I always wanted to perform on the subway. As a college student in New York, I often found subway passengers' disregard for street performers confusing--the performers were usually talented, ballsy individuals with ingenious use of space. No railway somersault or high octave would impress anyone, because in the end they all wanted money. I even began to avoid eye contact myself, feigning disinterest in their talents while listening through muted headphones and watching through my peripheral. During that same time I caught the karaoke bug and soon drummed in my head that I would perform on the subway -- just for fun. Yet with my vocal cords alone, I'd sooner be paid to stop singing. So instead, I put that daydream to rest until recently when I was invited to perform in a singing flashmob on the Metro Red Line here in Los Angeles.
A couple weeks ago I helped The Love Project, a street-based cultural experiment, show subway riders "How to Love" by singing Lil Wayne's popular rap song to an unsuspecting crowd. The performance cued off with an acoustic guitar, followed by the opening verse from a baritone nearby. The rest of our motley crew, including a beat-boxer and an adorable 10-year old soloist, joined in at the chorus with assigned lines like: "I just want you to know/that you deserve the best/you're beautiful."
Subway performers traditionally pull out a collection plate after the final note, so L.A. passengers were surprised -- and somewhat wary -- of music for music's sake and the subsequent cheer from random strangers. In Los Angeles especially, a car-centric city anomalous with human interaction, people seem unaccustomed to social interactions in public spaces. With this in mind, I was nervous during our first performance, which took place at peak travel hours, but soon took great pleasure in singing to strangers. There's overlooked power in making a complete stranger smile, or in one case, dance.
We performed four times, traveling between Universal City and Westlake/MacArthur Park meeting mixed and varied reactions at every turn (it was December 14th, were you there?). One of the instructions from our director was to interact with the passengers as we performed. "They will respond to your energy," he said. So I began to serenade my closest neighbor from the heart with the song.
On my last ride, the young man I was seated next to was at first reading his iPad and wearing earphones, then soon put away his devices to enjoy the show and share a laugh with our crew. We talked for a moment in between the performance and our departure, and he remarked that it was great to see people singing simply for the love of it. There we were, two strangers in conversation, talking about love on the subway.
Below is The Love Project's video of our third performance, but stay tuned for more insight on the flashmob with a complete video and information from their website.