Challenging Performing Conditions

After reading the post Don’t Sing Opera To Wrestling Fans, TJ Walker writes:

“Great points about venue selection.  But in the case of stand-up comedy in a less-than-ideal situation, isn’t it still helpful to a speaker to go through such an experience?  To ‘survive’ it?  Doesn’t it build confidence for when a speaker is in more ideal situations?”

Excellent question.  Yes…you do learn things from having challenging experiences!

A good part of what you learn comes from your applying the filter of your previous experience.  This means that a seasoned performer will learn more than a novice.  The novice is apt to learn the wrong lesson.  “I couldn’t get laughs…I’m a terrible comic or speaker.” He or she may blame their own performance and not be fully aware of how bad the performing conditions really were.

As a seasoned performer, what I learn and re-learn is to “avoid bad speaking situations.”  Been there…done that!

My advice to the novice is…get good first…then look for challenges which will help you grow.  Practice at Toastmasters and at good  comedy venues first.  And then tackle the challenging assignments.

And to the seasoned performer, I’d generally avoid bad situations.  You’ll find yourself in bad situations without trying!  And when you find yourself in a horrible situation, take advantage of it.  Learn and grow.

My comedy club experiences were all good.  But I did have a bad, comedy-club-like experience at a professional engagement.  I had been hired to perform comedy and magic at a New Years Eve party.  At 11pm they interrupted the dancing for me to do a 30-minute performance.  The audience would have rather kept on dancing!  I wasn’t an added attraction.  I was an interruption.  Likebin a bar situation, the back of the room was engaged in conversation.  Because of the buzz in the room, the middle of the room couldn’t hear the performance, so they started talking too.  Soon, nobody beyond  the front row had a chance of hearing anything I was saying.  My carefully crafted punchlines were falling on deaf ears.

At the end of the performance, I quickly packed up my things and slipped out the side door, vowing never to be in that situation again.  Not fun.

But there are good things to be learned from really bad comedy-club-like situations.  Here are a few:

1.  The set-up.  Give the organizers of the event instructions which will help them set up the stage, lights and sound to give your act a fighting chance.  In a bar or formal club situation, you may have no control.

2.  Arrive early.  Hopefully you’re aware of how bad the situation will be BEFORE you take the stage.  How are the emcee and the performers before you doing with the audience?  It’s best if you’re not totally surprised.

3.  Start your act with a bang.  Open with your best material.  Avoid long set-ups which delay the punchlines.

4.  Project.  Speak loudly straight into the microphone.  Often, the biggest issue in a nightclub situation is having an audience which can’t hear you.

5.  Be big.  Show energy.  Use large gestures.

6.  Get close to the audience.  Move forward.  If necessary step off the stage.  Get into their space.  This isn’t always practical, but be aware that it might be an option.

7.  Tighten the act.  If things are going poorly, shorten your set and get off the stage.  You may have an obligation to fill time, but there are limits to how long you should be tortured.

8.  Be nice to the audience.  They’re not against you, they’re just talking to the person next to them because they can’t hear you.  NEVER scold the audience.  There’s nothing wrong with closing with “You’ve been a great audience,” even if they seemed less than great.  Being negative  towards an audience can turn an indifferent audience into a hostile audience.

Those are things I’ve learned from performing in less-than-ideal situations.  So YES you can learn from bad performing conditions.  I   just wouldn’t go seeking them out until I had some experience under my belt.