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Friday, April 15

Why Live Performance Beats So Many Other Artforms

The highest paying "gig" I ever got was for a national newspaper. I'll rephrase that a bit. By gig, in this case, I mean one-off job where I did something and then got paid. Actually, they paid me twice, once for writing the piece, and a second time for their own choice to publish it. It's good money, but it's a rare privilege.

After that article, I got a handful of emails and one or two people I ran into mentioned reading it. As experiences go, though, it was a bit empty. It was like throwing your efforts into a vacuum. Even the editor of the supplement it went into was unable to give me any feedback on the article. Why? Because that's not how it works when you put your creative work out in that sort of format.

Live performance is different. From one minute to the next you can see how the audience are reacting. If they like it, they'll spontaneously show it. It's a lot more ephemeral. You won't be able to go back to the performance a few weeks later and re-read it (as you could with an article or book), but the instant pleasure of a job well done is the reward for the ephemeral nature of the form.

As live performing is a one-take situation, you end up thinking at a more intense level. You are on the spot for the duration of your performance. There's only so much you can do to prepare to be spontaneous and in control. Some comedians go through various rituals to prepare themselves. I've heard of acts using their favourite lipstick, or chanting a mantra to themselves. I've seen someone do a 10 minute warm up.

My own technique is a non technique. I do a few unqualified vocal exercises, which are basically a bit like the system check you get when you turn on a PC - is this bit still connected? Do I have that bit? How big is this? Ok... we're away. I also put a few ideas into my back pocket for things which I've noticed about the room, which I may wish to talk about if the mood takes me.

You hit the stage and then that's it. It's over in a few minutes, and only the moments you created in that performance count... and only for a few minutes after you've performed them. That's it.

However, I wouldn't trade it for anything else - in creativity and feedback terms, at least - the pressure and the feedback are like manure to my allotment of creativity. I'll be fine, so long as I don't stink the place out!


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