Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sticker Shock

  This past Sunday I headed into the city to see a 2pm show and possibly drop in on a Tony party.

When I bounded from the boat, down into the station and onto the 1 train, I sat across from a gentleman wearing this sticker.

As a "performing artist" trying to remain alive and knowing several others who consider themselves to be the same, it resonated with me.

I had just had an experience where I asked to take a picture of someones bag and they said no. Since, however, I learn nothing from any past experience EVER, I asked again in this case instead of just going with the stealth cellphone shot. I was rewarded by being told I could have the sticker itself.

(word? gimme.)

He then volunteered that he got it from an art fair not far from the ferry. The artsy types out on the island are mostly concentrated in the area near the ferry and I've seen people with tables out with their wares before: visual art.

After I accepted the sticker and placed it smoothly and firmly upon my own shirt, it occurred to me that the intended meaning was different from the way I read it. I read it as "artists existing/subsisting as artists". Coming from visual arts/handcrafts fair, it occurred to me the more literal meaning: support artists who are still ALIVE.

Still a sentiment I could get with and still open enough to interpretation to fit my more specific needs, I thought it would be a nice sentiment since I would spend at least part of the day at a show and another part of the day among people in them/trying to get in them.

After the exchange with him, I decided to switch to the 3 train at Chambers.

At 14th Street a young woman with short locks, a backpack and folder hopped onto the train. I was standing in the doorway opposite of where she came in, and she immediately smiled at me. At the time I thought it may have been a bit of the common recognition that happens among those of locked hair. Then, once I saw she was busking, I thought it may have just come from that bit of openness that comes with salesmanship.

For a second, I thought she may have been just riding the train and in a rare (for the city) good mood. Then she opened a folder and began impassioned exhortation for support for her artistic endeavors. She showed examples of her visual art and explained that she has kids and was trying to support herself and her family via her art.

This is not particularly uncommon. Well, it's not AT ALL uncommon on the subway.

There was, however, a performative aspect to it that caught my attention. It seemed to be, if not written,  a rehearsed piece that specifically referenced common means of avoiding giving attention to train buskers (" put down your book and LISTEN to me) and intrigued me enough to lift an earphone off so I could hear it (and maybe so she would know somebody was listening).

I will now add that I am EXPERT at ignoring train performances and have a particular, high standard for what I will pay attention to. I am willing to give you attention - but I need you to have PRACTICED YOU SH!T and have some understanding of theatricality.

(I mean YOU breakdancers/hat dancers/singers)

What also struck me about her was that on the outside of her folder, I could see the info for her GoFundMe account. Again, different from the average and more in line with the people I know rather than just another person hustling on the subway.

As she finished, I pulled out my wallet to give her a dollar. I also had the idea to give her my card - I think as  form of solidarity. Or maybe to say, "hey, I take you seriously,".

She came over, I handed it to her, she thanked me adding, "that's what I'm talking about. Can I give you a hug? You 'bout to make me cry up in here.".

This time I could plainly tell she was referencing the sticker...

And I thought it might just be about adding a little more to the presentation, but I gave her a hug anyway.

And it was a real, firm hug.

And when we released, she did have tears running down her cheeks.

I said something encouraging, wishing I could come up with something more poignant. I suddenly glanced out of the doors to check the stop when the opened and back out onto the platform.

I regret not asking her name.

People in my building have recently found out that I'm an actor (due to a certain NY Lottery commercial). Sometimes...I guess even often, when people hear you are an actor, they will compare their "normal" job to it. They way this happens varies, but the insinuation is that they have a "real" job; they would love to get to do an "easy" job like yours.

Living as an artist is hard enough. Trying to live off of your art is even harder.

It is real. It is not easy.

And no one (including artists) seems to understand just how integral artists are.

At some point I will likely come here and wax long about my views on how poorly artists contextualize the tangible, literal, pragmatic importance of what they do.

For now, just this:

support living artists.

edit: while walking along 6th ave last week, I saw her heading west (yes, among the 8 million people in Manhattan any given day). Her name is Sha. This is her GoFundMe

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