Unforeseen Circumstances – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Failure.

As an artist, especially as a vocalist or an actor, dealing with failure is part of the job.  “Well, failure is part of EVERYONE’S journey,” you might say.  Ah, yes, true.  However, as an entertainer, when you fail at your work, you fail at being YOU.  It’s not as if you made a mistake on paperwork, or ordered the wrong shipment, or made a Freudian slip in the workplace.  Hell, even flubbing a line here and there or cracking a note is something we all experience and move on from and laugh about after (if we’re not being fined… and even then…)  Here’s a youtube video of some news bloopers to illustrate my point:

Notice how these little mistakes are usually laughed off and do not directly reflect the anchor or the reporter or their ability to do their job adequately.

So I’m talking about a REAL performance failure.  The ENTIRE THING went wrong, you were bad, and there’s no going back.  It’s not just a mistake, it’s YOU.  You didn’t do a bad thing–YOU were what was bad about it.  This girl knows what I mean:

Ok, so she’s not a singer or actor, but this is an example of TOTAL FAILURE and how it reflects on you PERSONALLY.  This girl was labelled as DUMB DA-DUMB DUMB DUMBY–IMMEDIATELY1  And it wasn’t because she made a mistake.  It’s because she, herself, was awful.  And there’s nothing to hide behind.  A visual artist may be able to hide out in a corner while someone judges their work.  A musician can hide behind an instrument and chalk it up to needing practice and it’s regarded as a hobby that either needs more attention, or should be put on the shelf forever.  But if you have a bad acting or singing experience, that’s YOU.  Your voice.  Excuses can be made and parallels can be drawn, however, it’s NOT the same as any other medium or profession, and unfortunately there’s no way to properly describe the feeling to those who’ve not experienced (or have even dreamed of experiencing) it themselves.  And no one will ever say, “Oh she just needs more practice,” or, “maybe she’s tired and had a long day or little sleep,” or, “Boy, she’s been sitting there for a long time, she probably would have been amazing if she had been able to come straight from a warm up room!” or, “maybe she needed some water and there was none to be found!”  No.  Singing specifically is regarded differently than any other professions or mediums.  There is no benefit of the doubt and no one will make excuses for you.  You’re either good, or you’re bad, or you’re not worth a second glance, which is bad.  It’s mortifying.  I recently had such an experience, and I’d like to am going to share it with you with my tail between my legs.

Ok, here goes…

Let me just say, from the moment I woke up that morning (on 2 hours sleep), I knew things were not going to be stellar.  I started to warm up my voice, and I knew they were going to be difficult.  I continued to warm up, and I thought, “Oh, well.  It is what it is.”  So already, we’re off to a GREAT start here (does the sarcasm read there?)  I could make tons of excuses, but no one wants to hear excuses and I don’t like making them.  For me, I went wrong during the intro.  The program had changed at the last minute, and said change required me to be running around during my intro.  As I said before, I was already feeling in a less than great place for this performance, so this was not good.  I got to the mic just in time to take a breathe, albeit a shallow one, and start the verse.  And it all went down hill from there.   I was already out of practice with this style of singing, so the fact that I was unable to take my intro to prepare was a huge disservice to my cause.  And then I was playing catch up from there on.  I had no control of my breathe–the very core of singing!  I wanted to run away, but I had to finish!  To me, this was hands down THE worst performance of my life–INCLUDING when I was an untrained child.  I was MORTIFIED. But I had to keep going.  There are no do-overs.  I smiled, and continued on and did the best I could with the cards I was dealt, but it wasn’t getting any better for me, and I was SO EMBARRASSED.  And all I could do was pummel towards the end, try to smile as to not give way to my struggle, and know that eventually, this would be over.

So I’m at the end of, what I felt was, the worst performance of my life… and now I have to greet people at this event and show my face, when all I want to do is hide.  I’m fighting tears, and I try to confide in someone about how I feel, but soon the guests of the event are starting to move out and people want to talk to you.  How do I face these people??  How can I face anyone after what just happened??  I must run away!

Ha!  No such luck.  People stopped me.  They wanted to talk to me.  They wanted to congratulate me.  Wait, what?  At first I thought they were patronizing me.

