I have been thinking a lot about the German culture and trying to understand the use of Schadenfreude during my European experience. It seems like such a malicious concept, “Deriving pleasure from another person’s misfortune.” The song from Avenue Q summarizes it perfectly with numerous examples, saying, in short, “Making me feel glad that I'm not you.” In this journey abroad, I’ve decided to take it into a different direction, finding delight in all despair, even my own.
I used to think of auditions as the ultimate combinations of pleasure and pain. I would be thrilled for the opportunity to audition, but hated the experience because it required standing around in a musty hallway full of sensitive singers. That was the period that would make or break my auditions. Auditions often felt like swimming in a sea of jellyfish. Nerves were so high, singers employed a defense mechanism of stinging each other. “Oh, you’re singing THAT?” “That’s MY aria.” ” Yes, the composer wrote that with me in mind two hundred years before I was even a fetus.” I can’t blame the singers who used venomous tentacles; I can only blame myself for being insecure enough to allow those words to sting, or for stinging myself with the same venom to save them the trouble. On the bright side, if I ended up peeing on myself by the end of the experience, I could say it was for medicinal purposes.
While preparing for the German audition experience, I worried that waiting areas would be even worse abroad, that more jellyfish would be present in international waters. I even came up with a game plan to protect myself: to the German jellies, I would say, “Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch,” and to the Americans I would say, “Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Englisch.” I would be the Harpo Marx of the waiting room. I walked into my first audition prepared for polyglot putdowns, but instead, there was a communal sense of Schadenfreude, finding pleasure in the fact that we were all in a form of pain, nervousness. English speakers from Canada, Australia, and US bonded together to help each other if someone was struggling with German or metric conversions of height and weight, and the Germans then jumped in and helped as well. I actually made friends at my auditions, the places I thought I would feel most alone and foreign. When many people, regardless of nationality, are on the same journey together, everyone benefits from communal support. The result of this bonding: Vorsingenfreude.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, or why you are in pain, nervousness or discomfort, you are never alone. It will pass as you find your way to the next station in life. New people will come in and out constantly, but you are all on a journey together. It is nice to know that in those moments when we feel our suffering is the punchline of the Universe’s joke, we will find someone, if only a stranger, to remind us to smile again. Making you feel glad that you are you.