Many years ago I was in a musical theater company touring the outback of Australia. It was a grueling 5 month expedition, playing a 3 hour show each night, then pulling down the stage, packing the truck and driving on to the next town. Most nights I’d get a few hours sleep in the van, as I would have to share the driving (sometimes up to 16 hours) with the other guys. It was all part of the job and for the first few months it was a lot of fun.
My deal with the management promised me a share of the door takings and for a while there all the blood, sweat and tears seemed well worth it.
One night, after a long hot drive over dusty roads we readied ourselves for a big show in a mining town club with seating for over 800 hundred. Word from the management was that it would be sold out and in my mind I had already spent that bonus money. But as I peeked my head out of the curtains just before show time I counted barely thirty in the audience.
During the first song, I could not help but work out my percentage from the thirty tickets… I was all of a sudden feeling very tired, I was losing money rather than making it, I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, I was over a thousand miles from my wife and young son and at that moment in time I couldn’t give a toss for this audience.
At the interval the director and lead actor John Brownrigg pulled me aside and gave me the benefit of his east London upbringing. Standing several inches away from me, spitting each syllable, he screamed “these people have paid their hard earned money for a night of entertainment… our show should be something to take their minds off their hard and disappointing lives… when you go back out there you are going to give them the best show they have ever seen. I don’t care if there is one patron or one thousand… when you walk out on that stage you give them everything you have.”
He paused, wiped some spittle from his lips… I dared not move to wipe his spittle off my face… and he continued. “What sort of performance would you give if the Queen was sitting there in the front row?”.
It was difficult at first to imagine the Queen sitting in this auditorium, with the stench of stale beer and cigarettes. But I did get his point.
“You see that lady there”… pointing to a kind old looking bag lady sitting a few rows from the front… “pretend she is the Queen… and when you go out there lad give her the show of her life”.
And that was some dressing down… and I might add that I cleaned it up for the America reading public. But John hit me where it hurts. He was right. One or one thousand, I had to give everything I had. And if the Queen was in the audience I would probably be giving blood.
I did go back out there and sang and played as if that old lady was Queen Elizabeth herself. And she clapped and sang along and laughed at all the right moments. Now and then we would make eye contact and a few times there we could not help but make each other smile.
And when the show was over I knew that I had given everything I had to the Queen of Broken Hill.
I learned that when you hold something back, you are robbing yourself of something beautiful.
There is a wonderful job satisfaction to be had when you give it your all… even if you are losing money. And when the connection is made between the performer and audience… this moment of intimacy. It can change both the giver and the receiver forever. It can be a moment you never forget.