Trust the Gut

Went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again
When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name
No one recognized me, I didn’t look the same

But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself

-From Garden Party by Ricky Nelson-

Well, okay, it wasn’t a garden party. It was my high school’s 45th reunion. My first high school reunion. It was a fun evening…a little surreal. So many unfamiliar faces. Thankfully name tags were provided with our high school yearbook picture attached. But even then…there were so many names and faces I didn’t remember. Our class was a big one, over 450 graduates, so there were a lot a classmates I didn’t even know then, let alone 45 years later.

A few in our class have gone on to make a living in the arts. Several good musicians from our class would be providing a steady stream of 70’s rock ’n’ roll through out the evening. I was asked in advance to share a monologue, since I am a professional actor/storyteller. I declined, feeling that the venue would not have been conducive for what I do. Live music can work in a party atmosphere; a dramatic or even comedic monologue, not so much. A second request was made for me to share a story. I stewed about it a bit, tried to imagine it going well…I finally agreed. I should have trusted my first instinct and stuck to the “no thank you.”

I picked a short story from my life that I thought might connect. I spent some time reworking it and even including a few references to classmates and events from 45 years ago. As a performer you try to envision the best possible scenario but also prepare yourself for the worst.

As I visited around the room that night, several acknowledged that they heard I was an actor and would love to see me perform sometime. I let them know that I would be doing a short monologue later in the evening.

There are several bits of advice and wisdom that run through your mind that apply to this kind of situation.

– Trust your gut

– Read the room and adjust

– Remember that the home crowd is always the toughest audience

I should have paid more attention to that last one. I know from performing at my childhood church over the years that the response is never what you expect or hope for. You want to impress, to show them what you can do and what you have become. They, on the other hand, can’t see past the kid they knew way back when. You know the feeling if you have ever gone back to your childhood home as an adult and suddenly feel like the kid you once were.

The reunion was in a fellowship hall of a church. About 70 alumni showed up. For the first couple of hours there was no program to speak of. People visited, ate food and there was a constant din of noise, laughter and good vibes in the room. I was asked if I wanted to go on early and thought, sure why not. The emcee made a few announcements and it was at the moment I realized my mistake in accepting this “gig.”  Few people were listening. Most people were still standing. The noise level in the room did not change in spite of the fact that someone with a microphone was asking for their attention. Nothing changed as I was introduced to tell my story.

I am sure it was not as bad as the experience Ricky Nelson talks about in “Garden Party.” His was a performance in Madison Square Garden where he was actually booed by the audience. I wasn’t booed. But one of the most difficult things to do as an artist is to plow through a performance when you perceive no one is listening. This was “Show ’n’ Tell” gone bad.

In my early years as a touring performer we would occasionally be asked to do guerrilla theater—street theater. We would set up a makeshift performing area in the street or on a college campus. The goal was to command attention and capture an audience. Often that audience didn’t want to be “captured,” especially in a college cafeteria. I hated doing it, but did it anyway, it was part of the job. This reminded me of that.

There were a few who listened, or tried to listen. I found the eyes of those who were focused on me and played to them. If they were going to listen then I would tell them my story and try to shut out the noise and distraction filling the rest of the room. I’m quite sure many of them were thinking “who is that guy with the microphone…I wish he would shut up.”

I plowed through and couldn’t wait to get back to my seat. I’m guessing that about 75% of the room didn’t even realize they had missed it.

But a few people did listen. Because my work as an artist is faith-based, a few classmates sought me out to let me know that they too were people of faith. Nice to know.

I’m not angry. Not hurt. A little disappointed perhaps. It was what it was. I don’t blame people for not listening… hey, if the shoe were on the other foot, I am not sure I would have been one of those listening either. It was just not the right place and time for what I do. But next time… if there is a next time… I will be sure to ‘trust my gut!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *