If A Tree Falls In The Forest….

David Paul Bayles • Corvallis, OR (photographer)

We were blessed with a bit of rare, coveted adult conversation a few evenings ago. We had the pleasure of a visit from old friends, fellow actors. An interesting topic bubbled from our luxuriously yummy bottle of Malbec.  We were discussing the component of an audience’s response and subsequent validation (or lack thereof) in our work as live performers.

A show like Wicked can certainly play a large role in enabling this unhealthy addiction in an artist.   I can honestly say that during the six years with both the National Tour and the Los Angeles company, our cast never took to the stage for final bows without a sea of standing theatre goers stretched before us.  But Wicked is Wicked. A freak of theatre, if you will.

So, here is the thought-provoking, hypothetical scenario we came up
with. (in actor speak)

You are starring in a show. Throughout the two hours and 45 minutes of your performance you are riding the exhilaration of your character portrayal, feeling like there is something special about this particular show.  Your work this evening is good and something to be proud of. The house is full, 2000 plus.  You feel the electricity of your audience, a symbiotic flow of energy back and forth through the fourth wall. Your pulse quickens with giddy anticipation before you enter upstage center to take your final bow.  You rush downstage and notice the house is empty. Not a soul is clapping. Nary a person is standing.

Dead. Quiet. Silence.

Do you hold to the unwavering faith that your performance was a good one, even if no one stood waiting at the stage door to tell you so?

Our conclusion that evening was  a unanimous no.

This unhealthy habit of relying on accolades and awards to gauge and quantify the value of our work is often the plight of the actor,  although some may not be open to admitting that fact.  But, I will venture to say that it bleeds into all career paths in some form or another, just maybe not as blatantly.

Perhaps the best vocation to beat it out of us is that of parenthood. I can’t remember the last time one of my children said to me,

“Mom, thank you so much for putting so much effort, time and thought into our meals, seeing fit that we have built within us the foundation for healthy eating habits and therefore have the best chances possible for avoiding the current obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemics. You are appreciated, profoundly, and we love you!”

Or maybe that’s exactly what Isabelle is saying when she looks up at me from her high chair, mouth half upturned, a wicked gleam in her eye as she slowly and deliberately grasps noodle by noodle of homemade macaroni and cheese with roasted butternut squash and cauliflower, and chucks it to the floor with a guttural giggle.

Yes. That must be it.  I will just have to believe that on my own.  I don’t think my kids are going to beg for my autograph any time soon.

What about you?  Are you able to hold faith in the integrity of your work, however it is defined, without an occasional pat on the back or reflection of approval?


14 responses to “If A Tree Falls In The Forest….

  1. Parenting is definitely a humbling endeavor where it seems we are more likely to get a tantrum for doing a good job than an accolade. However, when we do receive the rare praise and acknowledgement from our child(ren), it is, undeniably, the sweetest and most rewarding experience!

  2. Didn’t you ever wonder why I wander around the yard talking to myself? “Isn’t this a productive day? I never thought I’d get this much done. Boy I love this place. Maybe I didn’t do everything I had planned on, but what I did finish was indeed worthwhile.” Yep, I’m sure most of the time I’m the only one who cares about what I worked so hard to get right, so shouldn’t the opinion of the one I respect the most be worthwhile listening. (And don’t worry, someday they’ll tell you how great you were – when they figure that out.)

  3. I take issue with your hypothetical…every time the work glows from a special bond with the audience, there is a genuinely appreciative audience. Empty, half empty, and miserable houses feel terrible and never get our best.

    And as a result, my Mac and cheese is no longer homemade bechamel and cauliflower. It’s Simply Organic boxed Mac and cheese.

    And they’re lucky to get it, bunch of ingrates.

    (They get roasted cauliflower, fresh beets, raw spinach, stirfry broccoli, amd homemade seven grain pancakes. But I’ll be damned if I puree butternut anymore.)

    • Yes. My husband took issue with my theatre hypothetical too. There were many different directions I could have gone with it, but I wanted to keep it simple. It wasn’t clear and he agrees with you. Thanks for ganging up on me guys! 😉

      and….what is bechamel? Do i want to know? Or will I feel compelled to make it and watch it be thrown on the floor? My children are both on an eating strike and it’s driving me crazy. But, then again…everything is driving me crazy. Must. Get. Out. Of. This. House.

