Removal of Obstacles

Shows Don’t Tell

Last night I was finally rolling up some audio cables and mics that I had left on the floor too long, neglected in a depressive defiance that no one would be coming over ever, what’s the point of straightening stuff up. Plus obstacles add some adventure to my 250 square feet walkabouts.

I had pulled out the stuff to experiment so I could tell people how to improve their Zoom sound for livestreams and podcast recordings. My take, though you didn’t ask: for zoom only, for voice-only (music is another thing), probably not worth the hassle for most people. Wired earbuds mic were almost as good as my Shure or Sennheiser boom or lav, computer/phone mics ok if you sit close, airpods add some compression but really everything is fine nothing matters there is no perfection in a pandemic use what you got doing whatever you can do. It was a fun distraction getting to that answer via careful scientific method.

Then a wave of sadness at the realization that I probably won’t need this audio-recording go-kit, so carefully organized in ziplocks in a fashionable green plastic tote, selected just for me in Mexico by my lil cousins who live 6 blocks away but I can’t see anymore at weekly family dinner. Probably I should put everything back in the drawer? But I put the cables back in the tote, and stuffed the tote deep in the closet, unwilling to make that call right now.

March 5 was the last pre-pandemic live show I helped produce. I was already fearful of the news of the virus and feeling very alone in that. I had walked through the East Village without umbrella in a chilly mist, stopped at the Puerto Rican coffee roasters, walked the three flights up to the little speakeasy space, all routine daily life things, dipping maybe even into the negative end of the psychic meter, but now that scene would make me cry with longing if I saw it in a movie. I sprayed alcohol on everything especially the mics. A friend started talking to me and helped me unfurl cables which created more untangling work because they started at the wrong end. It was kind, and I was kind back, and didn’t jump on the teaching moment like I sometimes annoyingly do, just let it go, and said thanks. Already I was sensing that none of this seemed important. I did chuckle to myself that I finally get why sound people are usually such dicks when you touch anything.

All this remembering and emotions in my solo brain vacuum fueled a nightmare where the same thing happened but with even more complications. We were producing and live-streaming the last Broadway stage show of Harry Potter. Not too long ago I hung out with one of the cast and another comedy hero, at one of my favorite bars from a lifetime ago, Brooklyn Inn. I brought 3 pints of fancy ice cream to share, and it stands out as a very vivid “this is who I am and why I live in NYC” night, so that’s maybe why that got into the dream. I was also, in this dream, producing an equally important comedy karaoke show in a very small room. 

Everything was going wrong and all the helpful help wasn’t helpful. Someone *coff Marianne coff* put away all of my gear that I had laid out, moved my backpack (backpack!? What about my fashionable tote?) which then cost precious seconds looking for things and coming up with all my “no it’s great, thanks for looking out” fake assurances to the helpers. (I love you MW and we’ve shared so many producing adventures and travels together, and we had that last great NYC day and night together and that’s surely why you made a dream appearance, not because you have ever fucked up my shit, quite the opposite! Truly, thanks for looking out!)

I said important comedy karaoke show which of course is ridiculous but in my dream it was true. Of course anything you’re ever doing and want to do well is important. But none of this is life or death, no one will die, is what we say to comfort ourselves (and only ourselves) but the client thinks it is, and the clock is ticking, people are asking questions you already answered in the email—why doesn’t anyone read emails—and every person and every person’s concerns are equally valid, except they’re not. The show itself is its own creature and you’re the one tasked with making sure it goes on, because it must go on! And meanwhile, you have to keep smiling to keep everyone else calm, a surface attitude that once made talent holler at me that they didn’t think I was taking concerns seriously because I was so calm and looked like I was having fun. Can’t win!

Despite the anxiety dream, I love putting on a show. I love the facsimile of doing that online though it’s not the same and that’s probably why I’m dreaming about it. Shows are bodies in rooms, community, a commitment by the audience to support and attend, everyone putting in so much effort before, during, after, that goes beyond clicking a button. And after, there is the relief. The audience leaves (hopefully wanting more) and is off to the next place because the night is young and the show was only a ruse to get out, to be out, to be one with the city. For me the relief is a nod or a hug from people I love, even love just for the show, because theater creates that instant surrogate family. And it was all a ruse to get that love from the show, the city, more than the individuals. When it’s over — and it will be over one way or another — you realize that highs and lows, mistakes and all, you pulled it off. As my mentor would say, whether after a trainwreck or a truly transformative artistic experience : “Well, we fooled ‘em again.” 

I recently took a break from full-time booking, promoting, producing other people’s things, because I wanted to give myself a chance to make and produce my own work, as my nature (maybe from traumatic nurture) is always to put other people first and hide my own messy artistic vision under professionalism and perfectionism. Ok Artist Way, I’ve been trying to get through that book for 5 years and I think it’s starting to sink in. I’m not a shadow artist. I’m an artist. I’m messy. These times are messy. No one is running the show. And that’s not ok, but it’s also not my job to fix it. No hitting the streets in protest or putting on a show will fix it*, and it’s hard to feel so powerless. I can figure out ways to be useful and helpful, to help put better people in charge. And I can show up every day for myself which is also ultimately for others, to do the slow steady writing work I need to do. And I can also spend some of my time helping people who want to put on a show, to help others feel lighter, normal, sane. Who don’t know what else to do about any of this either, but maybe can raise money and awareness for good causes.

Usually when I write something like this I try to find something more universal to connect my experience to what others might be experiencing. I have no idea what anyone else is experiencing so I’ll just leave it here. I cleared an obstacle on my floor and I see that I have some more psychic obstacles to remove, through dreams, throughout this global nightmare. None of this is life or death except when it actually is.

*written before people started hitting the streets after George Floyd’s murder, which of course did change things, continues to change things. I meant then, hitting the streets to specifically protest the pandemic. “Whose streets? Covid’s streets!”

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