Soon after George Randolph performed his last pirouette as a professional dancer, he found himself in a new sort of spin.
Despite being a leading dancer with the esteemed Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal dance company, Mr. Randolph didn’t have much in the way of savings when he stopped dancing in 1985, at the age of 30. Nor did he have a retirement plan.
“It was more like a mystery unfolding,” remarks the American-born dancer who came to Canada in the early 1980s after performing with the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble in New York.
Still, Mr. Randolph was better prepared than most of his fellow dancers, statistically proven to be among the lowest paid artists in North America.
A back injury sustained during a 1982 Les Ballets Jazz tour of France had early on made him realize that his career as a dancer was finite. Early retirement was not an option. It was a given.
“I knew this wasn’t something I could physically do for the rest of my life,” he says, “and so I knew it was necessary to hone my skills as a producer and as a teacher at the same time.”
He used money earned as a freelance dance instructor to supplement his annual income as a professional dancer which at the time hovered around $20,000 a year. He also used it to launch a second career.
Soon after leaving the stage, he moved from Montreal to Toronto to open his own dance studio, exiting one profession to enter another.
His retirement was his new beginning.
Mr. Randolph’s reputation as a dynamic dance teacher ensured that he attracted members of the local dance community to come and take his classes.
But he soon noticed that despite there being no room left over at his particular barre, he was still earning less than the $600 to $800 a week when he had been seasonally employed by a professional concert dance troupe.
“I was hoping for a sign that my parents hadn’t been right along, that I shouldn’t have chosen dance as my career,” says Mr. Randolph, the son of a military man who had been a cadet in college when he had first caught the dance bug. “They had been shocked and confused by my decision, all along.”
And then the mystery that was his love affair with dance revealed itself, and in the unlikely form of Garth Drabinsky and David Mirvish.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, just as Mr. Randolph was discovering a new groove for himself, these two Canadian-born producers were starting to bring Broadway musicals north to Canada. Shows such as Kiss of the Spider Woman, Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon quickly attracted audiences, but not a Canadian work force which could support them as homegrown theatrical productions.
“They didn’t have the training,” observes Mr. Randolph. “They could either dance or sing or act, but they couldn’t do all three at once.”
Spying his niche, Mr. Randolph set out to create a program to develop that, in Broadway parlance, is known as the Triple Threat, performers who can carry the singing, dancing and acting demands of a Broadway show.
He had a feasibility study done by the accounting firm KPMG to see if his idea had any merit, “and to make a long story short they said I was at the right place at the right time.”
Armed next with a 10-year plan, he launched the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts in 2002.
Today, the school, located inside Toronto’s Bathurst Street Theatre, operates as a private career college after meeting the requirements of Ontario’s Ministry of Training for Colleges and Universities.
Each year approximately 130 students enroll in the intensive, no summers off, two-year curriculum, with more than 1,000 students having passed through the program to date. Credits earned there can be used to fast track students into the second year of a Bachelor of Arts degree at select international universities.
This past fall was his school’s 20th anniversary, and Randolph, who recently turned 58, celebrated it with a gala party at the Royal York Hotel.
Celebrated alumni who have gone on to forge careers in international TV and film productions sung his praises while the house funk band, LMT Connection, played the tunes which got Mr. Randolph back up on his feet, dancing.
In his lifetime he has experienced early retirement and mid-life success. The trick, he says, is being able to stay flexible, both on stage and off: “I want to tell all young people getting into dance to have a plan because talent will take you only so far.”
Artists and athletes are not at all like you or me. And not just because they are faster, sleeker and more lithe. When it comes to retirement, they have unique challenges. Injury can end their careers when they are in their 20s or 30s. Also, compared with other career professionals, their earning and spending times are often reversed.
Professional athletes, for instance, make much of their money at a young age and have to plan for their finances to last them more than 50 years. Artists, on the other hand, have unpredictable earning patterns, making money one year and perhaps very little the next. They also don’t have fixed retirement dates and will often work well into their senior years.
While faced with different earning horizons, Chris Buttigieg, senior manager of Wealth Planning Strategy for the newly formed BMO Wealth Institute, says that both artists and athletes need to consider paying for benefits in retirement as they usually will not have the comfort of a company pension.
“With unsteady income, athletes and artists need to determine how much income they will need to live off for the remainder of their lives and into retirement,” he says. “This requires significant foresight, something that may not be there when athletes, for example, are making the majority of their money in their twenties.”
Mr. Buttigieg’s main advice is to seek help from a financial professional who knows their situation and can manage their finances according to what stage they are at in their career. “It is important that they be as involved as possible in the management of their finances so that they know where their money is invested and how.”