In the movie, The Princess Bride, the character Fezzik talks about how fighting one man is different than fighting a group. (It is right around 1:35) In fact, according to the powerful giant, it can be tougher to fight one person than a group.
It a lesson I relearned this past week when we were hosting a one person show. When we have a group of people visit to perform, even if they number as small as three, they are generally mutually reliant and supporting. They work out their schedule among each other and get themselves where they are going. With a single person, the dynamic changes and the relationship with them can become more intimate.
I had approached last week thinking that the group before had presented little difficulty and how much less a problem an individual would be. In some respects it was, but in many other aspects the performer’s visit consumed much more of my time and attention than most groups do.
For example, groups generally take their meals together be it catered in house or driving to a nearby restaurant. Smaller groups might invite staff and crew to take meals with them but with an individual, the opportunity presents itself more often and feels natural. Last week I ended up eating dinner out more times than I ever have since moving here. I was late or missed events I frequent weekly as a result.
While I regularly escort performers to their hotel after meeting them at the airport, there are times I don’t if they feel comfortable driving themselves. Last week I waited around 4 hours to escort him while he unpacked and set up at the theatre. Sure I would have rather gone home, but he was in a strange city, it was raining and while it is easy to get to the hotel, he didn’t have anyone to help him navigate.
Working with an individual performer doesn’t always present challenges. The dinner conversation was great. In fact, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to take him around to a more diverse group of restaurants. Last year I was driving a single performer to the theatre to rehearse and took a 20 minute detour to a scenic overlook because the she kept admiring how beautiful it was and I knew she would appreciate the view. These usually aren’t options that even enter consideration with groups. One’s relationship with individuals is more likely to feel like a guest and host or even familial interaction.
In some situations, dealing with a single person is less difficult if they relax their expectations. For most of the week we had our hospitality set up moved from our green room to the scene shop because it was less trouble to grab water, coffee, cookies and fruit from the stage. Generally performers are less keen about getting their coffee next to a table saw.
When we talk about customer service, speak of treating every individual as if they are the most important person. But if this type of experience has reminded me of anything, it is that the standard of care rendered to people has to be anything but. People in groups often get a lot of what they need from their companions. Dealing with individuals sometimes thrusts the role of a companion upon you by default.
Part of the point I am trying to make isn’t so much about having a separate way of dealing with a single person at the box office versus a group that comes to buy their tickets as it is an attempt to create a metaphor about being mindful of the dynamic that group size dictates. Our audience had as different a relationship with the single performer as I did. It may seem self-evident in your mind that the experience would be different, but there are assumptions about what will happen that we automatically project on our experience based on past experience that simply are not valid. In such cases, operating as business as usual may yield disappointing results for audience, artist and staff.