Archive for July 2009
Meet Rob Firenix. He’s a British showman, part juggler, part fire dancer, part street actor and stand-up comic who has traveled and worked in 55 countries. I met him last weekend in Windsor, Ontario at the International Busker Festival.
While Windsor city workers remained on strike (14 weeks plus), garbage piled high around garbage cans with parks and museums going to seed, Mr. Firenix and other buskers honed their craft for free (at least until they passed the hat), depending on delighting the crowd to earn their keep. It’s worked for the last eight years for Mr. Firenix.
With a background in corporate theater and experience choreographing large shows, he found he loved the freedom of performing live before audiences on the street. Pulling from another earlier job of working with people with disabilities, Mr. Firenix wants to make things accessible for everyone. It’s this attention to making the show easy to understand that also brings in the levity.
“I love it when people can have a laugh.”
One of the best parts of busking is “speaking directly to his audience” said Mr. Firenix. He is constantly tweaking his show to see what laughs he can get and how he can go further in delighting his audience. His current show is a character-based performance (“Captain Underpants”) that often features a pair of audience members in the ridiculous tights as well.
Was his craft comedy? Or was it the juggling or firedancing?
“The show is the craft,” he said. “Getting people to stay and enjoy the show is the craft.” He explained that a crowd may watch a person juggle for three or four minutes, but there has to be something more.
“It’s all about presentation.”
As a communicator, I found myself in awe of Firenix and other buskers who worked on their craft out in the open, depending on impulse generosity for their bread. It’s a gutsy way to go about work—especially poignant in a city on strike because of limited post-retirement benefits. It says he is serious about the craft, that honing the craft is not a luxury but a necessity. It also points to the presentation as something of primary importance: people need to be engaged and stay engaged or they walk away.
Buskers also show there can be more to work than money.
I saw this bumper sticker a few years ago (8/11/2004) but just ran across it again today in my favorite quote pile.
As a communication manager for a medical device company, my colleagues and I understood the company would push as far as you would go, using every last drop of your energy. Oh sure, there was talk of work/life balance—that would be the official line. But the reality was that expectations constantly ratcheted up and, depending on the ambition of your director/VP, an imbalance toward life (versus work) was not well received. Given this set of conditions, where does the communicator get the courage to take care of themselves?
I thought of how to combat this set of conditions recently after conversations with two talented friends who had been sprinting through their work lives for the last two years—both of them at a medical device company notorious for burning personnel down to the nub. Two answers come to mind: craft and spirit.
In Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (NY: Penguin Press, 2009), Matthew B. Crawford makes the point that the trades are actually intellectually stimulating (writing from the standpoint of a philosopher/motorcycle mechanic) while the work of knowledge workers more often approaches the work of clerks as actual decisions and craft move up to the corner office or out of the office altogether. I think Crawford is right. I suggest that finding a corner of one’s work life to practice one’s craft may have a healing effect on the soul. For me it had to do with getting back to handling sentences and spinning out arguments with words that served clients and their worthwhile activities. But another friend’s craft is directly related to helping members of an organization live up to their gifts and the organization to its stated vision. Doing what we’re meant to do has a healing effect.
There really is no one who will shepherd your soul at work—unless you have a pastorally-gifted person in the cubicle next to you. On the other hand, the gift of conversation is one of the deep joys of working with great people. And there is nothing like an honest conversation to refresh the soul. Of course, I’m not talking about the catty cynicisms that pass in gossip around the coffee station—those rob the soul as surely as the micromanaging boss. Our spirit is refreshed by honest conversation—it’s part of how God made us.
If we can carve out time to practice our craft and watch out for our spirit (and, perhaps, even the souls of the people around us), we may find ourselves with the courage to say “No” to running on empty.