I have identified as an artist for as long as I can remember, whether it be in terms of my various forms of writing (short stories, novels, poems), my acting, and now my directing and play-writing. I am an artist through and through. I’m also an avid audience member. I enjoy seeing theatre just as much as I enjoy making it (well, maybe not just as much, but you get where I’m going). I enjoy the privilege of being both artist and audience member, producer of art and consumer of art.
With that being said, I believe that there is a partnership between artists and audience members. And there are some people on either side that sometimes tow the line as to the rules of this partnership.
Quick(ish) story: I went to a Lauryn Hill concert on April 15th in Brooklyn. The tickets were purchased a good month and a half in advanced, and Ade (my best friend) and I were stoked. Like super duper stoked! I was listening to Lauryn Hill on repeat for like four days just to prepare for this concert. The concert was originally going to start at 9. The day before the concert, patrons received an email from the venue stating two new things: 1) there were now going to be 8 opening acts and 2) the concert was going to begin at 8 and go later than anticipated. “Okay,” I thought, “I can work with that.” Ade and I had no interest in seeing the opening acts, mostly because we didn’t know any of them and didn’t really like the fact that their presence was being sprung on us. So, we decided that we were going to aim for arriving at 9:30. While on the train, Ade mentioned that she’d heard Lauryn Hill was notorious for showing up late to her concerts. I figured that it really couldn’t be that bad, ya know? Like, no one is super later to concerts and known for it. It’s just something you don’t do. Plus, we were arriving an hour and a half later than the start time. My thinking was that we’d get there just in time. We arrived a little before 9:30 and took our seats. And then we proceeded to sit through at least five opening acts. BRUH. -_-
I was confused as to how we arrived an hour and a half “late” and they weren’t mostly through or even done with the opening acts. Opening acts do just that: they open. They don’t have half-long concerts, especially when their presence was just announced twenty-four hours ago. I think it was around 11 when the opening acts finally finished, and Ade and I still had some of the excited energy in anticipation for Lauryn Hill. Lauryn Hill did not come on stage…until one in the morning. Yes, you indeed read that correctly. ONE IN THE MORNING! She did not come on the stage until two hours after her opening acts were finished.
The audience both cheered her name and booed her within seconds. The poor DJ started playing some of her songs just to keep us at bay. Ade took two naps in the span of that time, and I made several Snapchat updates when I should have been enjoying a concert by an iconic black artist. At one in the morning, Lauryn Hill decided that it would be a good time to finally appear. I can’t speak for Ade, but I know that I, for one, was not impressed with the show. The audio was horrible (it took at least a minute to know which song she was actually singing), she did weird and unheard of remixes, and I heard the band more than I heard her. She had been on stage for maybe fifteen minutes when I turned to Ade and asked her if I should tell my parents to start heading over to Brooklyn. She agreed, even though our thinking was that we would end up missing a good chunk of the performance since they would arrive in probably thirty to forty minutes. NOPE. My parents arrived a little bit before 2AM, and the concert was ending.
So, in summary: we had to sit through unannounced and unknown opening acts for two hours (three hours if you were someone who arrived to the theatre at 8), then sit through two hours of no entertainment on stage, and then sit through an hour long concert that wasn’t even worth a fourth of the ticket price. I was thoroughly pissed off. Yet Lauryn Hill continues this behavior. After showing up two hours late to a concert in Atlanta, she released this statement on her Facebook page.
Someone I knew who was aware of my horrid experience at this concert tagged me in the comments section and asked if I accepted her apology. As an artist myself, I know that sometimes our artistic energy doesn’t always align with what we have to do, but that’s something we must learn to manage. And it’s a pretty lame and unacceptable excuse from a woman who has been performing and creating music for as long as she has. When you are consistently late for something, especially something people have paid money for and traveled to, it is supremely inconsiderate and rude. I value her talent, but it is very clear that she does not value the time of her fans and the audience enough to even make the effort to be timely.
So, no, I don’t accept her apology.
Being an artist doesn’t give you a pass in the department of common courtesy. Being an artist does not mean that you can continuously arrive to performances late and expect audiences to just deal with it because your damn energies weren’t aligned. Um, excuse me? How long have you been doing this? If I know I need a thirty minute warm-up before I perform a play, then I’m going to make sure that thirty minute warm-up happens, even if it needs to happen in chunks, or on my way to the theatre for my calltime, or if it means creating a shrunken version of it. Being an artist doesn’t mean that you can treat people the way you want and blame it on the fact that you are an artist. So, while I get wanting to perform at your best, we artist are usually our harshest critics. What we see as 50% is usually perceived as 100%, and what we see as a C- performance, others may see as a B+ performance. As artists, we cannot fail to perform in all senses of the word for fear that we will not perform at our best. Being an artist means accepting that sometimes we fail. Sometimes we perform, and we feel it in our gut that it wasn’t our best. Sometimes there’s a day where the entire world is falling around us, but we have an artistic obligation to keep performing (as long as our mental health is not in danger). I don’t accept the excuse that her energies weren’t aligned before each of the shows that she has showed up late to. True artists respect the fact that when we create venues to show our work and people attend, that we owe these people- our audiences – a great deal of gratitude and respect. Our audiences make us do our best each and every time. While we may give ourselves 50% in the rehearsal room or during the process, we want to give 100% to those who support us and even to those who do not.
On the flip side, being an artist is sometimes extremely difficult. People sometimes just don’t get what goes on in our heads, that we’re juggling three different voices at once: our artistic voice, our public voice, and our personal voice. Being an artist sometimes means that we must pick between the burning desire to create and the life-numbing obligation to do everyday tasks. Being an artist is having an idea you love but being afraid of sharing it because you don’t want anyone else to steal it. Being an artist is putting your heart and soul on display and not realizing you’ve been holding your breath for two hours. Being an artist is baring your soul and giving others permission to critique it. Artists create art and the masses enjoy it. That’s the agreement we’ve all signed as a society.
So, as an audience member, I must respect the work, dedication, and bravery that goes into every piece of art I am blessed enough to see. As an audience member, I realize that artist are people, as well, and they mess up. Being an audience member means being able to separate bad performance from bad artistry from bad content, while still appreciating the fact that I was presented something from the depths of another person’s brain. We can spend years knowing someone and still never see them pour their heart and soul into something, but we expect total strangers in the form of artists to do it over and over again effortlessly, as if it’s a switch they can turn on and off. Being an audience member means realizing when I’ve set the standard too high.
In this instance though, I don’t think the standard has been set too high for Miss Lauryn Hill. The only thing her audiences want from her is timeliness and a good performance, and if you piss us off right off the bat with extreme untimeliness, we’re not going to be too forgiving on that latter standard (plus, the performance I saw was substandard regardless). Artists and audiences have a relationship, and just like any other relationship, it’s give and take, but those on both sides on the relationship need to realize when they’re taking too much and not giving enough.
Let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!