People Really Do Get You
This week I donated my art, one of my sketch comedy characters, to directly help and organization. It was rewarding in a way that I wasn’t expecting.
This gig happened all because I went to a holiday market dressed as Mary Poppins. I wanted to promote my web mini-series Mary Poppins TAKES ON U.S. Education and I generally like to do crazy things in public.
The following Wednesday one of the people I met that day emailed me: “Can you come to my day program for adults with disabilities as Mary Poppins?”
I said yes immediately, but I honestly didn’t know what I would actually do. My version of Mary Poppins is sassy and irreverent, and she says things like “Word in the schoolyard indicates that you’re bogarting fat ass blunts of premium ku- ku- kush.” The non-profit rep assured me, “Don’t worry, they’ll love it!”
On the train ride there I decided that the simplest thing to do was to … give them Mary Poppins. If I am in her character then I’d figure it out, because Mary Poppins always knows the right thing to do. I hoped that I wasn’t deluding myself.
The community members were all waiting for me when I came into the room. I told a few jokes. They laughed. Then we started playing games that they were already familiar doing, but I gave them a Poppins twist. We had a “Spoon Full of Sugar” singing contest, a “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious dance jam, and a few other simple games. Then they asked questions and we took pictures.
It was really hard to know how this gig was faring. The disabilities that people in the room lived with ranged from mild to severe. Some people could walk, some had trouble, and some were in wheelchairs. There was also a variety of levels of verbal and cognitive ability. Sure, there was lots of participation, but there were lots of distraction with some people needing to leave and others just talking amongst themselves. No one was rude, it was simply their way.
I finished my presentation and walked over to get my bags, thinking, yeah, I might have just bombed.
Most people filtered out of the room, but one staff member stayed behind and smiled wide in my direction.
“I haven’t seen some of those folks participate, maybe ever.”
She went on to describe in detail all the ways that many of my audience haven’t yet involved themselves in the community or expressed themselves.
I suspect that it was not me that they should thank, but Mary Poppins herself.
The English nanny exudes this can-do attitude and sense of belonging. She believes that she has an innate right to participate in the world, and when we’re around her we feel this, too. Anything can happen, one step at a time. Spit spot.
While most of the audience probably couldn’t say that’s exactly why they engaged, I think that’s what they sensed. Other adults I met at that holiday market also implicitly understood this. They gravitated over to me, squealing, “OMG MARY POPPINS!!!!” while their kids popped their heads out of their carriage and away from their iPad for the first time that day.
It’s not just the character, because I’ve been other characters in public and they don’t quite get the same reaction. It is Mary’s whimsical essence that they want the most. She’s magnetic.
It made me see how much of the intent behind one of my characters, of any other kind of art, is understood by the audience. It made me see that next time I think that the audience doesn’t get me, it’s just that I don’t understand what I’m bringing to them.