The Hazards of Audience Interaction
I was going to write this blog on Monday. Then, I had the idea of doing a recap of my thoughts about Las Vegas. I was going to write this blog on Tuesday, but I then came down with some sort of cough/sneeze/body ache that prevented my brain from functioning enough to write a blog. I have now had almost a week to process this blog in my mind, which is probably a good thing.
Last Saturday night, I performed at Summer Mummers, as I do every weekend. Although the show causes a healthy amount of fatigue, it was a little more tiring since I had just flown in from Las Vegas the day before. But, we're performers! Tired? We perform. In a bad mood? We perform. Worried about things in our personal life? We perform. With that in mind, I shook the cobwebs out of my head and hit the stage.
If you have been to Mummers this year (or last year), you may know that I roam the audience during one of the intermissions. I'm not roaming the audience as Justin Tate. I'm in the character of Buford, a hobo magician who is always looking for love in all the wrong places. I created this character, and one of Buford's rules is that he doesn't speak. He is a completely silent character. This adds a fun new challenge where I have to improv with, react to, and engage audience members over a ten-minute span of time.
Before I go any further, I must stress that 99% of the time, this bit goes great. Whether I feel like going out there or not, the people are usually fun, respectful, and appreciative of the interaction with a weirdo like Buford. Selfies galore. In fact, it has gone well just about every night...except for last Saturday night.
Within the first few moments of being out in the crowd, I noticed young blonde lady sitting in the front row. She had great seats. Great seats. And her anatomical seat was firmly attached to the anatomical lap of a young man who I'm assuming was known to her. It's Mummers...you never know. This gal had a lot going for her. Great seats. A man in her life. Long, flowing, blonde hair. A good body. If she had told me that she was the happiest woman in the world, I would have no reason to doubt her. Seeing an opportunity to have fun with somebody, I moseyed (got that spelling right on the first try...yes!) on over to her, and began my shtick (misspelled that one on the first try).
The cooing look of a woman happy to be alive quickly changed to a look of disgust, disdain, and downright unhappiness. Usually, if I see that a person is not in the mood to be bothered, I pass them up or retreat very quickly. I guess, in the case, I didn't retreat quickly enough. How did I know? The words coming out of her mouth made it very clear. Although I am not a fan of censorship, Townsquare Media is, and this is their website, so I'll try to clean her words up but still get her words across: "Frack off, you piece of schist. It's getting late, so go to bed, you old mother fracker."
I...uh...I don't...that was unexpected. There you have a girl who seems to be having a blast, the time of her life, and those are the words that came out of her mouth, aimed directly at my ears. I was an audience of one. For the first time since June 2014 (when Buford was born), Buford broke character. Not in an audible, highly noticeable manner. But I know my face. I can feel what it's doing, especially if I'm in a character. In that moment, I felt my face go from a highly comical expression, to an expression that was very close to highly comical; perhaps an imperceptible change to anybody who is not me. But I felt my eyebrows drop a little lower. I felt my cheek muscles droop a little bit. I felt a lump in my throat like somebody had just told me very bad news. In fact, somebody had; she had. She had told me a lot of bad news.
Did it hurt me personally? No. Were my feelings hurt? Not at all. But despite those two facts, I was upset. Not because she called me "old." Not because she used profanity. I was beside myself for one simple reason. This is person who seemingly has a good life. And before them is a cast of performers who are killing their voices and their bodies for three hours for nothing more than the passion of performing. Performers who use Mummers to fill emotional, romantic, and deeper voids in their life. Performers who get free popcorn (which becomes uninteresting), cheap beer (which just becomes pee), and a free dinner here and there. Performers who are there because they want to be loved. And even then, there are still people out there who just don't appreciate it. I've always known they were out there, but this woman was the first one to prove it beyond all doubt. And the saddest part is not what she said to me. It's what may have been going through her head when she watched the other 30 performers that night.
I told a couple of people about it, and she was spoken to by our director. The woman's response? "I came here to have a good time, and you're going to get on to me?" I came there to have a good time too. We all did.
Why do I tell this story? Is it to gain sympathy for myself? Of course not. Don't need it, don't want it. Is it to complain about this one lady? I could see how that would be the perception, but no. Is it to declare that her alcohol-induced utterances should call for the return of Prohibition? Hardly. I write this blog as a letter to this blonde patron of angst. There is a minuscule chance that she will read it, but there is a chance. I recount this tale so that I can send her one message:
I hope all of your days are just as pleasant as you are.