      Send help…..

  4. I think bechamel is Egyptian lasagna, or maybe I’m getting it confused with that – I only know because we recently invited a man who was born and raised in Egypt to come and give a presentation to our children about Egypt and he brought bechamel (I think). Yay teachable moments!

    Anyway, I so relate to this even though I am not an on-stage performer. As a wife, a mom, a Christian, I need the occasional thumbs up or I start getting obnoxious. There is nothing I would rather do than be home raising my kids and being a housewife full time, but I understand women who find emotionally it is not enough. Often there is no feedback, no applause, not even a thank you for some women. When I start feeling that way, I get obnoxious in the sense of I start insisting that my kids “bless the cook” even in front of my husband (who I wish would be doing the insisting, but hey somebody’s got to do it). It usually does the trick. The other way I get obnoxious is I give myself a paycheck and a vacation – I go out by myself ever Saturday and do some lightweight shopping. Also, as a mom, every hug, every kiss, every I love you, every, “Oh, now I understand,” every, “Mom, you’re the greatest,” (okay, I’ve only heard that once in parenting children for 17 years – I admit it), is affirmation. So are all the 100s my kids get, every book read, every lesson learned is my applause in a sense. Gosh, that sounds terribly egocentric, but the truth is, to me, it’s affirmation that I am doing my job and I am doing it well (I ignore the 50s, the lessons not learned after going over it over and over again, and all the books left unread). 🙂 So for me I have to take affirmation where I find it, but yes, definately, I need it. I think God knew that when he was handing out lives, because I would be pretty pathetic if my kids were all a mess.

    Sure, a pyschoanalyst could rip this reply to shreds with criticism, but I love a chance to be honest.

    A great post – very global and easy to apply even for this little country girl.


    • so much to comment on, Alyson. It sounds like you get enormous amounts of encouragement (even if you have to provoke some:)). I do to, really. The hugs and kisses definitely feel better than the standing O’s. The best case scenario would be to go to work, get a round of applause, a paycheck and then head home in time to put my babies to bed. That would be the life! But, alas….theatre employment means no child bedtimes. 😦 always a sacrifice, isn’t there? I commend you for your joy in staying at home. It is by far the hardest job there is, and also the most rewarding…in ways often hidden and undefinable. My own mother was the salutatorian of her high school, studied abroad and then worked full time as a speech pathologist. With her first child of five, she took a 21 year maternity leave and stayed home with all of us that followed. That is where she found her joy as well. And I’m glad for that!

  5. For the record, BechamelFor the record, a Bechamel is a type of cream sauce.

  6. As a teacher, I thrive on the interaction-chemistry-energy between my students and myself (whether they be kindergarteners or adults). During my classes, I often find myself observing the whole experience from outside of myself and being hyper-attuned to the responses of my students so that I can tweak the activity/discussion/lecture trying to reach every student. Unfortunately, however, there are times when I feel like I have given my best performance and the students and I accomplished amazing things together and yet a test indicates it was not a success. In the past few years, I have begun doing some online teaching and as a result have had to become more accustomed to not getting frequent validation from my students. It is a different beast altogether, and I have to be able to hold faith in the integrity of my work since at times I am performing into a void and building a symbiotic relationship is so different in that setting.

    On the parenting side, you do have to live on faith – for sure! (Nobody ever thanks me enough for having clean clothes to wear.) But there are many moments to savor, too. You know, you could always start playing a little applause soundbite for yourself any time you do something spectacular and want your brilliance to be acknowledged. They might catch on given enough time. 😉

    • As I already wrote you privately, this entry was not entirely about what was on the page. But, I take comfort in the fact that most of us hold ourselves to a certain level of standards. I does matter what the response is. Especially with what you are describing. The trick is in figuring out where that line is between healthy feedback for growth and better work and a lack of confidence in what we already know is good. I have not yet learned to discern.

  7. Emily, I’m new here, but not to your thespian efforts. I just need to say that not only do you speak/sing other people’s words well, you write your own beautifully. Add to that, the thoughtful and pithy comments of your followers, I think you have a hit here. I stand at my computer and cheer.

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