Monday, August 8, 2011
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
This was a comment at the end of a workshop on “Presenting Yourself.” Made after an exercise in which I’d asked the participants to exaggerate all the presentation techniques they’d learned in the last 6 weeks. “Go too far,” I’d said, knowing after 35 years of teaching that they wouldn’t.
At some point in the process of becoming members of a functioning society, each of us has been warned “to quiet down,” “to be seen and not heard,” “don’t draw attention to yourself,” and the like. Those are the demands of the schoolroom, sometimes the family dinner table, and enforced when we’re part of many audiences. But not when we’re on stage.
There the opposite is true. No audience will be comfortable unless their leader, the performer, is larger than the audience. Unless the performer’s energy is larger, gestures wider, voice more authoritative.
Fortunately, all the workshop participants understood, after the exercise, that “going too far” was only the beginning of a good performance.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Which is always a learning experience. Why wasn't it a 10? After I heard the playback at the recording session, I realized that I hadn't connected fully with my imaginary audience on the other side of the microphone. I had confined my energy to the tiny recording studio. I thought I had learned that lesson 50 years ago.
I didn't remember, until I began this posting, that just prior to recording I had spent 4 hours answering phones for the station's spring fund drive. And using my energy to shield myself for 4 hours from the woman across the table from me, one of the most socially inept–or actively obnoxious, take your pick–women I've ever met.
Lesson learned. Again.
Monday, June 6, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The last issue of Zoetrope: All Story has one of the best short stories I’ve read in years–”Rothko Eggs,” by Keith Ridgway. The narrator, a teenage girl, liked art that’s “empty.” “Really good artists” left a lot out so that “she could take her own things into the painting.” She didn’t like an artist who didn’t leave much room and was just “trying to look like he had amazing ideas.”
I went to a performance recently that didn’t let me take anything into it. I was told what to think about the theme; the emotions expected of me were obvious. I was being presented to, preached to; there was no room for me in what was happening on stage. I predictably responded by refusing to think or feel as instructed, and left the performance angry.
I also saw recently a production of Sondheim’s Assassins. To my mind, it’s theme is that presidential assignation attempts are the logical extension of the American dream, the way to become “somebody.” That’s a crazy statement, and yet I walked out of the theatre accepting it as rational. Because I was allowed to laugh at the idea, to bring my own experiences to bear on it, to think about it.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Another argument for not “projecting” to an audience:
I wrote in my last Community Arts Cafe column that when we involve the audience in a presentation, rather than projecting at them, we can pick up valuable information. I used, as an example, a reading that I gave from When Last on the Mountain, an anthology that I co-edited. I had thought that the eponymous piece would be a great ender. Very inspiring, I thought. Wrong. I could feel from the audience that it had not been inspiring, but a big downer. So I looked at my watch, noted with “delighted surprise” that we had time for one more, flipped through the book and landed on a piece that left them laughing.
I had a similar experience a few weeks later. I was reading the first 5 minutes of a new short story at an open mic. I’d had 7 other writers critique it, had revised it many times, and had thought it wasn’t the greatest story ever, but good enough to send out.
The first page went well–laughter in the appropriate places–but during the second page, I heard a voice in my head saying, “This is so banal.” A voice, not one of my own thoughts.
So I took the story to my best critic and, without telling him why, asked him to read the first 3 pages. He immediately told me what was wrong with it. So now I have to rewrite the whole story, and I’m embarrassed that I ever sent it out.
Audience feedback is a marvelous thing.
Monday, January 24, 2011
I went to hear 5 writers reading their work last week and, though all 5 were present, I ended up hearing 1-1/2 of them.
I got a coughing fit, which I do when I don’t realize that I’m angry. The knees of the publisher sitting next to me were jumping out of control. Because we couldn’t hear most of what was being read to us.
Always on the side of the performer, I’ve tended to blame the sound system for my hearing problems in that hall. But not this time. Not after being able to hear 1 out of 5 clearly.
What went wrong? Let me count the ways:
Did they practice with the sound system? I doubt it.
They rushed, giving us no time to hear a word before they went on to the next one. An audience of 100 people needs more time to assimilate what it hears than does a group of 6.
They were not sharing the work with us. They were reading into an auditorium with people in it.
They were not reliving the stories they’d written. They were just reading the words.
1 of the writers avoided all these problems. She was engaged in her stories; she embraced the audience; we heard every word.
Did I mention that I was sitting next to a publisher? His knees stopped jiggling. He said, “I need to sign her.”