Monday, August 10, 2009

The Power of Public Performance

There comes a time when most people have to stand up in front of a large group of others and speak. Sometimes it's a hastily written toast to your friends at a wedding; some other time it might be a presentation to a client or the like. It is a skill that is rife with anticipation, paranoia and at times exhilaration. I started out in theater in high school wanting to be in the "big play." There were moments that were embarrassing - leading off my first line with a terrible accent - other times were fantastic. One of my two favorite moments in theater happened when I was asked by a friend of mine to appear in a talent show when she sang a song from Phantom of the Opera. I would come out of the darkened wings dressed as the Phantom about 2/3rds of the way through her song and then at her crescendo, envelope her in a cape. I didn't want to distract the audience from her performance so this is how we wanted to play it.

The best moment came for me when I appeared in mostly black (with the correct white mask) from the dark. Because of the mask I didn't have my glasses on so I couldn't see the audience. But when I stepped onto the stage...there was a loudly audible gasp from the audience. They were surprised, shocked and thrilled. I think I might have had the white flash of absolute "in the moment" at that point. I had power over the audience and I hadn't said a word.

My second favorite experience came from a point of disaster within an improv act. We were playing a coffee house and the game was a story with five different genre books. I was gothic literature. I committed the ultimate sin in this game for when it was my turn I said:

"And then I died."

That pretty much ends the story no? My friend John Flores who was running the game looked at me with this expression of disbelief that I would submarine the whole thing like that...but then I followed with:

"but only figuratively..."

and the room roared. It was the biggest laugh of the night and the timing was great.

I use those skills in my everyday job when I talk about planning to neighborhoods, when I speak with potential developers, homeowners and business owners. It's something to have the ability to speak, to listen, and to provide enough timing that your audience is captivated and not bored with what you're saying. I miss being in the theater. I don't have the time to devote to art as much as I would like. I praise my good friends John and his wife Christie and all those who I was in theater with in both high school and college who've been able to make it their vocation as well as their avocation. I've found where my talents lie and how I can still command the stage.


EmandaJ said...

Bravo, bravo! Applause, applause!


Anonymous said...

Dearest Stephen,

What an interesting "take" on being "on stage" in every day life. Often when I was doing a presentation for students and/or parents at St. Michael I felt I was "performing for God." I had not really put it into those words, but that's what it was.

I do enjoy your musings!
Baci, Mama