Be the Ideal Audience: Creativity and Live Performance

One of the highlights of the Chicago Writers Conference (which, you may recall, I was quite excited about) was listening to writers read their work—live and onstage. At the kickoff party at Open Books, I saw, heard, and felt some hilarious and bittersweet pieces, including stories from performers who are regulars at This Much Is True. I knew this city had a thriving improv community, but I had only an inkling of Chicago’s live-lit scene. Allow me to not hide under that rock anymore.

I log a lot of hours in this office. I’m in front of a screen (at least one) for a full-time-plus life, and I dedicate even more time to taking in as much information as I can about editing, writing, and the rest of the publishing industry. I love this little world I’m creating, but I admit that sometimes my day-to-day grind feels very narrow. When I get out—for readings, live music, other shows—I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the experience. I am right there with these performers. Here are people taking what’s been inside their heads and releasing it for everyone else to consume, critique, enjoy.

Making creativity your life’s work isn’t just admirable—it’s powerful. I feel like the ideal audience, because the sweat and magic involved in creation aren’t just ideas I believe in. They are guttural, primal feelings—feelings I know without having to think about them.

Last week I was at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I was there to see Mark Lanegan, whose voice is like whiskey, gravel, clouds, and broken glass. I could listen to him read from the phone book. On stage, he closes his eyes and stays in one place, but why would I need him to dance or strut like a rock star when every note he sings rumbles through my chest and hits me in the gut? His songs are rich with love and loss, beauty and darkness (like all memorable songs). It was an amazing show.

I knew Mark would be great, but what I didn’t know was how open I was that night to the whole experience of live music and how it would fill the well and replenish my devotion to creativity. I didn’t realize it until I heard the first note of the opening act from Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss. I wanted to cry. That gratitude thing just welled up inside me. In cities all over the world, singers and songwriters and artists are toiling away, perhaps in little offices like mine, working late, getting up early, so they can put their words and stories out there, for people like me to receive. Such a heavy, unspoken contract between the performer and the audience. You expose your raw emotions and stories to me, and I will receive them. Openly.

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2 Responses to “Be the Ideal Audience: Creativity and Live Performance”

  1. Mare S. says:

    Cassandra, thanks for the shout out, and also thanks for this reminder. It’s so important (and also inspiring) to be out and about soaking in as much life/fun/creativity that this city has to offer.

    I find that when I’m stuck in one area (like on a business or writing problem), I just step away, and take a walk, go out to hear music or live lit, and I either get a new/better idea, or it may just help me approach my problem with fresh eyes.

    • EditCassandra says:

      Thank *you*, Mare, for organizing such a wonderful conference! I’m so glad I decided to attend. Everyone I met or rubbed electronic elbows with via CWC has inspired me to keep getting out there and seeing everything our city has to offer us creative types. 🙂

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