As this article begins I must admit frustration. While researching a speech for musicians, I came across a fascinating blog written by a man who coaches country singers on how to put on a great concert. I copied a statement from the blog and moved on with my research. Later, when reviewing the copied statement, I decided I should learn more about the man who made it. For reasons I cannot figure out, I was unable to once again find his blog. I used every search term I could think of, but nothing worked.
Therefore, I cannot tell you more about the man. I wish I could. His blog was well written and clearly he was a credible source. I know nothing else to say about him. Nevertheless, I want to share his statement. I felt it an extremely important insight.
He was talking about the need for those who do concerts to understand why people are in attendance. He said,
“These people did not come to just hear you sing. If that is all they want, they could hear you on the radio, download your music, or purchase your CDs.”
He went to explain that people attend concerts for a relational experience. Specifically he said,
“People come to a concert for three reasons: They want to be captivated and engaged, they want to experience a moment, and they want to have their lives changed.”
This observation was consistent with everything else I found in the research process. Whether an academic journal or the opinion of a common individual posting response to an open query, again and again the answer to the question, “Why do people go to live shows and concerts” is “for the social experience.”
People go to shows to be part of something that involves other people. They are there in person (rather than staying home and watching a digital device) because they value an experience involving other human beings.
This is a profound concept for performers/entertainers to understand. Many entertainers, whether magicians, musicians, or something else, believe people come to their performances to experience their talent. Magicians tend to think, They are here to see my tricks! Musicians believe, They are here to hear me sing. Actors assume, They are here to watch me act.
Such are incorrect assumptions. People do not attend so they can see what a performer is able to do. They attend for sake of the human interaction that accompanies and surrounds what the performer is able to do. The performance is important as a catalyst and sustainment for what should be a wonderful social experience, but the performance is not what the event is really about. It is about the experience the performance creates for the people who are there.
To understand this better, I return to the three reasons for attending a live concert, as expressed by the man in his blog. According to him, the first reason people attend is to be captivated and engaged. What does this mean?
I. TO CAPTIVATE AND ENGAGE
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “captivated” as: having one’s interest or attention held or captured by something or someone charming, beautiful, entertaining, etc. This definition makes it clear that captivation involves two parties. The one who is captivated and the one who is doing the captivating. This is a relationship.
The same dictionary defines “engaged” with the following three words: involved in activity. Involvement is much different than spectating. When someone says, “I don’t want to get involved,” they are saying they want to remain at a distance. The person who says, “I want to be involved,” is desiring to be right in the middle of what is happening.
What should this mean to a performer? He or she must not make the mistake of simply viewing audience members as spectators. It is much better to view them as participants. Since they come with a desire to be captivated and engaged, we should work to captivate and engage them. It is a mistake to only focus on how they will watch or listen. The questions we must ask ourselves is What kind of experience am I creating for them? And am I helping these persons feel part of something special?
This matter goes beyond having a couple of audience participation tricks in a show. It is a great to do things that bring volunteers on stage, but volunteers are only a small representation of the larger group. If volunteers are involved, but the rest of the audience remains disengaged, the performance will not be as effective as it could be. There must be an effort to make the entire audience feel they are part of the occasion.
How is this achieved? It is not as difficult as one might think. Fundamentally it requires making specific points of connection with the audience. Here are some practical suggestions as to how to do it…
- Ask the group questions that allow them all to respond. Questions such as “What city are you from?” or “What state are you from?” work well. They suggest that people in the audience have an identity that matters. It is not uncommon to hear good entertainers say, “Shout it out if you are from Iowa! Shout it out if you are from Kansas! Shout it out if you are from Indiana!” It is a technique to get people involved. If is not likely that different states are represented, try distance. “How many of you live within one mile of this place?” “How many come from within five miles?” How many live more than five miles away?” Then say, “Whether you have come from near or far, we are so glad you are here!” Have them clap and cheer for themselves because they made the decision to attend the event. Personally, I like to use humorous questions such as “How many of you are seeing me for the very first time and how many of you have seen me before?” Or, “I am curious about how many of you do not like to raise your hands, so please raise your hand to let me know you do not like to raise your hand.” The purpose of this kind of thing is to engage the audience and make them feel there is a relationship between themselves and you. When you say something to which they respond a two-way or “back and forth” connection is established.
