I spent the last week in NYC on the advice of Playwright Foundation Artistic Director Amy Mueller. Since one of my goals is to gain more national exposure, she suggested I find agents I'm interested in working with so that she could make a formal introduction. Then, I should book a trip to New York to meet with those folks. My honest reaction to this suggestion was "I know I have to, but I kinda don't want to." I think I have this impression that the "New York elite" is very insular and tough to penetrate. It felt intimidating to begin knocking on doors for face time. So, while I went through with the steps and booked my flight, I would tell people with a bit of a shrug and a dismissive sneer, "I'm just going to New York to shmooze."
When I actually met with these industry folks though, I was so pleasantly surprised. In addition to agents, I met with an artistic staff, an educational director, a theatre publisher, a book publisher, a playwright who is further along in her career, and a composer who is further along in his career (in addition to catching up with a whole slew of actor friends). All of these individuals (save for maybe one) turned out to be quite generous and kind. Sure, a few of them were very matter-of-fact, but I appreciated candor over beating around the bush. All of them also gave smart and welcome advice. None of them had to meet up with me, none of them had to give me any advice, none of them had to get to know me. But they chose to.
I've come away from the week with a new perspective on "shmoozing." First - yes, it is hard to penetrate a bubble if you don't have a connection, but it only makes sense then to make the most of your existing connections. And for me, I had Amy Mueller and other folks who recommended people to meet up with, as well as people who I had already met previously and just needed to reach out to. People are busy, and they can't tell which cold e-mails or calls are from people who are worth their limited time. So a professional recommendation or introduction from a trusted colleague gets their antennae up. Second - theatre people are theatre people. There may be some jerks in the mix, but really we're all just wanting to contribute to the performing arts scene in whatever way we can. Most of us would rather make a genuine connection than "shmooze." In fact, I think I need to stop using that word entirely, because it has such a slimy, self-interested connotation. I was on a networking trip where I made many great connections in my field. I hope I never have to "shmooze" again.