On Witnesses

My sketch team performed today for the New York Sketch festival, for 30 minutes. It was our strongest, most polished show so far.

The audience was small. There were eight people I knew – my parents, the couple that owns the house where I live, two friends from college, one friend from high school, and one friend from my last job. There were also six people my teammates knew. There was one person we didn’t know, and a few theater employees, and the sketch team that played before us. And there were some people we never saw who moved in to the back of the theater after the show had started.

Everyone I knew who saw it enjoyed it, and that mattered a lot to me, and I feel great about the show. The dark side is that the feedback can create a kind of greed for witnesses. Already, I find myself wanting more people to see the show. The need for witnesses in performance and other creative expressions is terrifying to me, because it seems like something that just doesn’t happen in normal life. I like to be immersed in moments, try to do the best thing of things that appear, explore what interests me, focus on what I’m creating without looking around to see who’s looking. I like this small focused, world; I like focusing on the quality of an experience or action rather than its centrality, size, or importance.

But I do enjoy attention, too. And the pursuit of that joy seems dangerous, like something that might take me away from what I really love, or cause me to take from people and not to give, or throw off my balance. Or that it may make it harder for me to adjust to the smallness of any individual existence, and the difficulty of expressing anything, really. Or that it might keep growing, and require more feedback for the same effect.

My intuition is that the answer is always to maintain the focus on things I care about, and to enjoy the attention, especially when it is earned and reflects a real connection, but not to get caught up in it. But it sometimes is hard for me to maintain confidence in my intuition, or maintain focus on things I care more deeply about in the face of quicker and more accessible pleasures.

It’s something to think about.


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