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Jack79's avatar

"The Show Must Go On"....mustn't it?

Asked by Jack79 (11027points) August 28th, 2009

“The show must go on” has been my life motto. I’ve done radio shows on days when someone close died, or my girlfriend left me. I was teaching a class when my first daughter died, and I am playing in a theatre when the second one is miserable and in imminent danger. I did concerts, sang and danced on days when I wanted to commit suicide. And I never even thought of it twice.

Most of you know the situation with my daughter, but if you don’t, it’s ok. Let’s just say things are bad in my private life. I recently collapsed right after a show, but made sure even then that nobody noticed. I just hid in a corner while everybody else was busy signing autographs and talking to people. Whoever was looking for me just assumed I was somewhere in the crowd. For me this has always been my way of life and I never even thought much about it. Looking back, this last performance was a piece of cake, exactly because I had so many serious issues to worry about, that trivial little details such as forgetting my words or being crap on stage did not bother me the least.

But today the aunt of one of the protagonists died. She also came to the rehearsal despite that, and she’ll be playing tomorrow (we can’t do it without her). She is my best friend, so we talked a lot afterwards, and she said that first of all she could not get her aunt out of her mind the whole time, which happens to me too (I’m on stage thinking about my daughter, even when I dance, sing and laugh). But she also said she felt guilty that her aunt had died and she was at the theatre as if nothing had happened. For me, this has always been unthinkable. The show must go on. No matter what. I was once at an open-air concert and it started raining heavily. I did not stop playing, nor did I leave the stage before even the last member of the audience had disappeared. Besides, there was nothing she could do for her aunt.

My actual question is:
1) have you been in similar situations, when something extreme happened in your life, but you carried on with “business as usual” (doesn’t have to be a show) out of a sense of duty to what you were doing?
2) What’s your take on this? Should my friend feel guilty? Should I? It’s not really that we’re having fun, it’s just that there is nothing we can do to solve the problem, so we continue doing our duty towards something else. It’s just that when it’s show business, it’s more extreme because you have to hide your emotions.
3) Has anyone found this kathartic? I know I’m supposed to, but don’t. Most of the other actors agreed that the theatre helps them forget their problems, at least for those couple of hours. One girl even said she feels better afterwards. I always feel worse, except on that last occasion, where I put minimum effort in the performance and just do the chores. It’s not that I don’t play well or make mistakes, it’s that I put so much more effort into everything else, that the performance for me is a bit like driving a car or making a meal. You can still do it properly if you’ve done it enough times, but it’s no big deal. There’s no actual effort going into it after a while.

Sorry for the long question. So what do you think?

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33 Answers

PerryDolia's avatar

I was in a play over the weekend after president Kennedy was shot. We were doing a comedy! We took the attitude that the show must go on because it is a dedication to the audience. They came to the theater to enjoy the show, so the show had to be there.

On another level, I think “the show must go on” is different from “you must go on.” You can take time for yourself and the show can still go on. You need to avoid the show or participate in the show whatever works for you. But, for the troupe and the theater, yes, the show must go on.

dalepetrie's avatar

I think it’s a matter of personalities. Some are of the same opinion as you, some aren’t. If someone can’t do something because of a tragedy, it’s not because being somewhere else could help, it’s a matter of you just can’t get the bad thing out of your head for long enough to be effective at what you’re doing. I think if you need time to grieve and you’re the kind of person who just needs to wallow in pity, then so be it, doesn’t make you better or worse than someone who finds going on with the show to be either cathartic or just necessary. I believe if I have a responsibility, I should strive to meet that responsibility no matter what, but if something unexpected sidelines me, well, que sera sera, I have to look out for my own emotional well being.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I have not ever been faced with such an ordeal. But Al Yankovic has. Here’s how he dealt with it.

cwilbur's avatar

I think carrying on with business as usual is one of the ways that people heal and recover from a major event. I think guilt is counterproductive—if it helps you, or your friend, then you should do it; if not, you should not do it. Doing it, finding that it helps or that it’s neutral, and then feeling guilty about it is not useful.

And cathartic—it can be. I was asked to sing at my grandmother’s funeral, and it was incredibly difficult, but it was also one of the things that helped me get through that day.

