Let me stay in my lane

There is an increasing expectation in the arts for people to be excessively multi-skilled. This pressure has only increased in the current arts shutdown situation, but it’s been going on for the last few decades and it’s a source of frustration for many artists.

There was a time (although who knows when that actually was) when it was fine to just be excellent at one thing. Actors acted, singers sang, writers wrote and brass players went to the pub during the 2nd act.

There were also always hybrid people, actor-impresarios, comedian-writers, conductor-soloists, but it was seen as perfectly respectable (and economically sustainable) to simply be the best violinist, director or man-at-back-with-spear that you could be.

With increasing economic pressures, professionalisation in arts training, and shorter contracts, it has become an expectation that people are able to do multiple roles at a professional level. Many actors are encouraged, when ‘resting’ to ‘just make a short film with your friends’, ignoring the fact that the most skilled actor doesn’t always have the skills to write, direct, and produce a film. More performers are calling themselves ‘theatremakers’ as they are forced to diversify into stage design, writing, and technical theatre roles.

For every Fleabag (with amazing writing and performing) there are a thousand one-women-shows in which the writing can’t sustain the performance, or the acting doesn’t bring the writing to life. For every Thomas Adès there are a hundred mediocre compositions by excellent conductors, and dozens of composers or pianists frantically waggling a baton.

Composers are particularly pressured by this: we’re now expected to have interesting careers as performers or experimental DJs, ignoring the fact that most composers don’t go near an instrument again after they finish school and sing with all the virtuosity of a creaky hinge.

Pressure to step into the limelight causes many people to leave their industries, meaning skilled and talented people end up abandoning a promising career to be replaced by an underpaid multitasker who saves the producer money.