A Year of Stories: “Not So Simple Request”
A few years ago I took a meeting at nationally renowned small theater in Connecticut. A-list acts love playing there because it seats 300 rather than 10,000 and reminds them of the early days of their career when shows were more intimate. It is a beautiful and majestic theater.
Somehow I convinced the booking director to bring me on for a Mother’s Day matinee show that May. I had three months to prepare for what would be one of the most prestigious performances of my career.
Theater gigs are very difficult for me as a private event and college campus entertainer. Not the show itself, but rather getting people in the seats. You see, college students know who I am. I’m probably a B-list in that world. Corporate and private event bookers know who I am, at least in my home region. But the general public doesn’t have a clue, and there’s nothing wrong with that, except when I play a theater.
In the private event world you never worry about whether there’s going to be an audience. The audience is built-in by the very fact that they’re holding an event, and for the most part, attendance is mandatory. Similar for college campuses. Students go to the show simply because there is a show. It doesn’t matter if they’ve heard of you or not.
For a theater show, however, you have to convince people from the general public to spend their hard earned money and sacrifice an evening to see somebody that they’ve probably never heard of. When is the last time you paid $30-50 for a ticket to see something you’d never heard of?
In an effort to sell enough tickets to make the show worth their while, the theater continued asking me for more and different promotional materials during the months leading up to the show. I kept giving them different videos, and cutting together new videos from the footage I had, desperately trying to give them what they needed. Nothing seemed to satisfy.
Here is the video that I was using, which informed the following conversation:
“Your demo video doesn’t show any of the actual tricks. It just shows people laughing and reacting to the tricks,” I was told.
“Yes, that is how magic demos have to be structured. If you show the trick itself, there is no surprise left when people come to the live show. Magic requires surprise,” I responded.
“Maybe, but people aren’t going to buy a ticket if they don’t know what it is they’re paying to see.”
Both sides had a valid point, and I was pressed for another new video.
That year I was struggling, both personally and professionally. I had been on an upward trajectory for years but it stalled out suddenly and I was burning through my savings again while trying to regain control of my career. I didn’t have enough shows on the calendar to film the new footage that they wanted. Simultaneously I was in an awful relationship with somebody that took my time and generosity for granted.
I felt like I was giving everything and getting very little back.
In the midst of all of that, booking this theater gig had been a ray of light that gave me hope, and restored some of my optimism. Or at least, that’s how it started. But the persistent requests for new promo that I simply didn’t have was slowly causing a nervous breakdown.
The theater asked for a video of me performing a whole piece with my guitar, instead of just a snippet. In those days I was using an acoustic guitar in the show instead of an electric. My only acoustic was in the shop getting repaired and would be unavailable for months. Desperate, I went to a local music store and purchased a cheap acoustic guitar for $120 to film the video with. That $120 was food money that I could not afford.
Furthermore I needed a proper studio setting in which to film. I bought a couple of large black bed sheets and tore my entire living room apart to clear a wall. Then I tacked the bed sheets up across the wall as a backdrop, set up a bunch of lights, my camera, and some microphones, and spent an hour recording. After it was done it took me 3 hours to cut the video.
Exhausted, but proud of myself, I sent the video off to the theater. The response came quickly:
“That’s not quite what we were looking for. We’ll just use the video we already have.”
At that point I literally had a nervous breakdown. I was hysterical, my knees gave out, and I couldn’t get off the floor for hours.
Eventually I pulled myself together with help from family on the phone.
In May I gave a terrific performance at the theater to an audience of 150 or so, including close friends and family who have always supported me. The director’s wife gushed about my performance afterwards, which was good enough for me.
The point is this: The theater had no idea how much difficulty I was having responding to their requests. From their perspective, they were simply asking for an appropriate video in order to sell tickets. Meanwhile I was in no position financially, with an empty wallet, or professionally, with an empty calendar, to give them what they were looking for.
We are often laughably unaware of another person’s situation. What seems like a simple request to us may be a colossally difficult task for the person it is asked of.
Ever since that theater experience I try to be more conscious of what I ask and expect from others.
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Connect with Brian!
- A Year of Stories: “Faking Confidence” July 24, 2016
- A Year of Stories: “Professional Courtesy” July 17, 2016
- A Year of Stories: “Be Patient” July 10, 2016
- A Year of Stories: “Just Ask” a.k.a. How I Got Sponsored July 3, 2016
- A Year of Stories: “Meeting Kristen Schaal” June 26, 2016