Jack79's avatar

Thank you for your answers so far. Here’s another point, even though it is not directly related to show business, it shows a lot about how people may deal with grief:

A couple of years ago I met Kerry Grist. She is the mother of Ben Needham, who has been missing for the past 17 years. I was hired by ITN (a tv station in the UK) to act as an interpreter, but due to my experience as a former journalist I also did some background research, and also drove them around the island and showed them various places. Anyway, one of the things that struck me back then was that, after the interview was over and the camera was off, Kerry said “ok, I’ll just go get my bikini and then we can all go to the pool for a swim”. And I thought “how can this woman be thinking of a swim in the pool when her son is missing? Shouldn’t she be looking for him?”. Over the past 8 months I have come to understand her way of thinking and how sometimes you do not really have a choice, as people may thing. It’s either the swimming pool or taking a gun and starting shooting down people. And when you hear about all these “crazy gunmen” or “suicide bombers” or “serial killers” on TV, remember that their only other option was to go to the pool instead.

YARNLADY's avatar

To my way of thinking, it depends on the individual. Many celebrities have suffered severe tragedies, and yet continue to perform. I experienced the sudden loss of my first husband, but because of my young infant, I went through each day as if I was asleep or in a dream. My family took care of me and the baby. I finally woke up and learned how to deal.

Some people turn to self-destructive release such as drugs, and some people simply giveup and become a burden on society.

FB's avatar

They cancelled my outdoor gig tonight in NYC due to rain. Pissed off about it. Really. But, out of my hands, so, I took my own two hands and my acoustic guitar, went into the nearest subway. Did the gig. It was a “happening”. People dug it. Had a blast. Busking. Made a couple of $$. Gave it to a homeless gal. She had been sitting on the sidelines tapping to the beat upon her dusty thigh. I said to her, “Hey, here, take this, go get something good and healthy to eat. OK? Take care of yourself. Promise? I’ll be gigging on this subway platform again someday, and I can always use a good percussionist!”

I mean, the show must go on…mustn’t it?

hearkat's avatar

Going in to work after the death of my Grandmother – she was in Europe and I am in the US, so I would not be attending any services… I could not justify inconveniencing my patients and coworkers if I did not have somewhere else to be.

September 12, 2001 was a rough day to resume normal activities, too. Here were thousands of people who were dead (or at that time, hopefully just missing) just a few miles from where I was working. Their loved ones were roaming the streets of New York, hoping to find them wandering in shock. I couldn’t fathom that anyone would come in to have a hearing test that day, but as a single mom, I needed to collect my paycheck, so I went in—and to my surprise, there were patients who kept their appointments.

wildpotato's avatar

I’m a musician, but I hate performing and mostly play for myself, so I have little background experience to call upon from the ‘actor’ side of the situation. But whenever I play, in front of others or not, the only thing I can do is think only of the music, and occasionally of what my fingers are doing. I can’t even imagine being so used to performing that I could do it on mental autopilot.

I don’t go to many live shows nowadays, but I’ve been to a respectable number, so I’m gonna call upon that experience more. My favorite part (besides the material) is always the connection I feel between me, the rest of the audience, and the performers. I’ve never been able to tell when the performers’ minds were elsewhere – but I imagine that if I ever had any suspicion that this were the case, I’d feel like a great deal of what makes the show special had been lost. So I’d say that part of your responsibility to your audience includes knowing when it might not be such a great thing for the show to go on.

@FB yeah, the rain this weekend sucks! Glad you had a fun day, you buskerfolk are awesome.

marinelife's avatar

I can’t live with the harsh, unrelieved tragedy 100% of the time. Does it affect my life and abilities? Sure. But I work anyway so I can be distracted for a little while.

teh_kvlt_liberal's avatar

@FB I always love a good show on the subway! I wish I can get the chance to see you play

cyndyh's avatar

For me it depends on the type of things I’d be doing that day. If I’m supposed to interact with a lot of people in a way that I have to think about what I’m doing, maybe not. If I’m supposed to be doing something that I can do on autopilot, it’d probably help me to keep working. If I’m doing something that’s more physical than mental, it’d probably help me to keep working.

