Sunday, July 13, 2008


Notes on Urban Creativity from across the East River

Sandra Lee Schubert

Title: Know Your Audience

Traveling the New York City transit system is an adventure, requiring stamina, skill, patience and a reasonable sense of humor. Most times you catch up on your reading, chat with a friend or zone out. Other times you are treated to the spectacle of high drama; a lover’s spat, a really sick man doing something unspeakable in public, or a child incessantly reciting her ABC’s in singsong until the whole car is singing with her. The subway is a traveling circus that you pay very little to attend. The entertainment is equivalent to the price of admission. Vaudevillian in nature, the acts come in quickly and are gone by the next stop. Last week while reading my new copy of Fast Company magazine I could hear someone singing opera down at the other end of the car. The sound built in volume until it was a full blown aria. I’m not an opera buff and can only tell you it was familiar. Finally from the throngs of mostly disinterested morning commuters emerged a homeless man. Here was this lovely baritone voice, clear, deep and powerful pouring forth from a man who clearly had seen better days. He took a few moments to give a speech that I couldn’t understand and went back to his singing and I got off the train.

Two hours later I was back on the train with another homeless man with a portable keyboard who played some funk. He had the car rocking to his beat, throwing money at him while he blessed his good fortune. Clearly funk pays or you must know your audience. The 1st ride was early. Most commuters, me included, can barely function. We are a cranky, slightly irritated bunch rushing to get to work so we can get home. Opera is lovely, but the first man would have done better on the Broadway line that swings past Lincoln Center. Those riders will pay for additional entertainment if you are good enough. Maybe the Opera guy was just warming up his chops and later collected some real cash on the corner of 67th and Broadway. Or maybe he was just doing it for the love of opera. I can’t be sure. But it does take some nerve to practice your art on an unwilling and somewhat captive audience, maybe they warmed up after 9 AM.


Sandra Lee Schubert is a creative vagabond, a poet, writer and dabbler in the arts and online entrepreneur. She co-facilitates the Wild Angels Poets and Writers Group at the historic Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. She is also the creator of the e-course Writing for Life: Creating a Story of Your Own. Visit her blog: Email her or @writing4life via twitter.

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