- Recognize special events such as birthdays and anniversaries. This is a common technique used in a show-town such as Branson, Missouri. A performer will ask, “Are there any birthdays today? Or “Are there any anniversaries today?” If so, he will recognize the individuals and have the group sing to them. Some may wonder, Why does he, a big name entertainer, take time to find out about a common person’s birthday? Actually, on the entertainer’s part, it is brilliant strategy. It creates true fans. People see the performer as one who actually pays attention to persons in the audience. Another angle is to try to find out something such as who has been married the longest. “How many have been married ten years, twenty years, thirty years, etc.” As people respond to this kind of thing, or witness it happening to people they know, they feel a sense of recognition. The performer is paying attention to them. He seems to want to know his audience. This is appreciated. It helps people feel part of what is going on.
- When working with youth the “Sit Down If” game is a great tool. This game begins with everyone in the audience standing up. Then, as questions are asked, people are to sit down if the answer applies to them. The performer will say, “Sit down if you have never seen a Ninja Turtle Movie.” “Sit down if you ate a banana within the past week.” “Sit down if you have ever eaten rattlesnake or alligator meat.” “Sit down if you tried to get a kiss on a first date.” “Sit down if you have ever been grounded because of how messy your bedroom is.” Questions continue until everyone is back in a seat. In the process, people learn about one another and get a chance to laugh at themselves. (This requires preparation of a good list of interesting and fun questions that apply to the particular audience. it is worth the effort.)
- Use “Warmup” and “Wake-up” techniques. Many magicians like to use the bit where people clasp their hands and, in imitation of the actions of the magician, try to turn their thumbs up. (The magician tricks them in this.) The value of this is it being a group experience. Everyone participates. There is a sense of common identity. (There are many such physical action techniques. If you are not aware of them, books are available that teach them.)
- Singers can add songs to their set list that call for the audience to sing along or sing out an answer. This literally makes the audience part of the show. There will be at least one place in the show, maybe several places, where the entire audience is making the music. A magician or comedy entertainer is not likely to have a “sing-along,” but he or she can do things that lead to a vocal response from the audience. Classic “turn-it-around” tricks such as the Hippity Hop Rabbits are great for this. Kids will definitely speak out. If the audience is more sophisticated, it is still possible to do something that calls for people to say, “Ooh and aah.” I have a routine the plays like an old-fashioned melodrama where people make sound effects for various things that occur. It goes over well and definitely aids in establishing a sense of a group/social experience.
- Laughter, happening in context of an audience, is a social experience. This is why, even if not comedian, performers should hope to have several places in their shows where people laugh. Laughter is an instantly recognizable group response. Everyone (or almost everyone) is doing it. It is a way of saying, “I get this! I am part of this! I relate to this!” It is a form of communication and relationship.
The purpose of this article is not that of teaching specific audience involvement techniques. Therefore the list above is long enough for now. I trust the point is obvious. Rather than performing for an audience, an good entertainer works to build a relationship with the audience. At all costs the sense must be avoided that the performer is in one place (on the stage) and the audience is in another (in the seats). The performer cannot be someone who is simply being watched or heard from a distance. There must be the feeling that we are all in this together and here we are, instant friends, who are having a good time in the same place!
II. TO EXPERIENCE A MOMENT
The second thing the man who wrote about putting on a good concert said was people attend to “experience a moment.” This is another vital insight. A great performer will have places in his or her show where “moments” are especially likely to occur.
The matter of “having a moment” has worked its way into modern culture as a common expression. Essentially it means the mundane and routine has paused as something special is happening. There is a sudden awareness of life, beauty, and value.
In spite of the expression “having a moment” being a popular term in current culture, it really is not a new idea. The ancient Greeks understood and identified it. They had at least two different notions of time. There was CHRONOS which was viewed as the actual measure of time and there was KAIROS which was significant time. You might say KARIOUS was reference to occasions when one is particularly aware of being alive.
We all should understand this. There are moments in our lives that stand out. We know, at that instant in time, that something is different from the usual. We likely realize we will look back on the particular moment and long remember it.
A few years ago I attended a playoff football game with my son David. We both wore orange Denver Bronco stocking caps. It was very cold (about ten degrees). When the game finished with a Bronco victory, we stood together to clap and cheer. It was a “moment for me.” With my son next to me, in the midst of the raucous crowd, feeling somewhat dwarfed by the huge stadium, the full experience came together as a spot in time when I was super aware of one of the treasures in my life (the father-son relationship).
People who go to concerts and shows hope, in context of the performance, to experience such a thing. They may not consciously identify this desire, but it is there. They want it to happen.
After one of the shows on our recent tour a man came up to me with many kind compliments. While expressing his excitement about our levitation effect he said, “It wasn’t just an amazing illusion…” He briefly stumbled for words then continued, “It was beautiful. I was so glad to see it.” That same night, while doing the same illusion, I saw two ladies rise to their feet with tears in their eyes. They stood and clapped their hands while crying, as they watched the effect. They continued to do this throughout the routine. For them, it was a moment.
