Always Give Your Best Show

Sprocket, Hahamongna

The sun gives its best show for my friend Sprocket, at Hahamongna Watershed Park

This past Wednesday was the first night of the Story Kitchen summer session. Story Kitchen is a writing workshop where we focus on structure, i.e., how to get your story from your brain to the page in the right order, so each part supports the other parts.

I like to keep the class small so everyone’s work gets plenty of attention. The summer class has three students. The other night, however, two couldn’t make it.

When I realized it would be just me and E., I thought about canceling. Then I remembered something that has not ceased to serve me as an artist: always give your best show.

When I was in the Second City National Touring Company years ago, we often performed at a suburban hotel in quite a large theater for quite small audiences. One evening, we looked out from behind the curtain to see only two people in the audience, a wife and husband.

We knew what to do. We threw ourselves into it, giving the best show we could, just for the two of them. We made them part of it, asked them questions, included them in scenes. Everyone had an absolute blast, and I remember that night more clearly than I remember other shows with audiences hundreds of times larger.

Authors often speak of arriving at a reading to find only a couple of people there. What do you do? You sit down with those people and get to know them. You let them get to know you. You give them the most personal, fascinating, exciting read you can possibly give.

It’s going to happen in your career if you’re an artist. You bring your best because a) your audience made a special trip to see you, maybe even paid for a ticket, and they deserve the best you’ve got, and b) it’s an investment. You don’t always know who’s out there or where the experience might lead.

In this short video, guitarist Nita Strauss tells of her own tiny-audience encounter, and how giving it her all got her the job as lead guitarist in Alice Cooper’s band.

The other night, I gave E. all my attention. We got to know each other a little better, and spent as much time on her writing as she wanted to.

It’s probably not going to get me a spot in Alice Cooper’s band. But E.’s good work is paying off on the page. And that’s payoff enough for me.

#Hahamongna#Nita Strauss#Second City#Sprocket#Story Kitchen#story structure


  1. Maya - July 16, 2016 @ 15:54

    It is great for the person who shows up! I went to a dance class once, and only one other person showed up. We basically got a personal lesson and because we were pretty good, we got to learn some more intricate moves than they would have normally taught. I think the instructors enjoyed that too!

    • Petrea - July 17, 2016 @ 15:47

      I’m hearing mostly good stories about this sort of thing, and it’s great. We’re sharing, after all. Teachers really do get a lot out of personal interactions with students.

  2. Lowell - July 17, 2016 @ 03:07

    I’ve had similar experiences in another field. Glad to hear you stuck with it and it paid off for E. It can be disappointing when very few show up to hear what you have to say but it seems to me that we’re supposed to care for individuals, not crowds.

    Hope you have a wonderful Sunday! BTW, Hahamonga reminds me of Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis! 🙂

    • Petrea - July 17, 2016 @ 15:46

      “…it seems to me that we’re supposed to care for individuals, not crowds.” I’m going to quote you.

  3. Charles Burkett - July 18, 2016 @ 17:10

    I’very been the only person to attend my yoga class a few times over the years and I loved it. The one-to-one attention and the intimacy is very special. Also, as a teacher there are times when a quarter of the class might be absent on any day. Of course those present don’t want to do anything, but these days always turn out to be pretty special classes.

    • Petrea - July 19, 2016 @ 18:31

      I don’t know if it always works that way, Charles, but it seems to. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Irina - July 22, 2016 @ 09:28

    “Always give your best show”. I will print it and pin to the wall. I hope the girl understood how lucky she was.
    You are my role model, helping to see clearly the true and the false.

    • Petrea - July 22, 2016 @ 10:32

      That’s high praise, Irina, thank you. Do you know you’re a role model, too? Always striving to make your work better, never giving up even when you’re already doing fine work.

  5. chris - July 22, 2016 @ 12:22

    Yes, a small class may seem awkward (?)…but E. certainly got the one-on-one that may not have happened if there were 20… a small class is calming and I’ve always learned more and felt more comfortable to speak up… When I was in H.S. there was the usual teacher’s strike… some showed up in class.. I learned a lot about my teacher as well as the subject.

    • Petrea - July 22, 2016 @ 12:27

      It’s kind of cool to have that personal time and get to know each other. Makes the learning more special.

  6. Shelley - July 22, 2016 @ 19:17

    I’ll bet E. went home a very happy camper. 🙂

    • Petrea - July 22, 2016 @ 21:02

      😉 I sure hope so!

  7. Irina - July 25, 2016 @ 23:26

    Thank you so much, Petrea. Thank you for your support and trust.

    • Petrea - July 26, 2016 @ 07:16

      I think of you often, Irina.

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