For a few months, I saw the same singer’s success plastered over my Facebook wall. They were the Ray-Bloody-Purchase to my Toast. They won a prize I wasn’t even shortlisted for, got a role in a company who wouldn’t hear me (twice) and - worst of all - seemed pleasant and humble. They could at least have had the grace to be a real bastard, then I could hate them in peace.
This singer wasn’t even my voice type. There are many, to some extent interchangeable, and dare I say excellent sopranos who it would make perfect sense to envy, but I don’t - at least, not in the same fiery, obnoxious way. These are the petite, blonde, high-note brigade, who I love, because they are me. My envy is perverse and illogical.
Social media is a real crap weasel when your ego is precarious, and especially when you’re a performer. And whose ego isn’t precarious? All it takes is a couple of humble-brags, viewed on a day off (no matter how rare that may be) to derail our sense of worth. I’m as guilty of the much-maligned ‘delighted to announce’ post as the next person. But if you’re a freelancer, such self-promotion is a necessary evil. We have no job security, so we polish our public image and woo prospective employers with our colourful feathers. If we don’t publicise, no-one knows who we are, and we don’t get booked. These tweets are subliminal ticker tape, declaring ‘you should hire me, because I’m busy, and therefore a safe bet’ on loop.
A few years ago, such publicity was safely confined to PR firms, venue or company marketing teams, and programme notes - all of which could be avoided easily enough, and which are rarely the responsibility of the artist themselves. Today, we’re our own agents, promoters and marketeers, and the pressure to ‘be seen’ is overwhelming.
The flipside is that we as individuals get lost in the noise of our curated, professional selves. Where is authenticity? Where is the space to be human and imperfect? And where is generosity and forbearance towards our colleagues - themselves struggling and flawed, just like us? Your latest promotional post might be the last thing a fellow performer wants to see that day. Perhaps they just lost out on a dream job, missed a concert due to childcare complications or haven’t seen their more successful spouse in weeks because they’re busy touring. Whatever it is, we could do with the occasional reality check.
So, in solidarity with my fellow performers, and at risk of being maligned by ‘the industry’ - which, after all, is just made of people - here are some of my recent tweets, complete with gritty underbelly. I hope it makes us all feel better.
What I was really thinking:
‘If I make a big deal about the fact that I’m busy now, no-one will notice that I have fuck all coming up from September. Literally nothing. Not a single concert. Nowt. And nope, no savings from the stuff I did do, because it’s all gone on childcare. Also - this photo is five years old.’
Post #2: A picture of my adorable baby, with accompanying gushing comment.
Subtext: ‘I love my baby more than words, but having a child means career suicide. People don’t hire you. Better show I can do it all - take a on a mad performing schedule AND be a wonderful mother. Hope no one notices that I’m so tired I’m constantly close to tears. And fatter than I used to be. With new grey hairs.’
There are others, but I’m tired now. I have a baby, after all. And a job - for now. Love to you all.