Monday, April 11, 2011

Contract Audience

Last week I was walking through the labyrinthine (SAT word!) Times Square subway station with friendLauren and we passed that large open space near 7th that almost always has some musician or break-dancer performing.

This time it was a group of about five musicians, drummer, guitars, etc., called The Beetles, playing (of course) Beatles songs, and they were playing one of my favorites, "Here Comes the Sun", and they sounded gooood.  So we stopped to listen, along with the sizable crowd already gathered.

A little girl of about ten - who, let's face it, was way too happy to be an actual Native New Yorker, so we shall call her Touristette - was ecstatic to be there. "There" being either New York, Times Square, a subway station, or in front of a group of live performers. Or all of the above, because she's ten and capable of that kind of EVERYTHING-ecstasy. This ecstasy manifested in a sort of free-for-all dance explosion. She spun, she hopped, she threw her arms out, she laughed, she bobbed and weaved, and she soaked in the happy. This dance occurred in that dead-man's-land empty space that always bubbles between gypsy performers and the watching crowds, so she was in effect part of the show.

That dead-man's-land is of course also prime cutting-through-land for people in a hurry trying to get from point A to point B within the station. Because a crowd in the open space equals difficult traffic negotiation for those actually trying to get somewhere [editor's note: Welcome to New York].

When the song finally ended (have you noticed that it's really hard to know when that song is actually about to end?), we applauded, people rooted through their pockets for change or a bill, and Touristette returned to her family. friendLauren and I hesitated before moving on - we had already handed over our small bills to BC/EFA earlier that evening.

LeadSinger took to the mic, explaining who the group was, and thanking people for their time and donations, etc. He then launched into a mini-lecture, tinged with that delightful note of passive-aggressive resentment, that he didn't mind (really) if people felt the need to walk through their performance space, or perhaps dance right in front of the performers, so long as they still accorded said performers the proper respect and ahem contributions. Yes. And it just struck us as ... rather ungracious. Or uncouth. We were no longer feeling tempted to root out precious laundry quarters to offer up.

And it got me thinking about audience etiquette in general. Because when I go see a live play, or a film, or a lecture, there is absolutely an audience etiquette and I am furious when it is disrespected by talkers, by candy-crinklers, by phone-texters or -ringers. That sort of behavior hurts fellow audience members and performers alike. But in those cases, a contract has been entered into by both performer and audience - the audience has paid to be there and (hopefully) the performer is getting paid to be there as well. There is an implicit agreement. People who perform on street corners, in train stations, on trains, have forced this contract onto a - sometimes - hostage audience, so the sense of obligation can turn into something we're guilted into.

This kind of demand - that we should give money to someone because he happens to be performing in our vicinity - is, to say the least, off-putting. That being said, if I do see or hear a performer I like, I'm not averse to ponying up a buck or two. But that should be volitional and earned by the performer's talent, not by his ability to guilt-trip.

This would be a hilarious segue into my asking everyone who reads my blog for donations, right? right? right?
[editor's note: please ignore this request]

I would not like to be the man asking people not to dance in front of my blog. I would rather be the girl who has not yet learned to be self-conscious, dancing my little head off as one of my favorite songs is played live right in front of me.
Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right. - George Harrison