How to Write A Performer Bio – 10 Things to Remember

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My old college friend, Molly Wyldfyre, recently posted a plea for help with writing her own bio.  I started giving her ideas and I realized this might make a good little blog article.  I have written many many bad, long, boring, inappropriate biographies of myself.  I am actually a little proud of how awful they were.  Since I have made so many mistakes I would like to share some of my findings with you all:

1.  Write to Your Audience:  I can’t emphasize this enough which is why it’s first on the list.  It is advisable that every time you send out your bio for this or that program, grant project, job etc., that you tweak it and create a new version to suit the audience reading it. Applying for a teaching job? Be sure to have your teaching experience in there. Need a bio to insert in a performance program? Keep it short. People don’t have much time to read as the lights are dimming.  They are racing from bridge traffic or their stop at Starbucks. So, keep it to exactly what you want them to know to remember you from that particular performance. Applying for a grant? oooh really think long hard about what they need to know to give you the money! What are they looking for? Tweak! Revise! For everything. Every time. Make it fit.

2. Start with a bang: Your first sentence should get right to the point and tell them who you are exactly in your field.  Consider where you fit in the scheme of your field? Are you an emerging artist or a seasoned one? What makes you unique? What is your role in your particular artistic community locally? Globally?

3. Include Highlights: Most likely, unless you are only 5 years old, you have MORE information about your experience than you can actually use, so pick the impressive or interesting highlights only and the ones that serve your audience.  Don’t try to cram too much information in there because the end result is no one will read it or they won’t remember anything special about it. We don’t need to know that you starred in your high school play if it is ten years later.  Unless you are scrapping for a theatre gig and you have nothing else that’s current. Then leave it in – but don’t put a date in there and don’t mention it’s high school.

4. Be Specific: I see this mistake all the time: “Mina Jona starred in numerous productions, has danced various styles in many professional companies all over, and at the most prestigious venues.”  All right, there is a LOT wrong with that sentence, but let’s focus on specificity.  Instead of that sentence, try something like this:

“Mina Jona starred in John Carly’s Emmy Award winning play, “Crampton Who.” She also was a principal dancer with the San Francisco based John Hersh Ballet Company, and toured internationally for three years with the Fier Flamenco Company including stops at New York’s City Hall and the Queen’s Castle in Uzbekiermany.”

5. Keep it Short:  Once when I was in a college play this was my bio in the program: “After getting her BA in English in May, Holly plans to belly-dance her way around the world, then turn around and return in the other direction.”  This worked when I was twenty because  I didn’t need to worry about my audience in this situation.  They were either other twenty year olds or professors who already knew all about me and my cheeky antics.  Everybody read it because it was short, and it gave a really good conversation point for people to come up and talk to me after the show. If you keep it short, yours will be the first one read and the last remembered.

6. Consider Humor: I see this with writer’s a lot lately.  There is a trend of funny bios among them. Some of my favorites:

“Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. (Read more)”

“I write. I’m a mom. I have a garden. I do aikido. I have friends. I read books.” – Heather Shaw’s Google Bio
These only work because people already know so much about them already. Or because it is easy to find that info elsewhere online.  Of course one must only use humor when appropriate.  This goes back to #1 Write to Your Audience.  I don’t suggest using humor in a grant application for example.  They won’t find it cute.

7. Research Other People In Your Field:  Think of people you respect, who are a tier above you in your field and see how they did theirs.  Read as many as you can.  Notice things you like and don’t like.  What’s off-putting or braggy? What do you want to avoid?  What sounds really good? What draws you in?  Get ideas from people doing the same thing as you.

8. Once You’ve Got Funding You’ve Got It Made:  You don’t even need to be reading this do you?  But seriously, if you have received some huge awards and/or grants then that is what you tell people.  Let the creds speak for themselves.  At this point you can stop talking about every single person you received training from.  Unless it was Mark Morris.  Then for sure, mention that.

9. Keep It Current: Did you just start a new project you’re excited about?  Just finished performing somewhere impressive? Did you travel to the far ends of the world recently to study your craft?  Include it! Tweak! Revise! Remember? Keeping it current makes you sound prolific and relevant.

10. Include A Resource for More Info:  This is the easiest way to keep it short.  Only have 50 words for a program bio? Include your website address where people who are jazzed about your performance can find out more about you or contact you for future gigs.  Or, if the bio is on your website – have two pages.  The opening bio page has a short description with a link to the second page to find out more.  That way readers don’t feel overwhelmed by the sight of a long multi paragraph bio but more info is there for those who are really seeking it.

11. Steer Away from Subjective Adjectives: Instead of “Mina Jones is an extremely talented artist,” tell us the the factual data that will make a reader come to that conclusion on their own.  The only time you should use these sorts of subjective adjectives are if you want to include a quote from someone else – like a critic, not your mother. You can call yourself “prolific,” or “unique” as long as it’s clear that you are and it’s backed up with an example. Just be careful with the self -aggrandizing. Your bio should sound impressive, but because you are including truthful highlights, not because it reads like an advertisement. Save that for flyers for classes or shows. In your bio, let the facts speak for themselves.

Read more helpful articles like this one! Visit my new website MovingTowardsYourDesires.com to get FREE information or to subscribe to my newsletter, The Thriving Artist.

Other articles here:

How To Have A Successful Photo Shoot, Working with Dancers and How to Teach Dance to Children

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About Holly Shaw

Holly Shaw is a San Francisco Bay Area dancer and choreographer who has performed as a soloist with Yaelisa and Caminos Flamencos off and on for several years. Shaw is the creator of the Eve’s Elixir project, a platform for artists of contemporary world dance wanting to bring new ideas to traditional dance forms, and has produced several shows in San Francisco. Her flow between contemporary modern dance, flamenco and Middle-eastern styles makes her a unique choreographer. Shaw has spent years training Bay Area dancers in technique and improvisation, challenging them to dance from a deeper level and uncover their unique style.

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