Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Be Flexible

There are many things that make being a professional performer easy, and many things that make it hard.  One of the things that makes it easy is when the organization actually reads your contract, makes note of your requirements, and makes sure they have everything you need.  That is easy.  Then, there are the other times...

All individual performers are divas in their souls.  Can you blame us?  We get to stand on a stage in front of hundreds, or even thousands of people by ourselves, and bathe in the energy flowing off of the audience.  We control that energy.  We shape it, play with it, and ride it into worlds that we create with our hands, bodies, voices, and music.  It is a very addictive rush.  The truth is that for many of us, we live for that rush more than we live for the check.  That doesn't mean we neither need nor want the check, it just means we love the thing we do.

When things don't go smoothly, that's when we have to remember that we are not just artists, we are also professional, independent business people.

We have a responsibility to present a show, but we also have a responsibility to make it a good experience.  We are representing other artists as well as ourselves.  I don't want to go into a school and be told that the last storyteller they had was (Pick an adjective that is not flattering).  So, despite what greets you when you enter a school remember that you should be flexible.


Schools are dealing with children and parents.  That means that things don't always go smoothly.  Venues are dealing with audiences.  That means things don't always go smoothly.  People write down the wrong dates, times, information and ideas.  People go on maternity leave, rush home to deal with ill relatives, have unexpected deaths in the family and all sorts of other things.  Mistakes will be made, be flexible.

I always voice my thoughts about choices that impede my ability to do my job, but I still do my job.

Be a diva in your own mind, but don't let it bleed out all over the staff or you are not likely to be asked back to the venue.

Fifteen years ago I was asked to tell at a festival for a school.  It was called 'Viking Days' or something like that.  When I agreed to it, I had no idea their need for storytelling was for a 'babysitting' room for when the kids got too hot doing other things.  They could just wander in for a story or two.

They didn't offer much money, but I knew the school and thought it would be helping them out, despite the fact that they are a well to do academy.  When I saw that the story room was way off on the other side of the building, away from the festivities and they wanted me to tell for one hour straight to whoever just popped into the room, I was annoyed.  it was my fault, however, for not really getting the skinny on what was happening.  I realized a couple of things at that point.

1)  If they called me again, I'd charge them full price plus just for the annoying nature of the event.

2)  I needed to voice to someone that if they wanted a story room like this they should just get parents or older kids to read in here and not bother to get a professional storyteller.  Sharing stories is great, but they didn't need anything so elaborate.  I didn't recommend hiring any kind of performer.  A quiet room with a storytelling recording or even music playing would have been fine, and then you wouldn't have had a live person dealing with the sporadic, often toddler aged, sometimes unaccompanied random children, who popped into the room over the course of the hour and a half I was stuck there.

I had a pretty horrible time and I was annoyed.  That was my first mistake.  I should never have spoken to the organizer when I was that annoyed.  My second mistake was explaining why I personally didn't enjoy myself.  This was not a good venue for a storyteller...any teller.  I should have made that a little clearer, I must have sounded like I was saying that I personally needed more attention.  I have no doubt I felt like that.  My dignity was smarting.  I also had that crazed anger storytellers get when they realize they are dealing with someone who has hired a storyteller but doesn't really know what a storyteller does.

The next year, I got an unintended note.  One of the organizers had sent an email to another and accidentally sent it to me.  The first woman gave my name to the other and this is what she had to say.

She's good, but she is high maintenance.  She was upset about something last year, but I don't remember what it was.  You can contact her and see if she'd do it again.

Now, I have to say I was surprised by this.  I try to be a very low maintenance experience.  The fact that I seemed high maintenance was not good, as far as I was concerned.  So, I had two choices.  Either I could let them know I had been cc'd by mistake, or I could just listen in to the rest of the conversation.

I chose the first.  I sent out an email to the entire committee.  I let them know what my concerns were in a very kind way, apologized if I'd been disruptive the year before, informed them that I didn't want to do the event again, and wished them luck in finding an appropriate experience for that room.

I have no idea what the upshot was, though I expect they were all covered with chagrin.  Either that, or they put me in the email line on purpose in order for me to see how I'd come off the year before.  It doesn't matter, the point is, I made a poor showing of myself with them.

I try to be very flexible with clients, but that doesn't mean I want to be thrown to the wolves.  I have never walked out on an event.  I have never refused to do an event.  I have never announced that the venue was too small.

I have this philosophy about storytelling...As long as the audience outnumbers me, its a show.  If you show up for storytelling, I'll give you all I got.

So, be flexible when the world spins widdershins...if you are flexible, you are less likely to break.

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