Pleased to meet you. I'm Chintz Davenport. But you can call me Chintzy. All of my friends do.
I performed for three hours in a furniture store on Saturday. I did no harm. I broke no lamps. I was paid well.
When I gave the store employee making the sale announcements my stage name, he didn't flinch.
Bouquets of mylar balloons bloomed from nearly every corner of the store, and a whiteboard with timed sales events greeted customers at the front door. I've learned not to carry in any hoops, props, or the amp until I've figured out exactly where I'll be in the venue, so I walked in, all rainbow wig and socks, found a sales associate, and asked for directions. I was in the Smith room. The furniture in that room, which was ringed with hundreds of hanging upholstery samples, hadn't been moved. There was no space for hooping in there yet. The woman who booked me arranged the room with a coworker, and once all the mirrors and shelving units were out of the way, I was set with a space that was suitable. Not ideal, but suitable. I had no idea the fireplace I was next to was motion-activated, but about 15 minutes into starting, bathed in sweat, I found another sales associate to help me turn it off.
Pro-tip: When performing in furniture stores, make sure you're not near the motion-sensored fireplaces.
My amp was loud enough to drown out the Muzak in the Smith room, and as long as I didn't stray from my spot or turn down my volume, I didn't have to endure Barry Manilow. It was a slow sale day. The weather was bright and beautiful. Everyone was probably out picking pumpkins, or sipping cider and thinking about their Halloween costumes. It was difficult not to feel just a little bit silly in my getup, with all my hoops, performing in the middle of a mostly empty furniture store.
The employees stood in the middle of the first floor, waiting for customers to come in, and they were in the direct line of sight of my performance space, so they watched from a distance, and chatted. The woman who hired me came over, but not too close, took a photo, said "Got it!" and turned and walked away. I thought,
Well that wasn't the best I can do for a photo, so I did a four-split and held it for a minute. I waited for her to notice, but she never did because she was looking at her phone and then talking with a coworker.
About forty feet away from me was a complimentary nacho bar, replete with sour cream, salsa, and cheese. There were a couple of employees who hung out there exclusively for most of the day, and walked past to say "Wow, that's cool," or "Now that's a neat trick!" as they crunched their chips. One of the Nacho Cheer Squad helped me out with the fireplace.
Every hour or so, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker:
Welcome customers! From 2 to 4 p.m. enjoy an additional $100 off any sectional leather sofa during this one time only sale! And make sure to visit the Smith room to see Chintz Davenport, hula hoop specialist!
A few people came over to watch, and interact, and they all had children. The rest either looked past me as if I were a garish highboy they would never buy, or pretended I wasn't there (probably sending up quiet prayers they wouldn't be hit with a wild hoop) as they lifted the tag on the storage ottoman that was right behind me.
An employee walked over to give me regular reports on when there was a child in the store who might be interested in hooping. "There's a little girl in here. She's wearing pink pants. Her name is Elise. If you see her, say her name. That will wow her."
I never saw Elise. Ok. The pay was good, but where was my audience?
And then eleven year old Sarah came over. She told me all about how the circus came to her school and taught them all how to balance peacock feathers. I had feathers in my suitcase. "This is the best furniture store ever!" she said. "I didn't want to come shopping today, but now I'm glad I did."
We hooped together, balanced feathers, and I showed her the Toroflux, which engaged her imagination for a full twenty minutes. She imagined she was a magician, and her showmanship was spectacular.
There are days (all of them) when I doubt what I do, but I'm reminded plenty that I'm there for someone. Sometimes my audience is an audience of one, and that person has my full attention, and I get to put all my energy into them. I really see that person, and they really see me, or they see me as Chintz, the circus performer who magically appeared in the furniture store just for her.
Sarah was my audience on Saturday. I was also her audience as she performed her Toroflux magic.
What's that? Just looking for a sofa. Mmm. Yes, that sofa looks like it will survive with a toddler in the house. No, I'm not sure where the bathroom is. You weren't expecting to see a hula hoop specialist in the middle of the furniture store today? Well, life sure is full of things we weren't expecting. Oh yeah, I'm sure I'm right where I belong today.