I’d say to let your friend deal with things however she needs to deal with them. No one should feel guilty. Just don’t push her.

Judi's avatar

My son was a skinney little 12 year old who we now know is bipolar. He was spiraling out of control and I was begging for help. I asked the school for an individualized Education Plan.
Instead of comming back to me with a plan they had him arrested and thrown in Juvinile Hall. It was right after Columbine and he had a manic episode and screamed “I hate you, I hate, you, I want to kill you,” to a teacher.
Being a tiny, upper middle class kid with no street smarts put in that awful place. He was an obvious mark.
I was ½ useless, but I still went to work for those 2 weeks he was gone. I visited, hired attorneys and did everything I could, but I still had to pay the bills.
Another girl in my office. About a year later, couldn’t possibly come to work because her husband was in jail for a DUI.
That must have been hardcand humiating, but I think if I could show up while my 80 lb kid is in jail with drug dealers and killers, she could show up when her 250 lb hard ass husband was in jail.

CMaz's avatar

It always does.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

In general it all goes on, yes
but if my child was in danger or another has died recently, no, for me, it wouldn’t go on…because they’re part of MY show and if they don’t go on, I’m not the same

wundayatta's avatar

Most people, I think, find a way to do what they need to do when they really need it (whatever it is). We are held in a mesh of relationships, and even when we are sick, we don’t want to let the people we care about down. Most people, I think, will keep on putting one foot in front of another until that last step is into the grave.

I think people also have an amazing ability to move on autopilot. Musicians and other artists can do this more easily, because the place that music comes from is different from the place that conscious thoughts come from. There is a link between them, but the music allows you to transform those emotions into your music, especially when you aren’t really thinking about it.

My first gig a few days after my band leader died (it was with another group of musicians), all I had to do was to keep my band leader in mind, and whatever it is in me that makes the music made those feelings come out. Afterwards, people came up to me and told me they didn’t know what it was, but the music I was making that night was powerful stuff.

It’s probably easier for me, because my music is all improvised. But even when I was sick, wanting to die, I’d still play, and it would move me outside of myself. I’d remember what I was going through, but the music took me somewhere else, and it healed me for an hour or two.

If you have something to do that really expresses your essence; whether it’s music or art or business; then I think even when you are thrown off balance by life’s blows, doing that thing you love and know so well, allows you to get your feet back underneath you. It helps you stand up again. It’s not that you’re ignoring the blow. You’re just using your source of strength to give you the space to process what just happened.

Just a thought.

Supacase's avatar

Regarding theater, concerts and the like, I would say it depends. Going on with things as normal may be what you need, but I paid a lot for the show and I want you to rock it instead of being on autopilot. I say this for a reason.

I went to see one of my favorite groups in concert a several years ago and it was FABULOUS! I went to see them a second time and you could clearly see that the lead singer and the lead guitarist were in bad moods. I don’t know if they were pissed off at each other or if one was pissed because the other was pissed and making the show suck, but the fact that they were just going through the motions was beyond obvious. I felt like I wasted my money and my excellent memories of the first performance have been eclipsed by those from the last show.

In life, sure, the show must go on. We need to keep plugging away when we want to curl up into a ball and hide in the dark. We need to, but some of us don’t always do it. I have personally been known to take a mental time out – a few hours, a few days, a month. Am I proud of that? Not in any way whatsoever. I wish I had found the fortitude to put one foot in front of the other. Eventually, though, the show starts moving along again and I can only hope it never takes an extended intermission again.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

My wife’s older brother’s girlfriend died unexpectedly a few years ago, and I wasn’t able to go to the service because my employer would have never given me the time off. I never asked for the time off, but the bastard I worked for was such a POS that I knew better than to ask. He expected me to work no matter what, sick, injured, or whatever.

I should have went anyway, but I didn’t, and I feel bad for not doing so.

Zen's avatar

I remember going to work one morning, the day after a young boy was killed in a car accident. I saw his father working as usual. I wasn’t close to them, so I didn’t say anything at all, not even to give my condolences. It got me thinking. Going to work the next morning after the death of a child? I’m not judging, I am just curious. I guess that’s how he dealt with it.

