What is a performance? It seems to me that the basic qualification for something to be a performance is that it has an audience. When I was a kid, my siblings and I would put on shows for family. It was a performance. The family, reluctant though they may have been, were audience members. When I was five years old, my entire kindergarten class ran off to the circus. I was a skinny kid, and so naturally, it occurred to the people in charge of the circus that I should be the strongman. We performed our circus in what seemed to me to be the largest live audience I’d ever seen up to that point. The auditorium was full of family, friends and faculty. It was my largest performance to that date.
I was nervous for this performance. What if I couldn’t manage to lift the thousand pounds? The humiliation! I’ve often wondered if people in the business of performing for a living ever get tired of it? Do they get nervous before every performance, even if they have done lots of them? I used to watch Derek Jeter running out to shortstop at the start of a Yankees game, and wonder if he was thinking, “I could really use a night off. I just want to ditch work this evening and go to the movies?”
Cal Ripken, Jr. played in 2,632 consecutive baseball games without ever taking a sick day. That’s more than 16 years without a day off, performing in front of a crowd every one of those days. Was he ever nervous heading out in front of those crowds, or is it something you just get used to. The best number I could find online for Bruce Springsteen, is that he has performed in more than 2,600 concerts. Does he ever head out on stage thinking, “I just can’t do it, I just can’t bear to play ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ one more time.” Does he ever worry that he’ll suddenly forget the words to the song he’s singing, just draw a complete blank?
I had to give a presentation for health class in college. I had worked out what I thought was a pretty funny little talk. There was one line which I was particularly proud of. I was confident when I took my place at the front of the class. I began my talk, more or less off-the-cuff, building toward my punchline, and when I got there–I drew a complete blank. To this day, I can’t remember what the punchline was, all I can remember is standing in front of the class, ready to deliver the line I’d been waiting for all day, and unable to remember it.
These are the kinds of things I think about in idle moments of the day. Motivational speakers like Tony Robbins always seem fired up and eager, but is that in itself just a performance? Backstage, before the show starts, I often imagine him going, “I can’t believe I’m doing this again.”
I think that about teachers. My oldest (the former “little man”) is doing remote learning this fall. He’s in middle school and so his teachers change with each class. I sometimes listen in to a class and hear the teacher work through the lesson, part teacher, part IT support, and I marvel that they are going to repeat this exact same routine the very next hour. Day in, day out, over and over again.
Stand-up comedians do this as well. I watch a Chris Rock special on HBO and for me, it is the first time I’ve seen that performance. But for Chris Rock, if my experience is any guide, he’s done it so many times that he’s probably sick of it.
I said “my experience” and so you may be wondering what experience I am referring to? Well, it occurred to me that if all that is necessary for a performance is an audience, then I’ve been performing here on the blog for these last 15 years. In fact, with this post, I’ve now given 6,529 performances. And I’m able to answer some of my own questions. Do I ever get tired of writing on the blog, day after day? Sure, I do. I used to be much more vigilant about how frequently I wrote here, but it wore me down, so now I do it only when I feel like it. Do I get nervous about performing for my audience? I think I did early one when my audience was growing, but these days, I don’t really. I don’t know why.
These performances of mine may not require the same physical stamina of a 2-hour concert, or a 3-hour baseball game. And while I generally write about what interests me, there is always a little voice in the back of my mind whispering things like, “Yeah, you might think this is funny, but will anyone else?” or “Is anyone really reading this?” Some people call these little flutters of uncertainty “imposter syndrome” and I suppose I experience that from time-to-time. But after 6,529 performances, I think I’ve earned the right to think of myself as a fairly solid performer.
And considering the number of performances I’ve given here, I’m pretty good about not repeating myself too often.