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The rule about performing artists

Posted by on July 9, 2014

The rule about performing artists

Or: The exception to the rule

I have one rule for the performing arts. It’s a simple rule that has a very important purpose; it makes me enjoy the performance more. Which, of course, is desirable both to me and to the performers. The rule is: Never ever interact with the artists.

This is not a rocket-science rule to follow – it’s pretty much straight forward. But there is a very good reason behind it. As an audience, I have the job of applying my imagination to submerge myself in the performance before me, whether this be drama or music or comedy even. Now, if I do not know the people standing before me, I have no preconception as to who they are or how they are or anything about them. As such, as soon as they begin their performance, I can immerse myself in the truth of their representations, my mind completely blank of anything that could influence what I am seeing and experiencing. In such a state, I am properly able to sit and enjoy what lies before me, my emotions swayed only by what I see in front of me rather than internalized biases created by knowledge of the person behind the person.

The problem with being at an arts festival, however, is that you are bound to run into the artists at some point. They flock there in their droves, each one eager for the chance of the spotlight on them. And you can recognize them immediately as they walk on the street: they walk as if they are used to being looked at, and expect to be looked at too. They are, quite simply, a different breed of human. And I am perfectly happy to leave them be. Let them have their world-in-their-heads. Let them have their artsy friends who understand them better than any normal person could. Let them delve into the depths of dramatic devices and stage antics and the convoluted folds of the human psyche. Let them shed light on mankind’s folly using satire and irony and humorous word-play. I will sit in the audience and amaze at their cunning and skill and talent. And I will sit back afterwards and dream of a day which will never be, when I could do something as great and wonderful and moving. And then the dream will pass and I will be back in my seat in the audience; one of many to have been transported by the actions done on stage.

Which is why my rule is so important: never ever interact with the artists. Unless you want to ruin the magic. Unless you strive to strip the performance of its truth. Unless you want to destroy the dynamic of presentation and reception.

But there is a slight loophole in my rule. The magic can still be there and you can still interact with the artists, as long as the performance comes first and interaction comes later. In this way, you can still have the truth of the show, emotions raw and un-tempered, and then thereafter you can meet the artists. Or, so I thought. What harm would this do to the magic of my memory of the performance? How could this influence my experiences in the past?

Of course, a memory is a like a willow tree, a fickle thing likely to bend with the wind, the bulk of the shape remaining the same while leaves and branches sway to create a visage different from day to day. In a week, I watched the orchestra play twice. Twice I was moved and transported by their stories woven with sound waves. The beauty and harmony and peace and pureness created by plucking and stringing and hitting and twanging was so true, and although I heard the faint errors expected from human fingers, I stood proud with the rest for the standing ovation. Then, later on, I met a few of the players. Granted, we were all in the same bar, this being a small town, with a proud history of extremely high beer consumption. So I expected some of them to be a little way along. But some part of me also expected to see that same beauty or harmony or peace or pureness reflected in their souls.

All I saw was a bunch of drunk men and women. And I felt a little bit of that magic that I remembered fade, replaced instead by people cursing at blistering fingers, furtive music-reading at night, effort put into early-morning practice sessions involving vast swearing at difficult strings and difficult accompaniments. All of a sudden, I remembered the performance with a different edge to it, and I felt slightly sour inside.

It was not difficult to remove myself from these people. Their skill was what made them interesting, not their company. Instead, I found myself in the presence of a young man who called himself a comedian. I was tentative to talk again; although I had not watched this man’s performance (and, as it turned out, would not in the near future) he was still a performer. But he was so easy to talk to, and had none of that blooming ego that glows around the majority of artsy individuals.

And, even better, he knew humour (we should hope so considering he is a comedian). So well, in fact, that every sentence I said that usually drips with sarcasm did not pass unnoticed (and believe you me, a lot of what I say goes unnoticed). He brought our happy group of friends into his world – that of laughter and fun. He was his world. Unlike the other performers who merely act their roles, this comedian had embodied his comedy within in. Or maybe it was the other way around; the comedy was always in him, but only in doing what he loved could it be seen by audiences and appreciated by others. With drinks in hand, we laughed at each other’s actions and each other’s stories. I am not one for embarrassment (in fact I run from any illustration of embarrassing moments because of its degrading nature and general tendency to be related to moments of shame and negative consternation), but I allowed myself to be embarrassed and embarrass in turn, and in the company we found ourselves, it wasn’t so bad. It was fun, being with those funny guys…it was fun breaking the rule about performing arts.

But maybe that’s because here is another loophole: these gentlemen were not performing; they were being. They were the embodiment of their craft, living and breathing it, thinking of new lines and new acts and seeing the humour in every moment, seeing their craft in the world through the eyes of their craft within them. It is no wonder we could not help but laugh and smile. Their active search for and application of their passions could lead to no other conclusion than to imbue all those around them with the same search and application. Even conversations of a more serious topic or tone managed to be light-hearted without losing any of its intensity.

And now I wonder, why is it that these comedians were able to share their gifts and passions among us normal folk so easily, when the orchestral ones were so reluctant to share their gifts and passions? What stigma lead to this clear distinction between the arts? From the audience we do not see these dynamics. We see the performance, we feel the magic, we are transported by all the different artists be it music or drama or comedy. So why the divide? Like the fourth wall of a stage, there is none, only our own misconceptions that we act upon to solidify that divide and diminish the magic.

So my rule still stands: never interact with the artists. Except, maybe, if they’re comedians.

. . .

Wonderwhiterabbit hopping off…

and thanks to Dalin Oliver for the awesome evening

. . .

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