Once upon a time, I regularly logged enough air miles to qualify for the automatic upgrade to First Class (subject to availability, international flights excluded.) I met a lot of interesting people up there in the land of free cocktails and hubris. My favorite was a Conductor. Symphony, not choo-choo.
We spoke of theater and music. It was marvelous. Then, as men of a certain age are prone to do, we spoke about young adults just starting their careers in the arts. We agreed that there is a certain sense of entitlement among young artists. In standup comedy, new comics with a solid 5 minutes of material thinks they SHOULD be headlining, instead of being an opening act. Young comics with 20 solid minutes KNOW they are ready for their own sitcom.
In his orchestra, the maestro noted that young players fresh out of music school don’t seem to want to rehearse, and don’t really care about the quality of their performances. The fact that they graduated from a prestigious music program is all hard work they should ever be expected to do.
If you think that sounds like two cranky showbiz veterans complaining about “These Kids Today,” you would be right, but that doesn’t make the point any less valid.
“What do you say to your orchestra in order to get them to work hard and play their best?” I asked.
“I tell them, “There are people in our audience tonight who are seeing a live performance for the very first time. Sadly, tragically, there are also people who are seeing a live performance for the very last time. It is for those people we will now go onstage and play to the best of our abilities.””
I’ve thought about those words before every performance I’ve given since that flight.
I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve stood in the lobby of the theater, saying goodbye and thanks to the audience as they leave, and have seen a VERY old person who had just seen my show heading out into the night. In that moment I wonder if, sadly, my show will be the last live performance they see, and I say a silent thanks to my conductor friend for reminding me why we play to the best of our abilities.