It was August 2010 and I was teetering with nervous excitement.
It was the opening night of our school play – an Oscar Wilde classic called The Importance of Being Ernest. I was playing a female character and cross-dressing for the role, starring as the dithering ‘Miss Prism’.
My dream at the time was to take the world by storm by writing stories, acting in them and making films. So on this night, I felt the penultimate excitement of my debut, the first time I was really performing live.
Before call time, I snuck out from the dressing room to the dark, empty theatre. There were just a few exit lights and some stray rays of hallway light illuminating the room. There was no backstage crew, no director issuing directions and no actors rehearsing lines.
It was just me and the silence.
If you’ve ever stood in an empty theatre looking out at an empty audience, you will know the magic of this experience. There I was, teetering with nervous excitement. Taking a moment, a selfish, private moment, that was just for me.
Later on the rush of parents and friends would fill the room, hustling and bustling as they put their bums to seats. Then the room would be filled with laughter, and finally, they would mill out again, leaving the stage to its resting silence once again.
But before it all, I stood alone in the theatre, soaking in all the anticipation.
This is the starting point I thought to myself.
This is where a pathway of a thousand doors is going to open up for me.
It was only the other day when I was talking about the idea of An Audience-of-None that I remembered this moment, some ten years ago, when I was just a young boy.
It reminded me very poignantly of today’s topic – that the most valuable audience in the world is an Audience-of-None.
Your most important audience is an Audience-of-None.
The thing about creative people is that they must overcome the fear of being inadequate and the fear of disappointing others to really unlock their creativity.
The thing about people is that all of them need to embrace themselves as creative people, but they rarely do. Everyone has a creative person inside them because everyone is unique.
This does not mean that everyone is Michael Jackson, Leonardo Da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Mary Shelley or Meryl Streep.
Being creative doesn’t mean performing to a world-wide audience. Your real audience is easy to find. It’s not a million, not a hundred, not ten and not even one.
First of all you must find an Audience-of-None.
When I talk to people gripped by fear about what to do at work, or what they create, I always ask them the question.
What would you perform for an Audience-of-None?
What job would you do, what book would you write, what sport would you play, what art would you paint, what song would you write…?
What is your performance, just one performance, that you’d happily perform for an Audience-of-None? That you could see yourself expressing fearlessly and passionately in front of an empty theatre, where all the seats are vacant, taken up by nothing but dust and air?
What is it that you would perform, that would fill you with joy and excitement simply because you got to perform it? Where the act of doing it itself is the reward, rather than the applause at the end.
For the only one who can applaud at the end of a performance for none is you, the performer.
There are a number of reasons to do things.
First let’s talk about money. Money is important, money is a tool for living that we will rely on for the foreseeable future. We should always consider where the flow of money can align with our performance for none.
But money, like everything else we value, is a story – one that we have all agreed that we will keep telling each other. It is an extrinsic motivator, it comes from the outside. It is paid to us by others.
So we can only get paid for doing things others want us to do. To live and serve only the dollar therefore is to have no inner voice at all – to be a blank canvas, prostituting ourselves only for the desires of others, and never for our own.
Status and attention are also extrinsic motivators.
Some of us forego money but opt instead for status and attention as our primary currency. Politicians, influencers, journalists and the so-called charitable may find themselves in this trap.
Viewers, voters and donors are their currency. Again, this validation is controlled only by others. Winning status and attention games requires us to sell pieces of our soul, and exchange them for the approval of a crowd.
For the gold medal is only so coveted because so many people covet it. If no one desired the gold medal, the gold medal would be meaningless. And gold medals only bring joy for a few solitary moments, before the come-down sets in.
The thrill of gold only lasts as long as the round of applause. Once the hands stop clapping, the theatre is quiet again.
So who are you when the quiet returns? Who are you when the silence sets in? Are you just pedalling around aimlessly on the Pleasure Treadmill?
You might also do things because you get direct praise.
This one seems more honest. Genuine praise makes you feel good, and this good-feeling seems real. This is when the person out in the hallway says ‘that was a good show’. And it fills your heart with warmth to hear those words.
But are they just saying it to be polite? And what about us, are we performing for just for their praise and validation? How can we tell the difference? Is this really ideal?
And, is feeling good the same as doing good? No, not necessarily.
Finally, you might do things that interest you and ignite your passions
When you are interested, you are only introspective. You are intrinsically motivated. You are only listening to the voices within.
Money, attention, status and good feelings might not always be so bad, but you have far less control over them.
They get their power from others. Remember, if others stopped valuing them, or they changed the tune of what they valued, where would that leave you?
But your interests and your passions are YOURS. They are genuine, they are aligned with your art, your performance.
The interest IS the performance. The person who is interested is the most reliable person in the world – they do the act for the sake of doing the act, not the forms of applause that come after. They will be full of joy after performing for none.
Therefore, each additional person after none is simply a bonus.
And when I write
And when I write, I perform for an Audience-of-None.
I enter a flow state. I lose track of time and the outside world. I go to my island and I live there – nothing else exists, and nothing can harm me.
It doesn’t matter if there is a global pandemic raging on, and it doesn’t matter if people are after my throat. I am untouchable.
How can you rattle someone who is content to perform for an Audience-of-None? They can’t be heckled, can’t be booed off the stage. They lose their fear – and this is what it is to live without pervasive fear.
What would you perform for an Audience-of-None?
What would you do, that you would do and walk off stage, happily without hearing a single clap or whistle or a call of ‘encore, please one more sir!’… That the only clap you’d listen out for was your own?
If you had all-the-money and all-the-validation in the world, what would you do with your time?
Now what is preventing you from spending all-or-most of your time doing that now?
The idea of the Audience-of-None lends itself to the MVL. For the author of this piece can happily sit and write all day. And as long as the bills are paid, it will be hard for life to get much better.
It will be hard to feel inadequate, and hard to be disappointed.
When you perform for an Audience-of-None, you will never be disappointed by the turnout.
I often say, true creativity is bravery. It is the bravery to say, “I am going to perform for an Audience-of-None” – and no matter how many people might decide to fill up your theatre, you will never forget your first obligation is to the Audience-of-None.
Maybe the audience will grow by one or two, maybe it will grow in the billions. But by performing to an Audience-of-None, you know that you never have to compromise – that the audience is there not because you bent your performance to them, but because they enjoy and appreciate your uniqueness and your performance of you.
That’s the only audience worth growing.
The Audience who applauds and pays you to keep performing for an Audience-of-None.
It is why a parent or a friend will always enjoy your performance if it is true to you – because they cherish you for being you. And being brave enough to perform for no-one.
I hope you discover what I felt as a fifteen year-old boy in love with an empty theatre. For only when you love the empty theatre, can you be sure you are doing something that is true to yourself.
Somewhat ironically, this piece is dedicated not to no-one, but in particular to Maggie, Aina and Liam.
How does Audience-of-None apply to your life? As a parent, friend or family member, how is being in a relationship a performance for no one?
Don’t forget, if this piece would open a door for someone you know, to share it with them, directly and personally.