Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Show Must Go

In show business, we have a little saying that gets us through the hard times.  "The Show Must Go On," we tell ourselves whenever we are worn down or just not not in the mood to play, as encouragement to ourselves to shake it off and do our job.  "The Show Must Go On," we tell our compadres when they're coughing and wheezing and achey and sneezing, as encouragement to get them on stage with us. And most of the time, it works. The show does go on.

Sometimes I think this is one of the best aspects of our profession, and other times I find it extremely ludicrous. I mean, most jobs are at peace with the idea that sick people don't go to work. They have (gasp!) sick days. I mean, it makes sense. If you're ill stay home, rest up and for goodness sake prevent the spread of your illness. But in music and the theater, at least in the circles I run in, sick days barely exist. The idea that you would stay home because you have a little thing like the swine flu is scoffed at.

I've played shows with people so sick that they could barely stand up backstage, gasping and wheezing and sometimes even puking, sweaty and on the verge of sleeping sitting up. And damned if they didn't summon the strength when it came time to get on stage to do it and do it well. I myself have performed with the stomach flu, the regular flu, a voice on the edge of collapse (many, many times), and when I was  so pregnant that every muscle, especially those in my feet, felt like they were on fire.  I've seen Ray muscle through a sprained wrist and laryngitis at the same time.  

In fact, almost every musician I know I has story like this one -- "One time I was so sick but played the gig anyway and had to keep a bucket next to me , and use it, while I played. I became known as that guy who puked on stage." (story courtesy Dave Sanger).

And theater people are no different. When we first did A Ride With Bob we had this run where half the cast got a terrible flu.  The green room became this huge sick bay, with cast members draped over the couches moaning and groaning as a giant fan blew on them and tried to relieve their fevers.  But as soon as it was someone's time to hit their mark, they hit it.

Which is why, Friday morning when Dave started complaining that he felt a little weird, and then a lot weird, and then so nauseous that he couldn't eat and then the room started spinning so he couldn't stand -- well it didn't occur to either of us that we wouldn't make the gig in Abilene that night.  We had planned on driving up there with the kids that day. Our nanny for the night would be Michelle Valles, or Tia Mitch as our kids call her. Since she and Ray are a couple it made sense for her to ride the bus up with him and meet us at the gig.

No extra person with us  meant I would need to drive the Baby Bus, even though due to my baby wrangling duties, I hadn't driven the Baby Bus at all in a couple of years. And I needed to get everything packed and get the kids ready to go alone because, well, my husband couldn't stand up.

Which I did. I packed up, drove to Abilene, even doing a solo stop for lunch in Lampasas.  Dave spent most of the ride in the Baby Bus bed, and just a little of it in the bathroom trying to rid himself of whatever ailed him. (We think it was food poisoning. From now on, we'll always heat our leftovers up, right Dave?!?!)

Luckily, the ick wore off a little bit after we got to town, and Dave was able to both help with the kids and play the gig.  And I'm going to say it, I felt and feel like a badass for singlehandedly taking the family on the road, if only for a few hours. Though I will admit that during the whole process I questioned what we were doing. Were we blindly following the tenet of shows going on no matter what? Should we have seen a doctor first instead? Should we have stayed home all together nursed Dave to health, show be damned. The right path wasn't clear at the time.

Is it ever? Maybe that's why we as performers really buy into the idea of nothing stopping the show. It gives us a clear path, it makes the decision for us.  You just have to show up, period, no excuses. And if you do that usually. hopefully, at the end of the day you will feel like a badass and have a good story to tell (or blog about)


Matt McCauley said...

I am a weekend warrior and went on the road for 5 years myself. The thing that always amazed me was that we DIDN'T get sick very often. In Pittsburgh, everyone had a chest cold. In Erie, it was the stomach flu. In Columbus, it was a head cold. I think being exposed to so many illnesses gives road musicians a super immune system. But, I can attest to the bucket story. I did it myself.

Matt McCauley said...

Oh, I put the wrong website up too. Don't want you thinking that I am some sort of crazy stalker. Although if you ever get out close to St. Louis, I would love to hear you guys. Asleep at the Wheel is, and has been, my favorite country band.

Monica Cravotta said...

Elizabeth! Missing you so much! I can't believe you've had another baby since I saw you last. How are you holding up on the road with two?? I got a job at another company and am working like crazy fantasizing about a sick day myself. Still supporting Anthropos. Remember them? Wondering if you're in town Nov 30 if you might want to come support a happy hour/fundraiser for them at Lustre Pearl? I can email you more details. You could come play/sing or just come! Hope to see you some time soon either way. XOXOXXO

Radiogumbo said...

Your words ring so true. We are a strange tribe, aren't we? What's always been interesting to me (especially in this age of everything-being-recorded-digitally-audio-and-video) is that when we wipe the puke and snot off and stumble onto bandstand and fight our way through the sickness and play the damn gig even though it's the last thing we'd ever want to do in that condition, the evidence shows that despite how wretched we feel, we sound just great. Nobody ever knows we're dying up there, they just assume we're having a ball because we sound like we are.