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?