“No, you don’t have to say that, it’s alright, I know it was bad *as the tears start to well up in my throat*.”  But no, they actually liked it.  Well, that’s good.  But that doesn’t matter when it was your WORST PERFORMANCE OF ALL TIME!  As a professional and an INSTRUCTOR, this was probably the most embarrassing thing that could have happened to me–this performance invalidates my entire career path.  A “for fun” singer has a job that pays the bills and they sing when they want to, but a “my business card says I’m a singer” carries a lot more pressure in these situations.  Again, there’s nothing to hide behind.  And even more so when you’re a TEACHER of this medium that you so deeply put to shame.  And it doesn’t even matter that these people didn’t know the difference!  I KNEW, and I wanted to crawl up in a dark room somewhere and sleep it away.  I tried to accept their compliments graciously from then on, but every time I shook off the tears, someone ELSE would come up to me and bring it up.  (Again, compliments) But they would only bringing me back to that awful experience, which brought back the uncontrollable tears!  And there was no where I could run.  Everyone is expecting me to act a certain way, and all I want is to escape.  They don’t understand why I’m so disappointed in my performance.  And there’s really no way I can explain to them how it feels or what I’m experiencing.  NO WAY.  The worst part of it, was that it was all out of my control, and I couldn’t say anything to fix it.  Could you imagine me trying to make excuses for myself?  No way!  So here I am, feeling THIS BADLY about the performance, which meant I felt badly about ME.  And it’s VERY difficult to remove yourself from the equation.

“Thank you.”

So then they call me dramatic.  They call me moody.  They look down on me for the way I’m acting.  But I’m not acting.  I’m genuinely and deeply upset, and I’m not allowed to deal with these emotions in a healthy way.  What I SHOULD have done (what I TRIED TO DO) was found a corner, cried it out, and then pulled myself together.  I didn’t want to make a scene–I didn’t want anyone to see me like this, and I certainly didn’t want to draw focus.  But I couldn’t get away from the crowd, so I was forced to attempt bottling up my emotions, and we all know how that can go over for ANYONE.  Actors/artists are not meant to bottle their emotions.  It’s our job to feel.  We spend a lot of time getting to know our bodies and our feelings and learning how to be vulnerable.  So when we ARE vulnerable for real, WE REALLY FEEL IT!  I’m not a person who cares much for absolutes, but I challenge you to find me something that is MORE vulnerable than this experience.  I doubt you’ll find many, and even so, this will rank high on the list.  Because of this, very few people know what this is like to experience, which means very few people understand, which means I end up looking like a huge drama queen, no matter what I say or do.  Which could turn into a very Existential discussion on whether what any of us say or do really means anything at all… but that’s not really here nor there.

My point is that, bad performances happen.  And no one on the outside will ever understand what it’s like to experience this.  And they’ll never know your back story.  You can even tell them, and they’ll have no idea what any of it means or how it’s relevant, and they most likely can’t begin to imagine what it feels like.  AND they’ll be quick to judge you.  All you can do is appreciate that it’s over, move forward, and lastly… You just have to accept that no one will ever get it.  They just have nothing to compare it to, and so cannot possibly fathom what it’s like.  Ultimately, you are a black sheep and very few people have walked a mile in your shoes.  They only see that your shoes are dirty, and they judge you for that.

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2 Responses to Unforeseen Circumstances – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Failure.

  1. Alex says:

    A) I kinda want to know when this performance was.

    B) it’s a nerve wracking and intimate thing. For people who really connect to the art form, it means showing people your soul. I think whipping my schlong out would be less vulnerable, and I’m one of the “just for fun” ones you reference… Can’t imagine how it is for you. It’s not about stage fright, it’s about letting people see your insides basically. At least that the best performers to me. So, the fact that it carries this amount of weight doesn’t make you a drama queen, it means you are the best kind of performer. Connected to your craft.

    C) drama queen

    D) jokes jokes

    • Michelle says:

      Alex, I said the same thing about being naked! I said that it would have felt less vulnerable to have been naked up there, and that what I experienced felt MUCH much worse. Can I go back and just be naked?

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