The last five days I have been ill. And I mean ill. Not sick or under the weather, but ill. As in suffering from an illness. Dizziness, nausea, headaches, stomach aches, aching joints, aching back, aching everything, not to mention a few other symptoms that would be a little less then tasteful to describe here. The doctor told me I had picked up a “germ” and would have to let it run it’s course. Well, it’s still running said course, maybe a little slower, but it definitely hasn’t stopped. Let’s say I’m feeling almost better.
While spending the better part of a week in bed I did the following: watched movies, played video games, watched more movies, played more video games, and of course got some work done. That’s right, I had some work to do. Even though I couldn’t leave my house and had trouble standing, I worked. I prepared for my level 1 class that’s starting this weekend, ran a rehearsal (in my living room), and finished a few other shop keeping type stuff. I know, lame. But what can I do? And this brings me to the purpose of this post: when you’re a one-man (or woman) operation, you don’t get sick days, and if you can’t make it to work, no one can cover for you. So what do you do?
I think this is an issue amongst artists more then other types of professionals (I’m sure other one-person operations have to deal with this too, but hear me out). Artists sell themselves, or their art. Not just any product or service, but a very intimate product or service. If the artist can’t be there for their show, well then, it’s not their show anymore is it. And it’s not easy to cancel an event, because people have bought tickets, flyers have been made, sets have been built, and of course the chorus of cliches chanting “The show must go on!”
Does this mean we can’t get sick? Does this mean all performers should take daily doses of echinacea and Emergen-C? It wouldn’t hurt, but it wouldn’t necessarily help. People get sick. Sicknesses get people. Prevention only takes you so far, however, I think preparation can take you the rest of the way.
I don’t have employees, I don’t want employees. Too much work. And I don’t have any partners, they’re too hard to find. So I can’t just prepare my co-workers to cover for me. So, what do I have? Colleagues. People within my profession (be it improv, or poetry) who I am on good terms with. We’ve worked together. We’ve worked with each other (not for each other) often enough that if one of us got sick, the other could (and would) step in and fill their need. It’s not that they would do my show, but they’d do at least a similar show, or workshop, or talk, or whatever that would meet the need of my audience.
It’s in these moments of sickness, or tragedy, that a community can really come together and cover for each other. Maybe my simple flu wasn’t one of those occasions, but it does make you think. What if it was worse and I couldn’t make my class on Sunday? What if I had to miss a show? Do I have someone to cover for me? Of course I do. Because I’m part of a community.
Building a community, and forming relationships with your colleagues and others in your field of expertise is the only solution I see to this problem. I’m not going to cancel a gig because of the flu or some stupid cold. This sickness might have beaten me, but I’m part of a community of artists, part of something larger, and together we’re immune to any illness.