wrote it down.

This happened to me after I left New York and moved to LA. I didn’t move for my career. In fact, I barely worked as an actor for my first 2 years there. (Sad palm tree emoji.)

Shortly after I got there, my agent called with an offer to join the Broadway company of Phantom. Without thinking about it more than 2 seconds, I heard myself tell him, “No thanks.”

I’d moved to LA for a relationship. And I thought if I went back to New York, that would be the end of that.

Turned out, the relationship did end (that was the part of my life I talked about earlier when loving friends Humpy Dumptied me back together again.)

There were many reasons I said no to that opportunity — some healthy and some not.

And it’s a fork in the road I’ve revisited.

When Phantom closed last year, I did think wow it would have been great to be a part of the Broadway company at some point.

But, if I had said yes, I probably wouldn’t have come back to LA.

Therefore, I wouldn’t have met Melissa, have the family we have now, and I probably wouldn’t have been pin balled into my life’s central professional purpose which is teaching. It’s always found me wherever I go.

So, I say that for you to know, yes, have a goal. Have a dream. And make a plan so the plan can change.

What you have control over are the inputs you contribute and the seeds you plant.

Those actions are the things that will create the surprises you could never make up, outcomes that are better than the ones you dreamed of no matter how specific and measurable you make them. That’s been my experience.

So there it is — look for a community where you can serve.

Seek out and invest in the best training you can find.

And get to work. Take a hard, honest look at your current skills, share the ones that you do best, and invite your friends to help. You’ll be making a community and training opportunity all at once.

You keep doing that, and you’ll see surprises appear everywhere. You’ll have the satisfaction of sharing, giving, and helping other folks. You’ll know you’re investing in making your skills first rate. And, you’ll be making meaningful work that you can center your creative attention on and have something to invite folks to.

You get those three actions rolling on a regular basis, and you’ll see all kinds of great things spring up in your life and career.

Now, if you’re like me, and you want to get to work, but you have forty seven things you want to work on and don’t know where to begin, so you get overwhelmed and end up binge listening to podcasts about vulnerability and  finding your purpose, I made a video for you —

How to know what to do with your life in 24 hours.

This exercise I learned was very helpful, and I want to share it with you.

And most of all, remember there’s only one you, and somebody needs to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much — Dan

PS I’m creating something very exciting and special, and you can get in here for free –

I just started this online group for theatre singers.

It’s going to be a community where folks help each other out and collaborate.

There’ll be courses and tools for

vocal technique, successful auditioning, storytelling and song interp, life tools for creatives, step-by-steps to make your own work, audition book/rep SOS, sheet music shares…

and any other help you need — let me know, and we’ll build it!

I’m making a place where theatre singers can access top notch training tools while you connect with and help each other.

Here’s where you can join — (I’m going to turn it into a paid membership later, but you’d be in for free forever) — I’d love to see you there as we’re just getting off the ground. There’s already been so much great connection and interaction among our first 21 members. Get in!