Jack79's avatar

@daloon good point about art coming from a different place than conscious thoughts, though for me it’s probably the same place. I think I’m different to most performers in that sense though. And I also remember a similar gig once, when the pain was unbearable, and people came after the show and congratulated me on how much “feeling” I had put into it. Of course I was singing Blues that night, so it was easy. I guess the result would have been different if I had been asked to perform at a birthday or wedding.

@aprilsimnel that message from Weird Al Yankovic was really enlightening as far as this discussion goes. Very interesting input, though I’m not at all like that. Getting on stage usually means putting my own feelings on hold, which bottles them up and makes them explode. At the same time, I feel the responsibility towards the audience that Supacase and others have suggested. And especially towards my fellow Thespians when there’s other people involved. Some of these people have worked for months for this, and my private life should not get in their way.

I think the actual content of the show also has something to do with it (that’s why we are referring more to shows than other activities). For example, doing comedy when you’re feeling bad means you have to hide your true feelings, but playing hard rock music when you are frustrated actually gives you an outlet for your emotions (I have felt that during jamming sessions). And then there’s the auto-pilot mode that hearkat described. I think this time for me is more auto-pilot than anything else, but for my friend it’s the first scenario (bottling up her emotions).

aprilsimnel's avatar

I think the key, for the moment, for your friend is within your question: There is nothing she can do for her aunt. I presume her aunt’s immediate family is handling burial and so on, and when your friend isn’t rehearsing or performing, then she can offer to help with whatever she can. Once someone is dead, though, it’s not as if there’s too much one can do besides offer a shoulder to cry on.

Jack79's avatar

I was not interested in the death itself so much, or the general coping with loss or other grief that all of us have to deal with in our lives. More interested to see how certain activities such as performing on stage, or perhaps teaching children, being a lawyer in a trial, holding an auction and other activities that require you to put on some sort of public mask have an effect on you. Whether the performance itself is holy and should go on whatever else happens, out of duty. And whether it is positive or negative in coping with the personal problems.

Seems from what people are saying that it’s different for every individual, and may also depend on the nature of the show (or other public task), as well as the problem itself, since as you rightly pointed out there are times we can’t do anything anymore.

I’m also not trying to help my friend (I can’t), just trying to figure out why she’s coping with it in a completely different way than I am.

One thing I forgot to mention about her: just like me, she has been a professional singer for many years, and this is her first theatrical experience (second for me). But we’re very different, because she is always nervous before going on stage, even after all these years, whereas for me it’s just a job. And the same with the theatre. I have no problems dealing with crowds, I feel just as comfortable in front of an audience as I do when I’m at home watching TV. Which is something that has also intrigued me when comparing the two of us.

JLeslie's avatar

I have a hard time summing up how I feel on this subject. When I was younger I felt like I couldn’t miss work. I got married during our busiest time of the year, and only took a couple of days off, and had my honeymoon months later. In retrospect I was an idiot! Most people would have taken the time off. This example is not the same as the ones above, because I could have planned the time off, it was not a sudden death or difficulty in my family. But, it is one of the things I look back on where I put work before a significant event in my life.

During the Gore/Bush presidential run, you will probably remember that Bush’s gig had a lot to do with “family values.” I will never forget watching an interview (I wish I could remember the journalist) in which they asked VP Gore, “if you had a family emergency and the country needed you, what comes first?” I think he answered incorrectly in my opinion, he actually leaned towards the importance of the family. You are the president, McCain’s slogan is right, country first! I mean you are the PRESIDENT, for those four years you do sacrifice family. The question was specifically that there is something “going on” in the country that day that needs attention, not a typical day. There are men and women every day who don’t make it to their child’s game, who don’t fly home when their elderly mom is sick, who let their spouse sit by the bedside of their sick child, because they have to work.

I think it depends on the profession. If you are a lawyer, I would guess if you have a trial the day that you find out bad news, you probably still go to work, but if you don’t have trial, and can push off some of the work, maybe you do take the day off. Doesn’t some of the decision depend on how many other people you are affecting if you do take the day off? I don’t know much about theatre, but I would guess you could be there for maybe just 4 hours and get the job done? Most people are at work 9 hours, so it is much more of your time taken away from your loved one, but of course if they are out of town this would not apply.

