The Responsibility of Artists

How one freelancing choreographer sees marketing and social media strategy crucial to earning a living.

The people in the audience are trying to locate their seats in the small auditorium. When everyone is seated and their eyes turn expectantly towards the empty stage, Felix Skalberg sneaks in from the left wing. Hidden in the shadows from the strong lighting of the spotlight, nobody notices as he makes his way through the auditorium and sits down in the back, just as his dancers enter, filling the stage.

Felix Skalberg is not your typical choreographer type. Born and raised in Ljusdal in north of Sweden, he didn’t begin his professional dance training until he was 19, which is considered late in the dance world. After three years of professional dance studies, Felix signed a contract with the Dutch touring dance company “de Kiss Moves,” and  moved to Holland to work as a dancer, full-time. In 2016, at the mere age of 24, he earned his first commissioned position as a choreographer at Träteatern in Järsvö, Sweden, and has since made a living freelancing as a choreographer.

photo cred: Carl Thorborg

photo cred: Carl Thorborg

Since you decide the artistic direction of your pieces, what responsibility do you feel towards your art form?

“The freelance situation is a very fragile one. Working as a freelancer we are more limited with time, budget, space and availability, and it’s more like ‘one chance, to do it right, one false move and you’re out.’ This issue is a foremost concern for freelance choreographers, these are risks that do not apply to choreographers choreographing pieces for institutions like opera houses and theaters. Those choreographers (who are employed by these institutions) have the support and luxury of living off the security that long traditions and huge marketing campaigns provide. As freelancers in the dance world, we do not have these luxuries. We have to fight for every single ticket.”

Felix Skalberg contemplates his answer before he continues,

“Art is never just art…”

“As a freelancer in the dance world, having ambitions for fame can be considered ugly, like you are a sellout.  But I don’t see it that way, I see myself as an entrepreneur, I have to be my own brand and therefore need to have a business and brand strategy. If I say I want to be famous within my field of work, it means people are recognizing my work and they choose to return to me. When the people are coming to see the show, indirectly, I’m already selling them my next piece because, I’ve made them feel safe in my vision.”

The two “X” factors that matter.

“I’ve had colleagues asking me almost with slight disgust ‘You want to be famous? Because you want to make money?’ For some reason that’s not considered authentic, like you have no real intention with your art. It’s like either you create ‘art’ or it’s a commercial gimmick.”

“I believe we as creators of performing arts need to stop fooling ourselves that what we do is so different than what everyone else is doing. We are no better nor worse, it’s just about what value we choose to project onto our work. Entertaining is art, entertaining is commercial – it’s maintaining the audience’s interest that’s the real and actual trial.”

“And why wouldn’t I want to be famous if it means I’m able to sell more tickets? It would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about paying the dancers a salary, I wouldn’t have to dance in the piece myself in order to save money. I’d be able to hire a lighting designer to create a better atmosphere on stage. I could engage a videographer that could document the piece, which could be useful in marketing and for sale pitches. So instead of being discouraged by the factors other people look down upon, I try to learn how to use them (to my advantage).”

photo cred: Gabriel Westington

photo cred: Gabriel Westington

How do you plan on using marketing and branding to your advantage?

“For example with this piece,” Skalberg nods towards the now empty stage, “I felt like I was taking two steps forward by putting a lot of consideration into marketing the piece on social media before its premiere. Commercial businesses are doing this all the time, but we in the art world and especially in dance, are behind on this. But I think it’s a question of the changing generation, we millennials that grew up with the internet and social media in a different way than our predecessors did, we know what powers lie with that, and we can use it to our advantage.”

Skalberg’s strategy seems to work. Shortly after he posted a theatrical trailer for his upcoming dance piece, he was contacted by an artistic director of a theater, and they were interested in the piece.

–I sold the piece to another theater even before its official premiere because a director had seen our trailer on Instagram and wanted to have a meeting with me. That would never have happened had I not dared to try to challenge myself and work on my marketing strategy as well.

We are happy Felix sat down to talk with us about how he is implementing marketing and branding into his profession as a dancer and choreographer. He’s an inspiration for those who want to take their art form deep into the 21st century, using digital media to his advantage.

Pindify.

Be Heard. Get Paid.

Find Felix Skalberg here

Interview conducted by Annika Krusensten

Elizabeth Jarrard