I live for those moments. Firstly of course, there's the challenge of seeing how I handle it. I learn a lot from the unexpected, especially since those things are often ones I could never have predicted. The whole reason I rehearse as much as I do isn't so I do the performance exactly the way I practiced. It's so my brain is freed up from thinking about material; I can instead focus on the crowd or the logisitics of that particulary show. Plus, knowing my material means if and when I do get sidetracked, I can move back into it when I'm ready to take things home.
Secondly--and more importantly--that's what sets live performance apart. More and more it seems like entertainment is coming from pre-recorded mediums: television, movies, YouTube videos, recorded music. On recordings, mistakes can be fixed so everything looks perfect. Live, the audience can see fuck-ups happen. And I think those fuck-ups and deviations can make the show more real for the audience. They're seeing something they won't see on TV or hear on an album, and the only question is how the performer handles it. It makes them part of an experience they can never see on YouTube or download from iTunes. They're sharing a moment which will never happen that way again.
So if you haven't been to a live show in a while--be it comedy, wrestling, music, burlesque or anything else, I encourage you to check it out...perhaps even starting this very weekend with Real Canadian Wrestling ths Friday, March 22 at the Royal Canadian Legion in Calgary and Saturday, March 23 at Edmonton's Glengarry Community Hall.
You may be surprised at the things you don't see on television.
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While we're on the subject of performing, I occasionally get asked for tips or tricks for a new public speaker making a presentation or hosting an event. These are things I've picked up over the years either from comedy, wrestling, teaching, or the various other things I'v done.
Here are 10 Tips for Dealing With Crowds. Take what works for your situation and don't worry about the rest:
INTRODUCING SOMEONE ELSE:
1 - When introducing someone else to the stage, say their name LAST. Example: "This next comic has been to the presigious Just for Laughs festival and has toured all over this great country of our. Put your hands together for Andew Iwanyk" If you forget, you can cover by repeating the name at the end (ex: "It's now time for Doug, the father of the bride to give his toast. Doug, everyone.") The reason we do this is a) it builds tension for the audience and b) it helps the performer time his or her entrance.
2 - Keep introductions reasonably short, and once you start introducing someone, DO NOT STOP. Remember, you're building the audience's anticipation to see this person. If you start rambling, you lose that anticipation. Furthermore, the performer/speaker is backstage getting ready. If you start their intro and then stop to do one more joke or explain something, you're muddying the rhythm of their entrance: they don't know whehter to approach the stage, sit down and wait or what. The exception to this rule is if you botch an intro beyond recognition, in which case you say "Let's try that again," or words to that effect so both the person you're introducing and the audience know what's going on and what to expect.
GENERAL SPEAKING TIPS
3 - (from wrestling) Go slow. When speaking, keep your ideas short, and pause to let the audience digest or respond to what you're saying. "Last month...at Winter Chaos....you took something from me...You took my most precious posession, the RCW Mid-Heavyweight Title....and tonight....Tonight, I'm taking it back!"
4 - (from comedy) Be careful about asking too many questions. Instead of "How are you doing tonight?" try "Let me know how you're feeling out there." Too many questions can sound like you're pandering to the audience. Making statements lets them know you're in charge.
5 - (from teaching) Whether you ask questions or not, be careful of rising intonation? Where your pitch goes up at the end of sentences? Don't do that.
6 - (from teaching) If you find yourself fidgeting, put your hand on a desk and lean on it to keep yourself grounded. I've seen comics use the mic stand for this as well.
7 - (teaching/comedy/wrestling) Your first, best option for dealing with low-level heckling/misbehavior is IGNORE. In teaching (and comedy) trying walking towards the offenders without breaking what you're doing--often your proximity will often be enough to get them to stop what they're doing.
8 - (Comedy) When dealing with an audience response, repeat what the audience member said. That way you're sure the rest of the crowd hears it. It also gives you more time to think of how to respond.
9 - Tell the crowd how they're expected to behave. You can do this verbally--If you're teaching, outline classroom rules. If you're at a comedy show, ask for applause. You can also do it non-verbally: Good guy wrestlers get more fired up the louder the crowd gets. Bad guy wrestlers show frustration and cover their ears when crowds get loud, prompting the audience to jeer or boo louder.
10 - (Teaching, comedy, wrestling) Let the audience know what's going to happen. As in point 6, you can do this verbally and non-verbally. In comedy, the MC starts the show by letting the audience know who the headliner and feature acts are and asking for a round of applause for each. In teaching, I was told to let students know what they were going to learn and why, present the lesson, and then review it afterwards and reinforce the important points. You can also do this non-verbally. In wrestling for example, a good wrestler won't just pick up a chair and start whaling away on his opponent. What he'll do is prepare the audience for what's about to happen by looking at the chair, pointing to it, picking it up and holding it high, etc. so he gives the crowd a chance to process what's going to happen.
Oh and one more thing--and this will sound strange coming from someone who loves being onstage, but bear with me...
Don't be onstage a second longer than you have to be. This sounds counterintuitive, but it's a good way to keep yourself focused and purposeful. There needs to be a reason you're on stage and a reason you're doing what you're doing or saying what you're saying whether it's telling jokes, improvising, doing crowd work, or just stretching for time. But if you don't seem to be building towards something with what you're doing, audiences tend to get restless. Try to make each word or action count. You don't need to rush (I DID write a tip about slowing down, after all), but leave them wanting more.
Those are some things I've learned. I'm also curious about what others have found from their experience? Performers, what are your best tips for dealing with audiences? What have you learned in your time as a performer. The floor is open for comments.
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Saturday, April 6 - Strathcona Library, Edmonton (10:30am)
Sunday, April 21 - Strathcona Library, Edmonton (2:00 pm)
Sunday, May 5 - Strathcona Library, Edmonton (2:00 pm)
Friday, March 22 - RCW Aggression, Royal Canadian Legion - Calgary
Saturday, March 23- RCW Goldrush- Glengarry Community Hall - Edmonton
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