There can’t be a performer or a musician alive that hasn’t had one point had some pithy comment about their choice of occupation. From the well-meaning advice that we all love to share with friends, to the jaw-dropping rudeness of people when they realise that they “haven’t seen you in anything”. The lack of understanding and indeed compassion is shocking. Combine this with the fact that every well-meaning friend and relative will assume naturally mastery of the craft and your career prospects, and conversations with civvy street people can be exhausting.
However all of the above quite quickly become the rolling eye emoji narrative that we secretly love. Of course, I’ve written directly to Cameron Mackintosh and told him that I’m now available. Yup, I mentioned in the comments section the last time I changed my Netflix subscription that I was now available for all future work. They might be annoying stories, but I would argue that even being able to have one of those stories makes us feel a little bit more connected to the world that we’re so desperate to inhabit.
So much is made of those conversations, but what of the conversations from your peers? Why do so many people start a conversation with “so, what are you up to?’, or at the end of the contract a ‘what are you going onto next?’ Why can’t the people in our own industry connect with us as people first, and performers second?
More than most our peers know that until we’re in the top nano percentage of our industry are we in a position to make things happen and call the shots? Absolutely ask ALW what he’s up to next. He probably knows and has one of his theatres already prepped for the arrival of his next show. Hell, as recent history is showing us he can seemingly pull that rabbit out of the hat even when most of us thought that the rabbit was dead! However, as for the rest of us – we haven’t got a clue.
Why don’t we privilege the person over the performer – after all which other line of work would your opening small talk gambit be based around your next job? Why do we place a value on a performer’s self-worth on the perceived kudos of their job? If they say that they’re in the ensemble why do some people assume that it’s because they weren’t successful enough to be a lead? Some of the best performers I know bloody love being a swing. They don’t get bored, every day is different, and these days they could literally be on for any role within the production (regardless of what the contract says).
You see by opening up the conversation with “what are you up to” we’re measuring happiness and success by that answer. Shouldn’t the question just be “how are you?”, and once you’ve asked that question wait for the answer. The next part of your conversation should be guided by that response.
Every time I see a performer friend I ask them how they are, and 9 times out of 10 they’ll tell me what they’re up to first. . . and every single time I’ll ask them again how they are. Maybe when we stop validating ourselves by our jobs everybody else will cotton on too eh?