Performance magic

Sometimes, when you take a piece out and perform it, it does not go as planned. Sometimes, there is magic in the moment and the whole nature of the piece and your relationship with it can change. I’m not talking here about things that go wrong, or things that come up when you are under-prepared, but the way in which a space, an audience or an atmosphere can radically change a piece.

When you learn and practice a piece – be that a song, story, tune or poem – you’ll bring certain emotional tones to it. Much of what you bring will be about your feelings for the piece itself and what it evokes in you. Context can shift that – the mood of an audience, the impact of the performance space and so forth. I’ve done a little bit of singing in churches and those are massively unpredictable spaces for me, and I’m never sure how that kind of setting will shift how I perform.

The acoustics of a place can have considerable impact on performance. The differences between singing in a cave, and in a windy field are enormous. Some places invite you to slow down, to linger, while others encourage livelier performances. Some places you can use your voice quietly and still be heard. Some performance spaces can only be shouted into. This can mean you are working against the vibe of your piece, but sometimes it’s a magical shift that brings the material alive in new ways.

Sometimes it’s all about the audience. It’s effective to dig in with whatever suits the collective mood. Some audiences don’t respond well to certain tones and feelings. The feminist fury that gets you a ‘hell yes’ in one place may fall in awkward silence in another. Some audiences respond well to bawdy humour, others less so. The presence of a child in a room can encourage you to skip hastily over some kinds of detail.

One of my best audience moments was in a poem where I made a joke about bestiality, and the one dog in the room picked that moment to emit one loud bark!

I find it’s best not to fight these things. Going with what happens in a space, in a moment, with an audience gets powerful results, while fighting it seldom works.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “Performance magic

  • Michael

    Sounds like good advice.

  • locksley2010

    I know this feeling. Especially when I used to do costumed stories at open mic-nights. I had one character who was a highwayman and it was bawdy and had quite a few rude jokes. The audience loved it everytime I performed it. There was one manager of an open mic night who asked if I’d be free to perform at a festival in Nottingham, I was delighted and agreed….. Right until performance day and the venue was filled with families and young children….. What should have been a 15 minute set got cut down to 5 mins (That’s with all the bawdy, rude jokes taken out) and I had to pretty much reinvent the story on the spot. Luckily, I had a bit of knowledge on Dick Turpin and Swift Nick to make up more of the material. I kept my character large and loud (just think Lord Flashheart) and full of confidence….. even if the audience gave nothing back and I was really thinking “This was a BAD idea”. The show must go on!

  • lornasmithers

    One of my best moments as part of performance group Guests of the Earth was getting put in an empty shop in Chorley where there were speakers hooked up to coloured lights that flashed to the rhythms of our voices. We were performing a set called ‘The Howling Wood’ and whenever we howled the lights went haywire. The kids loved it! That festival was super-random. At other times we’ve been in a button shop and school uniform shop that were dead and sometimes the library was deadest of all. For some reason we’ve always have poor turnouts and responses in libraries whereas you’d expect libraries to great places for poetry and stories…

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