Let’s set the Wayback Machine to 1999. I’ve been diagnosed with an eye problem that will require surgery. Both the problem and the surgery to correct it are rather "squishy" and I’ll spare you the details. I’ll also spare you the suspense, since it’s not relevant to the story: the procedure was successful and my eyes are fine.
At the time, I didn’t know that it would turn out well. The eye doctors were telling me things like, "You may have at least 50% of your night vision afterwards" and "There’s a good chance you’ll still be able to drive." Now I know that they were covering their butts by giving me overly-pessimistic potential outcomes of the procedure. Back then, their prudence saddled me with the feeling that I was about to become legally blind.
I was working as a reader at the Ren Faire on the weekend just before the surgery; the procedure would take place that Monday. As I walked through the Ren Faire grounds, I wondered if that would be the last time that I’d "see" them, or anything else. I was worried, anxious, and sick.
At the time, I was still working for Sally. They knew what was going on. David, Sally’s husband and booth manager, saw my attitude as I attempted to work the booth. Finally he told me, "You’re doing no one any good today. I’ll make sure someone is in the booth. Go, walk around, take your mind off things. You don’t have to come back unless you feel you’re up to it."
I walked around the Faire a bit, and finally settled down at the Silver Swan Stage to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I’m going to be honest: It was not a good production. They took a play that normally takes 2-2.5 hours to perform and reduced it to a single hour. It was a heavily-condensed "good parts" version. It was played with a very strong emphasis on physical comedy, to the point of being more like a clown show than Shakespeare. I’d seen a performance of the play at the Ren Faire a few years prior that, by any definition of the term, was a superior production.
At that moment, none of that mattered. I laughed. I laughed often, and I laughed long. That silly performance healed my spirit.
I went back to the booth. I read for the rest of the weekend. I was able to go to the doctor’s office that Monday with a much lighter heart.
After that performance, I arranged for a rose to be delivered to two of the performers in that show whom I knew personally: H. Dan Harkins and Courtney Gable. The roses came a message: "Thank you for giving me a laugh when I badly needed it."
That’s the story. However, there’s a coda:
In the years since, I’ve had occasion to tell this story to several performers. The message I wanted to convey was "What you do matters. Even if the performance isn’t your strongest or the material your best, people can still benefit from it. I want to acknowledge this and thank you for what you do."
That’s not been their reaction. Typically, performers have been polite in their responses, but it was more of a "ho-hum" attitude.
Perhaps it’s because they find the story melodramatic and self-indulgent. I must acknowledge that it has both those qualities. I would think that the message, that performing matters in people’s lives, would appeal to their egos despite this.
Perhaps performers’ egos are the reason for the reaction: I’m not talking about your performance, unless you happen to be H. Dan Harkins or Courtney Gable. Why aren’t you talking about how one of MY performances changed your life?
I have a feeling that the reason for their reaction is that they’ve heard too many stories like it. Like "the show must go on," they’ve experienced it so often that it just doesn’t need to be said anymore.
As I was deciding whether to leave the NYRF, I recalled this story. I’d occasionally get comments from my clients that told me I’d make some positive difference in their lives. What I did there mattered, even if it was in a small way.
I realized that my reaction to the patrons’ comments had changed over the years to "ho-hum." I’d started taking for granted my own contributions to their lives.
Performers do what they do for their own reasons. For me, my "so what’s new" reaction to helping people’s lives means I should take stock and assess what I’m doing. Perhaps I should have kept forging through the task and put the needs and benefits to others ahead of my own. But what we’re taught in Wicca is that you can’t give spiritual aid to others until your own spiritual needs are being met.
I think I did the right thing. I need to find another stage on which I can uplift the spirits of others… or at least find a new joy in doing it.