Monday, March 23, 2015

How ill do you need to be before you cancel a performance?

I’ve been laid up for the past 10 days with a nasty bout of ’flu. For the first time in my 18-year career I’ve had to cancel a choir concert.

Cancelled concert

In this case it was an obvious decision, but how ill do you need to be before you cancel a performance?

It comes to us all at some point, whether we’re singers or choir leaders – a performance is looming and we become ill.

If it’s a head cold or something else mild, it’s just an inconvenience and we soldier on. But what if it’s something worse? How can we tell if we should go ahead or cancel?

Here are some questions you might want to ask to help make your decision (in no particular order).

  • can the show go on without me? – we all like to think that we’re indispensible, but the fact is that in a choir the show can usually go on with a few people missing.
  • do I have a replacement? – if you have an important role (e.g. a solo to sing, a section to lead or a choir to conduct), then it might be difficult to carry on without you. Many people have a substitute in these cases. If you don’t have one, maybe now’s the time to find one.
  • am I still infectious? – whether you personally want the show to go ahead or not, it would be irresponsible to turn up if you’re still infectious and pass your bug onto the entire choir. If you have ’flu you are infectious from day one (even if you have no symptoms) and can remain infectious for up to a week even if you’re feeling a little better. See also Keep it to yourself! – why colds, singing and choirs don’t mix
  • will it delay my long-term recovery? – it’s often possible to drag yourself off your death bed and perform, regardless of how ill you are (that’s Doctor Theatre for you). But what about any lasting effects? Will you delay your recovery and be out of action for much longer? Will you damage your voice by using it when you shouldn’t? Take care of yourself and your voice for the long term.
  • if I go ahead will the performance be up to scratch? – even if you’re well enough, will this concert be up to your usual standards, especially if quite a few choir members have also been ill and rehearsals have suffered? Perhaps it would be best to postpone rather than deliver a shoddy performance.
  • are there financial implications? – if it’s touch and go whether you go ahead, then any financial implications might sway the balance. How much are you likely to lose if you don’t go ahead (e.g. venue and equipment hire, publicity costs, ticket refunds, advertising, etc.)?
  • how easy is it to reschedule? – if you’re not likely to make much of financial loss and it’s relatively easy to reschedule, then it might be better in the long run to bite the bullet and postpone rather than soldiering on at less than full strength.
  • how important is the concert really? – we all like to think that our concerts are really, really special and important, but in the greater scheme of things it’s just a one-off singing performance. It’s not earth-shattering and life will go on regardless of whether you perform or not. Make sure you get a perspective. It’s all too easy to lose sight of what’s really important (your health, your singers) when the stress takes over in the run-up to a concert.

Once I’d made the difficult decision to cancel our concert this weekend, there was a collective sigh of relief from the choir (quite a few of them were also ill with ’flu). Yes, some singers were disappointed, but the majority could see the wisdom of the decision. We hope to reschedule for later in the year.

Have you ever had to cancel a performance? How difficult was it to make that decision? Do you have any other guidance that might help others in a similar situation?

further reading

You might also find these posts of interest.

Looking after yourself in a busy concert season

Taking care of ourselves as choir and workshop leaders

Chris Rowbury




Chris Rowbury


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