Here is something about being a performer that I can say for sure: that old saying "the show must go on" is like a religion to we who make our living as entertainers. The voice in our souls that demands we be there, on that stage, at that moment, is as powerful as the compulsion a doctor has to heal, a preacher has to preach.
I have been a professional performer for twenty-seven years. Twenty-seven. And I can still count on one hand the number of times I have had to cancel a performance.
For the past three years I have been performing solo shows at the Theatre at the Site. And by solo, I mean, I am all by myself on stage. So, if I can't do the show, there is no show.
In 2011 I had to cancel two shows. I cancelled the first show the morning after I was in a car fire. My car had started on fire, and before I could get the vehicle to safety I had inhaled much smoke. Two paramedics advised me to cancel my solo show which I would've performed the next morning because, they informed me, smoke can have a delayed and damaging effect on the vocal cords. As I rely on my voice to make my living, I conceded. Later that same season I experienced a severe allergic reaction and developed contact dermatitis that caused unbearable itchiness and a rash so unsightly it was shocking. I consulted with my producer and stage manager and they each advised me to cancel a show to seek medical attention. I did so. In 2012 (just last week in fact) I was forced to cancel a show when my MIL was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and I was her her sole means of support at the time as J was away and she doesn't have anyone else. I had no choice, really. Each time I've had to cancel a show I felt sick with guilt. This just isn't what we do, we performers. We perform through aches and pains and traumas and injuries. We smile and sing and dig deep and do it. It is sacred to us, this mantra "the show MUST go on." I have seen actors doubled over in pain in the wings, and as soon as they hear their cue they are on that stage giving all they have. I have seen performers get through a scene or a number, walk off stage, and collapse from sickness, or pain, or grief.
And what about those times when only one person - or a handful of people show up to see a show? Well, the general rule of thumb for theatre is that a company has the option of cancelling a performance if the number of people in the audience will be fewer than the number of people on stage. So, for a performer like me, who does much solo work, that pretty much means I only cancel if no-one shows. I have performed my solo shows to houses packed to capacity and to tiny crowds of one, two, three patrons. If only one person shows I ask that person if s/he is comfortable being the only audience member, and if so, I am happy to do the show. It is often a very lovely experience, a small audience show. I do them all the time.
Yesterday it was brought to my attention that a couple from a nearby town had come to the Site on a Monday, the only day I do not have scheduled performances. And they showed up at the Theatre for my 11am show. When they discovered there was no show they jumped to the baffling conclusion that the cast at the Theatre had decided to cancel shows that day because we didn't feel like doing them. Not only did they walk all over the Site repeating this false and slanderous information, they then repeated it to anyone who would listen in their town, and then wrote a letter to the editor of the area's newspaper saying the same erroneous, insulting and out and out false claim. The newspaper printed this letter without bothering to fact check with anyone from the Site, who could have cleared the situation up with a simple piece of information: "there is no 11 am show on Mondays." In fact, in a odd twist, these interesting people quoted from our website and mentioned that there is no show on Mondays, yet neglected to mention that they turned up at the theatre ON A MONDAY. Had they wished, they could have consulted the marquis that would have been a few feet from their faces while they were pounding on the doors of a clearly closed building and seen that our musical revue was to be performed at 1pm (which it was).
So I suppose this post is in defense of myself, but also of every performer who gets out there and gets the job done no matter what. The show must, and does, go on. If I cancelled a show every time I simply didn't feel up to it I would be cancelling shows left, right, and centre. But I don't. Ever. Unless it seems like my only choice.
I love what I do, and in my line of work professional reputation is huge. I hope those people who were slightly inconvenienced by their own inability to understand a schedule will think twice the next time they feel compelled to grossly overreact to a situation that was, in fact, of their own making, and to compromise the reputation of an entire company of dedicated and ridiculously hard working actors. I could be a bigger person here and say I hope they come back and see my shows on a day that they are actually playing, but I'd really rather they didn't. My shows mean the world to me, and I would rather people like these stayed far away from my sacred places.