We all endeavor to please our audiences, and fulfill their expectations, but sometimes life throws a lesson at us that we could never have seen coming.
If you’ve been in the business long enough, you have likely encountered a situation where the audience has collectively told you exactly what they want of you; and you of course, tried to give it to them. The signs are varied and hard to read, but a perceptive performer can “feel” an audience and react accordingly. Maybe they want you to go a little slower, or a little faster, or be more gentle, or be more sharp and slightly abrasive. We have all gotten these signals from our audiences and have attempted to accommodate them when possible.
The most extreme case of this was when I was hired to perform for a birthday party, way back in 1980. It was for the 8-year-old child of the former Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract star, Arlene Dahl, who achieved notability during the 1950s, and was once married to Fernando Lamas. I arrived at her Upper West Side NY apartment and was told I would do my show in her son’s room. OK, a challenge, but not insurmountable. But then I met “the boys”.
The boys were an elite collection of every rude, hyper, out-of-control kid in Manhattan. Ten seconds into my show, I knew I was doomed. They were yelling, and throwing things, and jumping on the bed. And then, as I was pondering the whereabouts of a fraidy cat rabbit, a boy hit me in the face with a pillow. Just then, something magical happened. At that moment, we all came to an unspoken understanding. It became evident to us all, that we should abandon the show and that they should gather around and pummel me with pillows. I sat on the ground, with my hands over my head, and they started wailing on me with pillows and stuffed animals. This went on for about 10 minutes, with the occasional break for bouncing on the bed. And suddenly they were done. They ran out of the room to see if the cake was ready.
Collecting my show gear, and myself, and I starting to leave. I ran into Ms. Dahl and she was smiling broadly as she payed me. She said that her son told her that it was his best birthday party, ever. She never knew what went on in that bedroom, but her son was happy, and that’s all that mattered to her. Sometimes you gotta give ‘em what they want.