Thursday, June 1, 2017

It's All Good: The "I'm Supposed To Be Doing What"? Moment

Most of the time, my performance life runs like a well oiled machine. The David is contacted by an organization, they tell him what they want, he lets them know if such a thing is possible and what it costs. If there is something unusual, or if I need to craft a special workshop, residency, or performance, then I collaborate with the client, but I don't discuss any of the practical arrangements. The David and the client agree on a date, a time, and a price. I'm not involved in that part of the process.

My part only becomes real after The David hands me my schedule. This arrangement makes sure that I don't step on The David's toes, and he doesn't step on mine.

99.9% of the time this works very well. There are, however, those times when the system breaks down a bit.

That .1% always takes me by surprise.

Over the years, these incidents have consistently fallen into several categories.

1. I'm supposed to be where?

2. I'm supposed to be performing for whom?

3. I'm supposed to be doing what?

The first thing I do when I realize I am facing one of these situations is to say a single phrase to myself out loud, or to the organizers if we are making the discovery together.

"It's all good."

Panic is always an option, but it is not helpful.

So, if you find yourself in any of these are some go to options other than panic.

1.   "I'm supposed to be where?"

Every now and then I pull up to a venue and I have no idea where I am. I'm supposed to be doing X at whatever time, and the thing in front of me doesn't help me understand what that means. Usually this is some kind of street fair or event where people are milling around and buying things at booths.

I always get why you have musicians and roving players at this sort of thing...but storytellers? The whole point of a story is to settle in, tune out the distractions around you, and go on a trip through the imagination. A little stage in the midst of chaos doesn't seem like a great venue to me. I am not a fan of street fairs, and I try to avoid doing them.

Most storytellers have a story about being in a booth next to something odd. My most annoying one was telling between a petting zoo, and a guy using a chainsaw to make wooden sculptures.

It's All Good - 

I cheerfully tell as best I can, and then make a note to be certain that if ever invited to return, The David knows to say "NO".

If asked, I provide feedback that is honest.

2. I'm supposed to be performing for whom?

Li'l Rabbit's Kwanzaa
This is a problem that happens when I arrive at a venue and a completely different group of people from the group I thought I was addressing is present. At times the age groups are poorly combined such that I have a kindergarten, a second grade and an eighth grade filing into the room together, or the group has some kind of challenge that would require me to alter my program, but nobody thought to mention it to me before I arrived.

Bitter Blue
Some people think, "Oh, it is storytelling, it doesn't matter who is in the audience."

To those people I ask a simple question..."Would you read the same books to a kindergarten class that you would to an eighth grade?

Would you use lots of hand gestures to indicate things without bothering to vocalize if you were talking to someone who couldn't see you?

Would you use lots of descriptive language and very little in the way of physical gesture with someone who couldn't hear you?

I can adjust to lots of things if I know it is necessary.

It's All Good -

I try to have a quick conversation with the administrator to explain how I am going to deal with the situation. It usually doesn't occur to them that they've presented me with a problem until I point out what seems kind of obvious to me.

I always try to be nice about it because they aren't thinking about this the way I have to. They are often more concerned about an "arts exposure" and trying to book a show around lunch periods and specials.

There is also the reality that lots of people who perform in schools or venues do the same show no matter who is in the audience. Some folks are pretty shocked that the presentations I offer are very different. the answer to this for me is to explain the differences. They should have gotten the educational material I sent, but people don't always read it and some of them think despite the descriptions, it doesn't play out on stage.

The goal for me is to continue to communicate so that if we work together again, we will have a better outcome. This has actually been a very good choice as I have gone back to schools after a first exposure and everyone...including me...was happy with the experience.

I have discovered that after one of these crazy sets, the administrator will often come up to me and say, "I think they all enjoyed it." I always agree, but when I work in schools that is not the be all and end all of why I do what I do.

3. I'm supposed to be doing what?

This is by far the absolute worst problem. I arrive at a venue only to discover they are expecting something specific and I am not prepared for it. This is usually a problem on my end.

Either I have agreed to something, but it was six months ago, I don't remember, or I am under the impression "that particular show" is happening on a different day. It also might be that The David has
agreed to something reasonable, but in the day to day workings of our lives, he just didn't remember to tell me, or, and this is much more likely, he told me and I didn't remember.

It's All Good

The good thing about this situation is that I have been a storyteller for thirty years. I can usually pull something out of the hat and make it work. I am always honest about what I can and cannot do, and I try to make sure the client knows what they are about to get.

Some of this is easy to deal with because I offer very specific kinds of sets. Sometimes I get thrown off because I make assumptions about the show.

In February, I assume people want me there because it is African American history month..which means that even groups that don't normally book a performance need a black one all of a sudden. So, if I go into a school in February, and they have asked for stories from China, I'm going to be taken aback unless I get fair warning!

So, as always, I ask questions. I always try to make sure I know what is expected of me before we begin.

In short, the way I deal with any of these snafus is to keep lines of communication open. I ask questions, I listen, and I adjust. That is the best way to move forward. Humans are going to human all of the time.

Mistakes, confusion, miscommunication, misunderstandings, and absolute missing the point are all part of working with others.

No matter how it starts, I know that in the end that little phrase will be true. It's all good.

Happy Confusion!

1 comment:

  1. Some sage wisdom from one who knows. One of my recent - "All is good" moments will result in new understandings about how the venue should and should not count heads at the beginning of a program. Picture 600 + children running to the front of a stage - herded up one set of the stage like cattle coming through the gates on a drive to Abilene - and stampeding across the stage like buffalos escaping from hunters - then running through the "gates" again at the other end of the stage to be counted... making the start of the program 35 minutes late. 100's of great programs and one recent stinker. I like your post. I am no longer alone. Ha!