Songs for the Struggling Artist


In Which I Learn AGAIN that Popularity Does Not Equal Quality, or A Show Called “Bike”
September 15, 2019, 8:01 pm
Filed under: art, musicals, theatre | Tags: , , , , ,

Hey girl. It’s me, yourself from a few minutes ago. I’m just writing you this little post from your past so that you can refer to it in your future the next time you’re feeling bad or insecure or despondent about how no one came to see your show or read your blog or listened to your podcast or your music or read your book. I’m going to need you to remember the nearly three hours you spent in the audience of a musical I’m going to call Bike. (It was not called Bike but I know someone who was in Bike and so I don’t want to name Bike’s actual title because the actors in Bike worked their butts off in a show that was awful and I don’t need to be a jerk about it.)

Bike is a genuinely terrible piece of theatre. By many objective measures, it is certifiably bad. If someone brought any component of this show to their class, be it in playwriting, stagecraft, directing, songwriting or choreography – they would be sent WAY back to the drawing board. No teacher of these crafts would stand for the shoddy workmanship I saw on that stage. I watched much of Bike with my mouth open in astonishment. It made no goddamn sense and was executed with a passionate sense of earnestness while somehow trying for camp and failing. Is earnest absurdity a thing? I feel that’s what I saw. But I don’t need to remind you, me, of all the ways Bike was terrible. You were there. You saw it. You survived. It was touch-and-go there round about hour two but you made it. And here you are on the other side.

What I do want to remind you of, future self, is that audience you watched Bike with. That audience LOVED Bike. They LOVED it. They leapt to their feet as soon as the curtain call began. They waited in droves outside the stage door for the performers. Many of them had flown from places very far away to see the show again. There were those who had come dozens of times. There were those who had followed the show from multiple countries and cities. These people loved Bike. They loved it SO MUCH.

And, future me, the show does not deserve this fan base. There is no good reason for its passionate popularity. Are there talented performers in it? Sure. They’re great but every single one of them deserved better songs to sing, better choreography to dance and most of all, a decent damn story to tell. I could understand if any of the individuals might have inspired individual fans but that’s not what happened here. The fans of Bike love Bike. They love it. They love the ham-fisted metaphors and the nonsensical non-story. They love the constricted dancing and the cardboard “characters.” They probably even love the shaky out-of-focus title card projected onto the opening curtain. And, future me, I need you to remember this the next time you think people aren’t showing up for your work because really, you think, your work is no good and no one wants to tell you. Listen and listen good, future me. Even your worst work is better than Bike. Not that it’s a competition. But where Bike has a passionate fan base and I have 15 people who show up for me – you might need that little reality check.

And, future me, if you’re so far in the future that you happen to have a hit, if you happen to make a show that people passionately show up for – remember this, then, too, that those numbers do not reflect quality. It could be that the worst thing you ever make will be the thing that hits. You have no control. Remember this lesson, future me. Wherever you fall on the popularity spectrum. Remember Bike. Try to forget the details – because you don’t need that brainstain – but remember Bike. And remember what your friend said to you as the actors milled about onstage in a listless pre-show wander before a blurry title projection. He said, “Never apologize for anything you put onstage again.” And now that I’ve seen Bike, I hope I never will. But if I do, and you catch me at it, future self or anyone else reading this, you need only say one word to me – and that word is Bike.

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[…] more. I’ve been following her work for quite a while now, but was especially intrigued by a recent blog post about popularity and its relationship to the quality of a piece of art. There’s way more to […]

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