Seven Deadly Bardic Sins – Part 6
This is mostly directed at those of us who’ve been at it long enough so that some folks recognize us as performers. But it may serve as a cautionary tale for new folks.
Let’s be honest – it takes a certain amount of ego to get up in front of a bunch of people and ask for their attention even for a few minutes. (It also takes a LOT of courage for many folks. It’s said that most people are more afraid of speaking in public than dying.) And – again, lets be honest – the applause at the end feels GREAT. (Even better is that little moment of silence BEFORE the applause starts! If you’ve experienced it, you know what I mean.)
If you work hard at your craft you may eventually get to the point where people simply expect wonderful things whenever you walk on stage. (Or – and Here Be Bad Things – you might think that they should even if they don’t.)
You might be sitting in a bardic circle and a performing-arts laurel will ask you to perform, because they haven’t heard you in a while. Or they’ll ask you to perform and then walk away, leaving you in charge of things for a while, because they have to Go Do A Thing and they have that much faith in you. Yow! Or someone you’ve never met who’s heard of you, but never actually heard you, will ask you to do something.
You’ll have earned a reputation for excellence in performance. That’s a really really really cool thing, and it shows that you’ve been doing things mostly right.
But it is also a very Real And Present Danger, and not just because you risk outgrowing your headgear. If you ever get to thinking that you deserve the attention or applause “just because it’s you,” then you’re getting into VERY dangerous territory – a wilderness that I explored well in my foolish, feckless youth. (See That Guy)
Yes, you may have a well-earned reputation for entertaining folks. But you have to keep on earning it.
EVERY performance is a NEW transaction between you and the audience. You’re asking them to trade their precious, can’t-get-it-back time and attention for… what? Your ego? Flip that around. Would you make that trade?
Imagine shelling out $100 a seat to see That Legendary Band. You’ve loved them for years, have all their albums, know all the words to all the songs. You were thrilled just to get tickets. And the house lights go down, the stage lights go up, and they’re just Going. Through. The. Motions. Mailing it in.
Would you feel that you’d gotten your money’s worth? Me neither.
As a performer, you should deliver the goods, every time. (See Unpreparedness.) That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to have a bad night, even if you’re a performing arts Laurel with a Pelican for supporting the bardic arts in service to the Society as a whole, as well as a former bardic champion to a dozen kingdoms. Master / Mistress Unobtanius can still experience that moment “”Right after the performance when your clothes tear, you moon the Queen, you forget the words, you forget the tune . .”” – @Charles Krug (FB/SCA Bardic Arts)
Of course stuff happens. Remember that Babe Ruth held the record for strikeouts as well as home runs. And of course, it’s perfectly safe to crash and burn in a Bardic Safe Zone – that’s what they’re for.
But when you have a “real” performance – for example, a pre-court or in-court performance – for ALL our sakes’ PLEASE don’t just phone it in and expect them to love you just because it’s you. (Yesss, I’ve BeenThereDoneThat. That’s why I’m writing this series, to spare you from making the same mistakes I made when I was young and stupid.)
Whenever I have a “big gig” coming up I tend to watch a couple of videos for inspiration: Jethro Tull at Madison Square Garden in 1978, and Queen at Wembly Stadium in 1986. Both bands’ frontmen – Ian Anderson of Tull and Freddie Mercury of Queen – have larger-than-life, in-your-face, big-and-bold-brass-balls personas when on stage. Interestingly, they are both very quiet and introspective in off-stage interviews. But on stage? They OWN it. They strut. They swagger. They stalk. They play the crowd. They are huge. HUUUGE!
And in the camera close-ups, the sweat is POURING down their faces. They may be playing the role of MASTER OF THE WORLD, but they are WORKING. Hard. They are earning the audience’s attention and applause. Bob Seeger’s classic golly-being-a-touring-rock-star-is-hard song, “Turn the Page” has a great stanza: “Up there in the spotlight you’re a million miles away / Every ounce of energy you try to give away / And the sweat pours out your body like the music that you play.” Some friends of mine recently saw Seeger in concert. They said that he not only rocked the arena, but was genuinely thankful to his audience for coming out to see him.
(“Brendan, what’s with all the rock and roll stories? Where is this going?” Bear with me…)
Some of you may be old enough to remember the band Van Halen. Their first singer was David Lee Roth, a prototypical strutting-and-swaggering 1970’s rock star, both on and off stage. In the 1980’s, established guitarist and singer Sammy Hagar (“I Can’t Drive 55,” “Why Can’t This Be Love”) replaced Roth. Like other top-shelf rock frontmen, Hagar stalked the stage and played the crowd.
Offstage, though, it was a different story.
A few years ago I read about an event at a record store where both Roth and Hagar were to be greeting fans and signing autographs. Sammy Hagar shows up a few minutes early, driving his own car, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. He hangs out, chatting with folks, clearly pleased that people recognize him and still enjoy the music that he made years before.
Half an hour late, a limo pulls up and a jumpsuit-and-sunglasses-clad Roth emerges, a blonde babe on each arm. This despite the fact that the decades have clearly taken a toll on his glam-boy looks. The crowd was by all accounts not exactly overwhelmed by his “I’m all that and a bag of chips” entrance: “Is THAT David Lee Roth? Wow…” (and not a good “wow”).
So what’s the point? You only deserve what you earn.
OWN the venue. BRING IT. ROCK the stage. Leave them stunned while you go walk off the adrenaline shakes, mop the sweat, and re-hydrate.
But leave your rockstar persona on stage. Be Sammy, not David Lee.