Here’s a secret:
Everyone has bad shows. (Or days or games or whatever is applicable to your life. My life is onstage so I’ll stick with what I know.)
When you see other performers posting a constant barrage of fancy hotel rooms, large venues, enormous audiences, and rave reviews it’s easy to think that they are nothing but successful. It’s easy to forget that they have bad shows, too.
Oh, but they do. And so do I. Horrible, awful, cringe-worthy shows.
How do I know? Because I’ve been there. I’ve sat in their audience or watched them live on the internet. And, as for myself, I’ve bombed horribly. It’s just the way of life when you work in the entertainment industry.
If you’ve ever slept through an alarm on the first day of a new job or seen the look of disappointment on your boss’ face, then you’ve experienced the same thing. I’ve spent hours traveling across the country to do a show, only to fail miserably in front of a room of strangers.
I can usually sense it from the first moments onstage. I start sweating and the lights seem to grow hotter. Every uninterested face in the room starts to stick out like a Tr*mp voter at a Lady Gaga concert.
“Is my client massively disappointed? What do they think? They’ll never invite me back…”
Sometimes it’s not as bad as I think. And sometimes it’s surely worse.
Albeit, I haven’t had a show that bad in years. But I still have bad shows all the same. It’s just that now when I have a bad show it’s discouraging because I know how good I can be and I’m disappointed in my performance. It’s a different kind of bad.
Years ago I booked my first out-of-state show. The fee seems laughable now but at the time it was a huge milestone. My wife-to-be and I loaded up the car and drove nervously across the border from Kansas to Nebraska.
The event was for a small tractor dealership in the middle of nowhere with a group of about 50 employees just getting off work. The show was held in the company cafeteria - a long room with bad lighting and poor sight lines.
The employees entered, rudely elbowing their way to the buffet, and took their seats. The client motioned for me to begin.
Unsure of myself and too inexperienced to control the room, I gave one of the worst performances of my life. There were too many distractions to contend with. People were talking in the back, loud music was playing down the hall, and a group of noisy men were (I KID YOU NOT) building a giant pyramid of beer cans at the very front table.
I wish I had taken control and demanded their attention. I wish I had known that was an option. But when you’re 20 and you’ve never done that kind of event, you don’t know what to do.
So I tried to persevere. I pushed through and did my act. It was painful to watch, I’m sure. My last-ditch effort to be mystifying during my final routine was destroyed by the loud clatter of no less than 100 beer cans falling to the floor. The men roared with laughter as I sheepishly finished the show and scurried from the room.
I left as quickly as I could, utterly humiliated.
A few weeks ago I entered a similar venue with a similar demographic. Suddenly I flashed back to that time in Nebraska and felt the wave of embarrassment rush back over me. Then I took a deep breath and let the hundreds of shows and years of experience I’ve had since then take over. And I crushed that show.
I felt like I finally had a chance to redeem myself. A much needed do-over, if you will.
I needed that.
So yeah, I have bad shows. All the time. And so do all of the other performers you follow. They may be too busy crafting their successful online persona to remind you of that, but don’t forget that we all have to start somewhere. We all had to go through awkward, embarrassing, painful situations to get where we are.
I needed every one of those bad shows to get the rave reviews I received from Chicago Fringe last week or go on tour this summer. Good shows feel great but bad shows make you who you are. Bad shows are your education.
Embrace the bad and get better. Soon you’ll get a chance to redeem yourself, too.
Photo Credit: Sarah Elizabeth Larson Photography