I was recently involved with a presentation at the Cultural Centre in a very complex show (about 40 performers) where a host of technical and logistic problems came into play and things got kind of frantic. These things happen sometimes in the entertainment business – there are so many variables operating and some can go off the rails. In those situations, you can take essentially one of two approaches: you can yell and scream about whatever lapses or irregularities are affecting you, or you can simply withdraw from the melee, grit your teeth, and ride through the problems to the end of the show.
On this occasion, having experienced this scenario many times, I chose the latter course. I told the stage manager, “When it is time for my slot, just give me my cue; I’ll be waiting over there.” I sat on a stool in a corner and waited until my turn to perform came.
A few days later in a conversation with the producer of the show, he said to me, “I learned a lot from you that evening. There you were, the biggest name on the show, and instead of yelling and complaining, you sat quietly by yourself and waited to go on. You had the experience to know that the problems couldn’t be solved then; just get through the show.”
While it is always good to hear compliments about your work, the most rewarding thing for a creative person is when something about your work, or your attitude to your work, is picked up by other professionals, and leads to them developing their capability at what they do; they are motivated to do better, to improve. So the producer’s comment made my day; in the midst of tearing his hair out he had picked up something about professionalism.
I’m using that episode here to relate my wider point which is that so often in Guyana our approach is often one of accepting low standards in the things we work at or produce, artistic or otherwise. Whether it’s an under-prepared musician, or a few smears on the paint job, or the concrete driveway that isn’t quite level, we seem to have become inclined to see these discrepancies as acceptable. Indeed, very often, someone pointing out these flaws, is told, “Don’t worry, man; it can wuk suh.” Unfortunately, that’s a phrase one hears far too frequently in Guyana. Ultimately, it is a debilitating view.
A long time ago I read somewhere that the difference between good and excellent is never about major matters – they are often the same. It is in the details, the fine points, the finish, if you will, on a work. that takes it from the ‘good’ category into that next level that is immediately identified as excellent or outstanding, and it is in that area that so many of us seem to settle for second best.
During a rehearsal for that same Cultural Centre show, Teacher Linda, from the National Dance Company, chided her young group as a dance ended, “Hold your position. Don’t move until the light goes out.” A minor detail, no movement for four seconds, but the result far greater impact for the performance; better finish. Teacher Linda didn’t settle for “It can wuk suh.” She pushed for better, probably even drawing a few ‘steups’ in the process.
There are other examples of it here – Burchmore Simon of Krosskolor Studio; Elfrieda Bissember of Castellani House; Stewart Stephenson of Spads Water; Chris Fernandes of the John Fernandes Company; you certainly know others – but they are exceptions proving the rule that so often we settle for “anyhow.”
Perhaps it is the litany of our failures we are inundated with in the media and in our daily social conversations where we lament about this and that. Certainly there is some reason for the bemoaning (Lord knows the examples abound) but we seem to have become so caught up in the failures that we seem oblivious to or unimpressed by the successes. So many of us become overwhelmed by the problems and throw up our hands in despair.
Also, the reality is that it can be difficult. When this or that item is in short supply, the electrician or carpenter or plumber has to cope with what is available. When the artist is struggling with a conventional job to make ends meet, time to prepare properly is not always available. When the person trying to make a difference is surrounded by the ‘anyhow’ attitude, he/she often gives up in frustration.
What we need is for that small number of people in our society who care about standards, to grow to a tipping point where it becomes a movement, and that means almost a cultural change.
A critical agent in the process is for people, such as the ones I mentioned earlier, who have come to realise the value of excellence, to actually become advocates for it. Perhaps if they preach it at every turn, and demonstrate the benefits gained, we will then no longer settle for the unfinished door, or the hanging wire, or the zinc sheet not properly nailed down.
I hear everywhere, in government and private sector, about the need to move Guyana up from our currently low position on the economic ladder. For that to happen, individuals in the society, each in their own sphere, will have to begin taking responsibility for standards. In the things we do, and the things that others do for us, we must move from accepting the ‘anyhow’ approach to one of making it the best it can be. In the global marketplace in which we now compete, there are economic benefits from this. If we don’t believe in the concept for any other reason, that should serve to propel us.
If we continue to take the position that ‘It can wuk suh,’ we will continue to inhabit the low rung on the economic ladder.