What is annoying is when we are so dedicated to work, especially when it is not our own financial need, but out of loyalty to our company or our clients, and then we see others in the same job and company take off all of the time and there is no negative reprocussion. We are either annoyed some other guy is getting away with it, or we are annoyed that we did not do it for ourselves when we had difficulties in our own personal lives.

Response moderated
Judi's avatar

@bumwithablackberry ; Why would you answer a question if you don’t even know what the question is?

Jeruba's avatar

“The show must go on” is one of the great and honorable traditions of show business. Doing what is in front of you to do and giving it your all no matter what else is happening in your life can be a great comfort and source of strength, whether it is performing on stage, writing your novel, sweeping the floor, or caring for the needy person right next to you.

I don’t think any of us has the right to judge how others deal with tragedy and deep distress. Sometimes just keeping our balance takes everything we’ve got. A routine that we follow or a commitment that we have to fulfill can be stabilizing, something to cling to when everything else goes to hell.

In the first distraught, shaky hours after the 9/11 attacks, my boss said, “Go home if you need to. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.” I said, “I need to be here. I need something to be normal.”

benjaminlevi's avatar

@Zen My uncle went back to work the day his mother (my grandmother) died. He really isn’t much of a people person.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Judi look at the profile – trollish user

Jack79's avatar

@JLeslie as far as the theatre is concerned, the performance itself is two hours, and that particular girl had a 7-hour preparation (she had to put on a fake nose, lots of special make up and so on for the particular role). If it was some sort of emergency (eg if she wanted to go to her aunt’s funeral) I suppose they could have started her later and done her in maybe 3 hours. But the aunt’s funeral was on a different island and she couldn’t travel there on time anyway. But the question was more about her feelings than the practical issues of whether you can make the time for other things.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jack79 As I said, I am not familiar with the theatre, and it makes sense that certain roles take more time to prepare each night than others. I think it goes back to when you are in a show so many people are affected if you don’t show up. The other actors, everyone who paid to come see you, etc. If you work at a desk and the majority of your job responsibilities can wait until the next day, no problem calling in sick or taking days to mourn.

Each profession is different, and each person is different. My sister during 911 was VERY upset. She lived fairly close to the towers, the air was thick, she had to show ID constantly to walk downtown, and she was affected greatly emotionally by the event. She is a nurse, and so even though she does at home care, on the day of the event she was called in like other medical staff to wait at the hospitals to handle emergencies. The health care workers became very sad when very few people were brought in for help, because they had the realization that either people were ok or they had perished. For the days following she continued to work at her regular job at home health care. She carries around a large back pack of items she needs that is very heavy and downtown there was no public transportation. She called me from the street crying a couple of times a day from exhaustion, physical pain, and sadness for several days. She had to help cover for nurses who had not made it in, plus her own pts. She continued to work because people needed their health care, at the sacrifice of her own physical and mental health.

bumwithablackberry's avatar

@Judi curiosity, wondering what would happen. That and I’m sort of a smug jack ass, proud beit and quite full of myself. Though I do thoughtfully contribute from time to time, I off set that with small experiments in chaos.

jsammons's avatar

When my dad died, I was only 11 and it was a very difficult time. I don’t remember actually being sad. I loved my dad though, he always took good care of me and we were very close Being that young and having that happen was very hard. A few weeks ago, while I was in class, I got a call from my mother telling me that my grandmother was in the hospital and they were trying to get her heart started back. I couldn’t leave class because I had to stay for the information the professor was giving out and they are pretty strict on missing classes. But I also knew that if I was at the hospital, it wouldn’t have made any difference. My grandmother recovered but there’s not telling how long she has, not very by any means. But you’ve just gotta keep going. If you stop for too long, you’ll get left behind.

HummerLady1950's avatar

Each person’s response is unique. I’m glad you are that the theatre..that works for you.
I, on the otherhand withdrew from everything and everyone except the children’s choir at my church. I am the awesome assistant. Those children were awesome. They made sympathy cars which I put in my husband’s jacket over his heart. I also put my wedding ring on his pinky and I am wearing his. That is a comfort.

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