How Not to Support Your Performing Friends

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I have just finished my last night as an event manager before beginning a three month career break from the Ulster Hall. As soon as the event ended I almost instantaneously realised that, (despite my ongoing frustration with the one belligerent drunk who’s turned up at every event I’ve ever organised, and the repetitive inanity of pre-event safety checks and the ice machine which always chooses the quietest, most profound, moment in a show to grind into thundering action, despite lost tickets, late starts, malfunctioning microphone stands and grumpy sound technicians), there is little in this world which gives me as much pleasure as putting together a good event. Some people host dinner parties. Other people start churches. I’ve been practicing the fine art of hospitality through event hosting and enjoying most every minute of it, (once a decent crowd has gathered and my anxiety duly subsided), since 1998; that’s probably somewhere in the region of 400 individual events, the greater majority of which I’ve performed at in some fashion, (previously MCing, lately reading, once, mistakenly, singing). I’d say I’m reasonably well qualified to talk about live performance and all the minefields which ride shotgun to it.

I’m writing this tonight with no particular events on the horizon and no particular events just passed because I don’t want anyone to think it’s aimed at them particularly. It’s not, honestly! I’ve wanted to write this blog for a very long time but am choosing this evening as particularly equidistant between performances just so the content remains bipartisan. Also, can I add, some of the following observations I’ve learnt myself, others I’ve gleaned- albeit with knowing empathy- from friends who like to perform or host performances? Putting together an event, or performing is one of the most stressful and potentially satisfying experiences open to an individual. When things go well you can feel like a circus master, centre stage, directing the brilliance as it engulfs everyone else in the room. When things don’t go to plan you mostly feel like a used tea bag. If you have never planned an event or performed at something yourself it will be difficult for you to empathise with this spectrum of emotions but can I suggest that imagining your soul to be inside an industrial tumble dryer on spin, would be a good place to start.

For a very long time now I have wished to say a massive thank you to the very many wonderful individuals whom I count as friends who come along to my events and performances and, nine point nine times out of ten do an amazing job of being wonderfully supportive. However, for the sake of my sanity and the sanity of all my fellow entertainers and because there is, (and possibly always will be), that nought point one times when I could easily defenestrate the next well-meaning, event-attending friend, can I offer my top ten tips on good etiquette in regards to supporting your performing friends?

Nb. All the points listed below are drawn from the real life experience of real life Belfast-based artists.

  1. Never ever arrive at a friend’s event and utter the words, “I thought there’d be more people here” It is the event equivalent of saying “when are you due?” to someone who isn’t pregnant
  2. If you’re not coming, your friend’s really not going to thank you for texting in the most stressful 5 minute period just before the performance begins. Make up your excuse and offer it the next morning, by which point, chances are, the event’s success will have obliterated your friend’s feeling of utter abandonment. 
  3. It is not helpful to RSVP for events you have no intention of going to (even on Facebook).
  4. And subsequently, people who buy tickets ahead of an event, (weeks, months, years even), delight the heart of an event planner, they are like honey for the soul in a struggling economic climate where last minute walk ups have become the heart attack-inducing norm.
  5. If you make a bee line for your friend just before the performance and try to fill them in on the latest development in your ongoing personal disaster the sound they will hear will be akin to bees buzzing insanely and possibly German, (if they don’t speak German), and they will recall none of the afore-mentioned conversation after the performance ends.
  6. Wait to be offered the guest list. Don’t assume, or even worse, sneak in through the fire exit.
  7. Similarly, do not stand beside the merch table as other non-performing friends contemplate purchasing your friends cd/book/bespoke black and white photography and say, “don’t bother buying it, sure i’ll copy it for you/lend it to you/run you off a print on my Dad’s photocopier”
  8. There is a brief ten minute euphoria which will descend upon your friend after an event/performance finishes. This, despite your best intentions, is not the ideal time to point out flaws in the performance, no matter how helpful or minor. Critique during this brief moment of nirvana will ultimately feel like kicking a sleeping kitten in the teeth.
  9. If you are going to take a photo of your friend whilst mid-performance and proudly post this photo on all available social media channels, try to make sure their mouth is not open at the time.
  10. A post-performance, glass of wine, pressed into the hand of your friend, insistently, with an accompanying smile or reassuring shoulder pat, will rarely be rejected and may, if any of points 1-9 have been compromised, cover over a multitude of sins.
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