Thursday, February 24, 2011

Communication vs. Content

“We’re communicating on a human level: The content isn’t important anymore.”
That’s a quote from an interview with Nick Kendall, a violinist with Time for Three, in the Indianapolis Star. Nick is wrong about the content not being an important part of the success of Time for Three. I’m a huge fan, and it’s just plain fun to watch these classical virtuosi, technically some of the best in the country, break into Irish fiddling, reach over and play each other’s instruments, and act like serious clowns. He's exactly right, however, when he says that the content becomes less important than the communication. I’ve written in Speak Up: The Public Speaking Primer about a high-school-age actress who was given an unfortunate set of lines: “In 1865, . . .”; “Then in 1890, . . .” and about a dozen more. She played those lines so engagingly that I didn’t notice until afterward what terrible writing she’d been given. “Commune” in all its forms is a variation of the word “common,” something that is shared. We communicate when we talk together, when there is a mental or spiritual exchange. We can also participate in a mental or spiritual exchange when the medium is not words, but music or dance or even silence. Communication at the human level is what all performances should be about. If we’re not communicating when we perform, we ought not to be on a stage.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Audience Feedback

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.