Make the audience your friend

women in the workplace performanceIn my experience performing with ukulele in hand, I have found that befriending the audience helps alleviate much of the stress from being vulnerable on the stage. When I befriend the audience, I am no longer standing up there in front of a bunch of strangers. I can create a temporary community with everyone in the room by being open and honest about who I am and how I am feeling standing on the stage all alone.

My day job is an interpretive park ranger. I interpret the stories of the past in ways that help people from the present make personal connections to those who came before. A skilled interpreter will ask seemingly simple questions at the beginning of a tour:

Where are you from?

What would you like to learn about X National Park during your visit?

And so on, and so forth.

These questions may seem standard, but they are a tool of the interpretive trade. They allow the interpreter to invite their audience into a dialogue. From this interchange, a temporary community can begin to take shape.

When I chat with visitors at the beginning of a tour, I introduce myself and share a little history in brief about my interpreter alter ego “Ranger M.” As I talk, I make eye contact with every person I direct a question toward, and I make sure to not leave anyone out. As I move around the crowd in this vein, I can literally watch people begin to relax and feel more comfortable asking questions and sharing little snippits from their own stories.

This technique may be trickier for a large performance venue; especially one where the lights are on you and the audience is in the dark.

As an alternative, introduce yourself to your audience. Tell the audience a little bit about yourself. Confide in them. Tell them you are nervous. They will understand. We have all been there, whether or not we are beginning musicians on a stage. Your audience will want to love and support you in your vulnerability. I have experienced this firsthand, and I believe it completely. They will think you are brave and successful just for getting up there. They will cheer you on!

You are brave, and it will get easier.

Has it gotten easier for you?

Share your scariest and happiest performance moments with me.

I hope to hear from you soon!

2 Comments

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  1. Again this is thought provoking and I like how your day job has enabled you with the skills to add to your performing, is this correct? Speaking to a group of strangers with eyes on you can be nerve racking. Absurdly enough I find, being on the stage easier than in a situation such as you face in your line of work. Because as you mentioned the lights are on so it makes seeing the audience clearly a bit difficult, I can hear them but not necessarily see them. I find this helps. I find if I can hear them laughing, I relax more. I ramble when nervous as part of my nature anyway, something that has been discussed is that I must slow down, speak clearer and not move about as much as it can be distracting for them to see.
    But I agree with you, the audience are more forgiving if you are honest and it almost makes it more interactive, some are brave enough to shout out kindly words of encouragement. That’s always handy especially if its funny as you can add to it and enjoy a small piece of friendly banter.

    I think the letting go of the song sheet is quite a psychological thing for me, I have been rehearsing at home and it will be fine at times I will really pleased, not I have noticed the moment I pretend I am in front of an audience, I clam up. Now there is no one there but even imagining it I am filled with a panic.

    It will get easier, I believe you. There is a lot to be said for breathing and trying to focus. I tend to try and make what I will wear on the nights, the aim is it a costume in my mind, my ‘costumes’ are slowly becoming more extreme and I use them as a way to hide behind I am wearing, I can make light of what I am wearing, the audience are becoming used to this as part of my act. Things they are expecting to see from me are silly clothes and songs that will make them laugh, songs that will probably be slightly rude or cover some seemingly inappropriate subjects. And giggling, I can’t help but giggle, nerves and part of me. My comfort zone has been to stick to music open mics, especially ones I am now familiar with. However the next stages for me to explore or the comedy venues, which really scare me as the audiences for comedy are somewhat more judgemental. I am a bit scared by this, I wonder how I will fair among the serious world of the comedy audience. I also perversely look forward to it to.

    Another thing I have learnt, that having a drink to help calm my nerves maybe ok at times, one drink to many is not a good idea, too many mistakes are made as missed notes, slurring, just not nice. I’d rather the nerves making me make the odd mistake rather then something taking away my ability to try my best. So having a drink to quash nerves isn’t something I do now as it can back fire. Unless it’s one or two followed by lots of peppermint tea or something warming. I find that more comforting.

    I think maybe feeling the some nerves are a good thing, perhaps it is nerves because we care and want to give a good performance, we care about those watching, we care about our songs because we are sharing and you are right we are being brave.
    I’m not particularity great in a group setting for conversation, I become all self concious. I’m not a fan of talking about me. I deflect the conversation back to others. Let me hide away at home alone any day.
    So it may seem extreme to choose to go and stand on a stage in front of many people, but that feels great, I feel alive perhaps it is still hiding directly in front of people but hiding behind a performance, silly songs and silly clothes.
    This is really making me think about the nature of performance, what is about for each person, why do people enjoy it either as an audience member or as a performer. And is your experience watching someone perform different if you, your self perform also? I think now perhaps I can relate abit to how they must be feeling so I feel more empathy and maybe I watch more learning from how they perform.
    Goodness it’s all become a huge learning experience.
    Sorry I went off track again

    • Hey Chee!

      So interesting to read about our different ways of dealing with vulnerability. My day job has helped me become more comfortable with public speaking and standing alone in front of a crowd. I used to get SO nervous before programs, and it has only been in the last couple of years that my nerves have quieted down. I think we all have different ways of easing into performance. It sounds like costume and humor are your ways. I hope you will eventually be able to gain confidence and embrace all emotions. Being vulnerable is scary but also a gift because in being vulnerable, we are accepting that we are human. I try to breath through the panic and fear and be thankful for the gift of being so very alive in these moments!

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