Prompted by a very good point made on Facebook by Robin Herne, I want to explore a set of skills that have huge value, but are seldom talked about. I’m warming up to teach a Pagan leadership course over at http://www.patheos.com . Robin pointed out that there may well be as great a need for information on how to be a good follower, and I think he has a very good point. These are not skills we teach, either. It does not help that normal culture muddles this kind of thing into being subservient, which it isn’t.
It is really hard to do well as a performer if your audience are crap. It doesn’t matter how skilled or talented you are, a really shit audience can wreck an evening. Bad audiences aren’t listening, don’t care, talk to each other, have their mobile phones go off, get up and walk around in the middle of things, break atmospheres, show no respect and generally make the job hell for the poor sod at the front. Gigs where this kind of reception can be expected, are called ‘wallpaper gigs’ because that’s all you are – a musical backdrop. Performers take them because they need the money, but being wallpaper is soul destroying.
Being a good audience is about more than just sitting there quietly with the phone turned off. It is a skill, and you can hone it. A good audience is not merely listening, but engaged. It cares, it responds, it sings along, and participates, taking an active role in making the event work. One determined bardic audience member can shift the whole tone of an event.
As a young human, I always used to get up and dance if there was live music. I loved dancing and was not self-conscious about being the only person on the floor. I have observed repeatedly that most people are not willing to be the first one up, but when someone goes, others will follow. All of a sudden that which would have been a wallpaper gig turns into a meaningful interaction between performers and audience. The performers are boosted by this, so they play better, give more. The audience responds, and so a powerful feedback loop is created.
I’ve done it in the street, actually stopping to listen to buskers and applauding them at the end of a tune. Other people will feel able to join in. I know perfectly well that I’m capable of being an influential presence, and if I give someone my focused attention, it’s discernible. Other people get on-board.
Anyone can do this. Just give of yourself bit. Give your care and enthusiasm, your applause, your willingness to dance. Give your stillness and quiet, your respect. These are all good bard skills, and well worth honing. They also turn what might have been lacklustre evenings into engaging events. A performer cannot do it on their own. Singing, playing, storytelling into the void, or the noise, is unworkable. Just one person who is listening, who you can address things to, changes the entire nature of the arrangement.
We are too used to amplified entertainment over which you need to shout to be heard. We’re used to the darkened anonymity of big performance spaces, and we are accustomed to entertainment as wallpaper. It takes a bit of a wriggle to leave those ideas behind, and get back to a real engagement between performer and audience. That’s what bardic work is all about, but the performer cannot do the whole thing themselves.