Songs for the Struggling Artist

What I Learned from an Old Train

Riding on the Holiday Nostalgia train (which runs every December) is an opportunity to step into the past a bit, to ride on an old train, read old subway ads, feel the breezes of open subway windows and the whir of the open blades of the fans in the ceiling. It is full of train aficionados and retro wardrobes. The inside of the train is a delightful confluence of diverse geekery.

My favorite part happens outside the train, however. I sit by the windows so I can watch the faces of the people on the platform as the train comes into the station. Almost no one expects this magical retro train to appear. I love to see people surprised by this mysterious arrival. What astounds me, however, are the vast variety of responses.

To me, the appearance of this train is a little miracle. I imagine that if I were on the platform and this train from the past just appeared out of nowhere, I’d be so delighted. I’d probably clap my hands with glee. To me, the proper response to this train is something in that territory. But very few people actually respond that way. More common is suspicion and confusion. I’ve seen people scowl at it or give the train the evil eye. The train is unexpected and many people are seemingly troubled by its arrival.

This tells me something about how people respond to art, too. I strive to create work that has the potential to be as delightful and unexpected as a nostalgia train and occasionally, I’ve gotten reactions that I haven’t understood. I have taken some of those reactions personally in the past. But the train shows me that that variety of responses is normal when exploring the world outside of the very day.

When I see something that is unexpected and delightful, I’m often surprised to find that everyone does not experience it that way. I think, as a theatre maker, I have, at times, really believed that an audience could have a uniform response to something. The nostalgia train shows me that they do not. Something that makes some people slack jawed with wonder will make others pulse with fury.

I have always thought that all people crave the wondrous, the unexpected, the extra-daily but the train has taught me that some people find it very disconcerting. I take this to heart and it helps me make the things I want to make, to not be dependent on the reaction of the audience but to just create the wonder I want to see, even if it makes people uncomfortable.


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I didn’t know of the Holiday Nostalgia train! Clapping my hands with glee here… 😉

Comment by Kim Beard

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