Perfect Expectations

A discussion on experiences in arts management

This event has happened, but feel free to view the recorded session here:
Event information

A roundtable discussion with current students and alumni on the successes, trials and tribulations in a world of arts administration, particularly in a world of such change.

This is a professional development session and open discussion for anyone interested in arts administration, so please join us and add to the conversation.

Current Stage Manager for Royal Holloway Orchestras, Janhavi Pradhan, outlines her experience with handling expectations as a stage manager for the Royal Holloway Symphony Orchestra during Welcome Week and poses questions on how one could manage these expectations in arts management, referring to expectations placed on oneself internally, and expectations placed by others.

As an extension to this blog, a live roundtable discussion will take place with alumni working in different areas of arts management, where they express their views on the topics mentioned in the blog as well as delving into wider discussions around arts management such as a possible ethos behind management and what that means to different people. The discussion will also include advice for students who wish to go into arts management.

In preparation for the event, the organiser invites you to read this preparatory essay to inspire discussion:

Perfect Expectations

My heart sank as I watched and heard the crash cymbals fall to the floor, in the middle of moving percussion off-stage for the choir to take their place. In an extremely dramatic retelling in my mind, I did not think I could fail more spectacularly than I already had in my new role during the Welcome Week Concert.

It had been a week since I had assumed my role as Stage Manager for the Royal Holloway Orchestras. The week was riddled with exciting moments and immense nerves as a combination of starting in a new role and beginning a new academic year. In a single rehearsal, I would be eager to interact with first-years but at the same time, be consumed by the thought of violinists having enough space to move their bows, and if moving the chairs by 10 centimetres would have made a difference. (Sometimes, I completely forgot the players’ choice, as humans with the ability to move their functioning limbs, to adjust their chairs if they wanted to).

All the efforts of the countless hours of rehearsals culminated in the Welcome Week Concert. I felt this immense pressure of wanting to ensure things go perfectly but I was coming to accept defeat as I retreated to the green room after the cymbals fell, catching a glimpse of the singers leaning uncomfortably against the xylophone that I did not have time to move. Along with finding out that I had not moved the conductor’s chair off the podium for the concert, I had failed to anticipate the time it takes to move things off-stage with a limited number of people, which resulted in a rushed and panicked process of moving percussion off-stage. An immense feeling of disappointment in myself followed right after the concert until it slowly dissipated as I settled into the routine of weekly rehearsals and end-of-term concerts.

Often as a general rule, disappointment always finds its source in having expectations of some form. In reflecting on these experiences, the source of expectations that I had for myself came from an idea of perfection. I treated perfection as a baseline expectation when carrying out my role – a baseline that I thought cannot be negotiated since I had to ensure that the concert ran smoothly. In addition to the expectations I had for myself, I assumed that the committee members, orchestral players, and the conductor also expected a concert without hindrances.

So the question that presents itself is whether the management required in facilitating the creation of music is all about reaching a universal baseline of perfection. In keeping with my experiences, one does not reach this baseline at all times because errors can happen in any situation, irrespective of the scale. Therefore, if perfection is sometimes unattainable, how does one manage expectations of the role for oneself and of others? How do we come to terms with the errors we can make since mistakes are so closely tied with our judgements of how well we carry out our roles?

Retrospectively, the expectations I had for myself were extremely high, considering the fact that I had no concrete experience in stage management beforehand so I should have expected things to go less than ideal, reducing the immense disappointment I felt. Concerning the high expectations that I thought people had of me, realistically, I never knew if they existed; I never clarified it for myself. Therefore, I had high expectations for myself, supplemented by, maybe an exaggerated idea of expectations that others had of me. There was a link in communication between myself and others that I did not establish.

Expectations pervade all roles and positions of responsibility, therefore discussing the balancing act of these expectations in arts management can help with a better understanding of the field and one’s roles

Janhavi Pradhan
Undergraduate student at Royal Holloway University of London
Incumbent Stage Manager for Royal Holloway Orchestras

About the creator & participants

Janhavi Pradhan

Janhavi Pradhan is a second year music student at Royal Holloway from India. She has been part of the Concert Management and Artist Personnel Programme for the past two years, where she was part of the New Music Artist Liaison Team and Publicity and Promotions for the Royal Holloway Concert Series. Additionally, she has been part of the orchestra as a percussionist and assumed the role of Stage Manager for the Royal Holloway Orchestras for the current academic year. Outside of music-related activities, being a Peer Guide and a Student Ambassador for the university have been extremely enjoyable roles for her.

Emily de Gruchy

Emily de Gruchy is a composer, arts administrator and stage manager from Jersey, C.I. She recently graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, with a first-class honours in Music and spent two of her three years as part of the Symphony and Chamber Orchestras on the Committee as the Stage Manager before progressing to Assistant Orchestral Manager. She has worked in the music industry since the age of 18, stage managing and doing crew work for high-profile ensembles including the Orpheus Sinfonia Foundation, the London Mozart Players, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Jersey Symphony Orchestra. She is currently working at Trinity Laban, Conservatoire of Music and Dance as part of the Performance Operations team.

Jessica Cooling

Jessica grew up in a small village in Kent, attending a local school for twelve years, before jumping head-first into a Music Scholarship at The King’s School, Canterbury. Alongside her studies, Jess was Head Chorister in her final year and held the principal percussion seat for the orchestras. During Jess’ time at Royal Holloway, she was involved in the Orchestral Management scheme, running the annual tour, coordinating players and organising the library.

Now, Jess is the Orchestra Manager for the London Mozart Players, and although during this tumultuous time there are no live concerts, LMP are just as busy as ever with “At Home with LMP” and preparing for the seasons ahead.

Sing Yee Tan

Sing Yee Tan developed an interest in arts management during her polytechnic days as she found a great sense of satisfaction from working behind the scenes of arts projects as a member of her polytechnic’s Production Crew.    During her undergraduate studies at Royal Holloway, Sing Yee was actively involved in the Concert Management and Artist Personnel Programme as well as the Royal Holloway Orchestras Committee. She has also completed internships with arts companies and participated in festivals in the UK and Singapore to expand her knowledge in arts management.  Following her graduation from Royal Holloway, Sing Yee has worked on the (Singapore) National Piano & Violin Competition before assuming her current full-time position at the Singapore National Youth Orchestra.