All the world is a stage and all the people merely players.
In the end, you have to produce yourself. Create your own venue. Build your own audience.
Performance requires performance. Fake it until you make it is the key advice. Even George Washington found his beat by following a book of rules about roles.
Howard W. Campbell Jr would tell you that we are who we pretend to be, so we better be very careful about who we pretend to be.
For so many people, the line between performance and presence is so thin to be invisible. The only way they can tell who they might be is to be aware of their backstage moments, when something erupts to disrupt their assigned role. Theirs is not conscious and considered performance, it is habit and training.
The only way we lift ourselves out of repeating the past is by performing the new, making new choices. Which comes first, the thought or the choice? Does acting in a new way change the way we see the world, which changes the way that we think, or does changing the way we think change the way we see the world, which changes the way that we act? It’s a cycle, whatever.
Only performance can break through the clutter of the routine. By changing our expression, we change our interactions. We influence other people by our performance, whatever component of that makes an impact with them.
People respond to performance over content. Performance is the emotional trigger, while content is just the mental payload. Pushing the buttons opens the other for engagement. For women, especially performance is usually at the heart of power, from costume to eye contact.
My sister has learned performance. I watch her when she switches into that mode. It leaves me cold because it feels internally separated, cold.
Performances play out based not just upon the behaviours, but on the total package. For example, the same behaviour may work on a teenager but not for a senior. This means that behaviours can’t be evaluated in isolation, but rather have to be seen in context to know how they can be made effective. Do they appear to be part of an integrated and “authentic” character? This makes it hard to try new techniques in isolation, and that makes it hard to test new behaviours, to try on a new performance that is significantly different from what you have tried before.
Performance is about managing focus. What do you choose to focus on and how? Once you know where the focus needs to be, you also understand where the focus should not be, what is either unimportant or misleading. Performance is how we cut through the noise in the world to convey what we see as important, laced with what we see as intriguing, novel, compelling and arresting. Performance always asks us to set priorities.
Continuity of performance always enhances focus. We are always better at well practised performances, where we know the possible variations and pitfalls and know how to handle them. This is one reason that rehearsal is vital, but only rehearsal with feedback and challenges. We are always better at consistent performances, because when we are forced to context switch, moving from boss to battered wife, for example, we lose focus and power in our performance. If we are thinking about having to switch gears, rather than just being in the moment with assurance, we will not have the focus to be as potent as we might be. The potential “gotchas” can cripple us.
Performance is in the details. Humans grasp details that they could never verbalize, and it is the harmony or dissonance of the details that carry the nuance of performance. Details, for example, illuminate the line between polished and fake, because when too many details seem to camouflage we worry about authenticity. The human must always exist alongside the practised for any performance to be seen as authentic.
There is nothing more important to performance than attitude and belief. When you have the attitude right, the details tend to fall into place, but getting the details right is no guarantee of getting the attitude right. Correct attitude also lets performance flow, removing stutters, hesitations and breaks that can come when the performance is mechanistic and surface. Attitude is assurance, and assurance is authenticity, so being assured is the key to attitude. When you are comfortable in your own performance, your performance is part of you.
Performances can play into the character or against it. Do you want your past to be lost in the character, so the character is the primary vision, or do you want your past to be visible inside the character, so that you show another facet or aspect of yourself? Costume oriented characters are usually constructed just to highlight a bit of our own persona that is usually invisible, to play with a performance that is inherently one dimensional, while daily characters are usually meant to be more seamless, more robust, more detailed and more authentic. This is one line between drag and daily, a line which we all know is not hard and fast, because we never reveal all the facets of who we are at one time anyway. Women clearly fold multiple roles into their lives, which requires a range of performance (and related costume) that cross and connect but that also diverge.
Performance expresses ownership. When we perform the queen, in royal robes, we show how much we can own our own regal nature. What we choose to own expresses our priorities and our mastery, which is compelling. The performance of gender roles, for example, is a kind of adverting that displays what we have mastery of, what we are prepared to perform in relationship. The advice to dress for the job you want rather than the job you have is the same, showing that you have the ownership and mastery of the skills needed to take on more responsibility, to get more reward.
Performance is always of the moment. As we can never step into the exactly same river twice, we can never give exactly the same performance twice. Part of this is that we are never exactly the exactly same in any two given moments, as we learn and feel and focus differently, and part of this is the fact that there is no performance without an audience, either real or imagined. We adapt our performance to suit the audience, the real audience and its responses, or the virtual audience we are communicating with as we create our own art. How are/will people see or hear or sense what we are putting out? If a tree falling in the forest may have challenges about being heard with no one around, imagine how an animal as social as a human can do almost anything without some awareness of how an audience may see it.
The relationship between performer and audience is intimate because an audience has enormous power to shape a performance and so to shape a performer. Fred Rogers said “the gift of gracious receiving is one of the greatest gifts we can give anyone.” By receiving what others bring to us, by being their engaged and gracious audience, we encourage them to explore and extend their own expression, to gain confidence in their own performance. The only way to graciously receive is to be open enough to allow ourselves to be changed by what we receive, changed in thought, in feeling or in spirit.
Performance, at its heart is transformational. We perform to change something. That something may be the attitude or emotion of those we interact with, may be the intention, may be the awareness, or whatever, but we want a response to our performance, a response that is a change. That change may be just an affirmation of the status quo, as in many ritual and service based performances but that is a change.
Performance is about choices. Being free to select from a wider range of choices deepens our performance. The more we feel like our choices are constrained, the less we will be able to embody the role that feels right to us. Social pressure is usually about constraining choice, for a range of reasons, but mostly to force group assimilation. When we have to limit our performance so as not to threaten group affiliation and group retaliation, we end up short. Making choices that feel risky is the only way to explore and extend our own performance. It is the requirement to leap and not fear looking stupid, knowing that play is the process to new performance and mastery only comes with practice past failure. Try, try, try again.
The way you do anything is the way you do everything. When your performance is centred and considered, you can be gracious and tolerant, helping others to better their own performance. When you are settled and assured, then trying something new is just part of the process. Choosing again, even in untried ways, deepens the relationship rather than threatening it as long as you are secure and calm enough not to feel threatened. A better performance always demands relationship, and a better relationship always lifts performance.
Performance is about respect, like so much of life. When we respect the audience, our performance gets better. When we respect ourselves, our heart and our limits, our performance gets better. When we respect those we interact with, our performance gets better. When we respect our craft and the craft of others, our performance gets better. When we respect other performers by being a great audience to them, allowing ourselves to be moved and transformed by their performance, our performance gets better. The original notion for the drama queens was drama queens in recovery, and the big breakthrough that had to be made was finally allowing someone else to take the spotlight, not needing to be at the centre, but just doing our part with excellence and respect.
Performance is empowering. Changing our performance is how we change our life. It is how we communicate ourselves better, how we take power in the world, how we make more connection with others. As social animals, changing our relationships with others is how we change our experience of the world, and we change our relationship by changing our performance.
Performance requires exposure. To be credible and authentic, we need to be willing to expose what makes us human. Show some skin. Get naked.
You are who you pretend to be. So be very careful who you pretend to be.