I confess, on that particular night, our entire Grand Magic team felt the same moment. I don’t know what was different about the performance, but something extra special occurred. (Maybe our view of the “moment” occurring for audience members result in a “moment” for us too.)
It may be the most common time “moments” are experienced is when children say or do something wonderful. As the floating table rises in the air a child can react with such wonder that a “moment” is created for everyone. During the “snowstorm” trick, children who raise their hands in the air with joy to feel the snow around them…can make a moment for all.
Actually, sometimes when something goes wrong a “moment” results. Early in our career, while I was moving a prop across the stage, a leg broke off it and it crashed to the floor. Mary was inside. When Mary stuck her head out of the prop with a funny expression on her face, and pointed her finger at me as if I was in trouble, a wonderful moment was created. Everyone there knew they were seeing something never seen before and not likely to be seen again. They were “there” when it happened. It was unique and memorable experience. (A lesson to learn from this is a mistake may not be a bad thing. If handled properly, it may strengthen your relationship with the audience.)
In relation to this concept, for a performer the critical question is, “How do I make moments occur?”
The first thing to understand is they cannot be orchestrated. In other words, you cannot say, “Such and such is the time and place in my show where the moment will happen.” If it is planned or scheduled, if it is a matter of manipulating the audience, it will not be a genuine experience.
I remember an occasion, when visiting a new church, where a worship leader started telling the congregation how they should feel during a song. We were instructed, “As you sing, you must feel yourself being drawn close to the Lord, you must feel your heart being overwhelmed with His love, etc” It seemed the worship leader spent more time telling us how we should feel during the song than was spent on the actual singing of the song.
This did not work for me. Feelings are a non-volitional response, not something people tell themselves to do. In terms of worship, feelings must result from our focus on praise and love to God. They must naturally come out of our hearts.
It would have been better for the worship leader to simply let everyone sing and, if the song was the right one and led in the right way, on its own it would have caused the people to feel they were drawing closer to the Lord.
This means we can create places in a show where moments are likely to occur, but we cannot create the moments themselves. It is wise to analyze show structure with this question in mind: Where are the places in my performance when people might gain a special insight about beauty and value in life? Where in my show does something happen which might especially touch a person’s heart? Effort should be made to ensure a performance provides opportunities for “moments” to occur. Then we hope they will occur.
Here are some practical ways to provide opportunities for “moments.”
- Do some things involving children that, rather than being wild and crazy, are gentle and tender. It can be as simple as saying, “Would it not be wonderful if, after all the flowers fell off this stem, they could grow back again?” Then let the flowers grow back (blooming bouquet) and watch the child react. While speaking of finding wonder in life, allow a child to discover something inside a box previously shown empty, or see a torn up piece of paper suddenly completely restored. This might turn into a special “moment” for everyone
- When children come on stage, take time to get to know them. Get down on their level and ask questions such as “Where are you from?” “Do you have a pet?” “What is your favorite thing to study in school?” Don’t get too personal and don’t let this go on too long, but give the child a chance to say something spontaneous. The unscripted answers of a child, at times, are precious and priceless.
- Work hard to have beauty in a show. Not everything needs to be “slam, bang, sensational.” Not everything has to be “Isn’t this the most amazing thing you have ever seen?” Instead some things can simply be wonderful to see. A silk fountain is an example. Although a trick, I am not sure people look at it and think how is this happeningas much as they think wow, isn’t this marvelous to see. If the music is right, and the setup is right, the opening of a silk fountain can be a true “magical moment.”
- Add a personal story to your show. Taking a moment to speak about your own life, especially if you can reference overcoming a challenge, may create a moment when people think more deeply about their own lives. (This is another thing which must be done with discretion, but, when handled with taste and good sense can be very effective.)
- Never discount the power of beautiful music. Music must be more than sound or background. It must be more than a loud playing of currently popular tunes. It should speak to the feelings and emotions of the audience. An exquisite song with classical beauty, in contrast to harder hitting songs likely used at other parts of a show, can lead people to thinking/feeling in different ways. It may be that, more than anything else, great songs have the ability to create great moments.
Time to move on to the third thing the man said about why audiences attend live entertainment events.
III. TO HAVE THEIR LIVES CHANGED
As one involved in ministry, I found this statement surprising. Fundamentally, I hope, as a result of my programs that lives are changed. Here is a secular person saying such is exactly what people want.
In exploring this idea from the secular angle it basically means people are hoping to see the repetitious nature of normal life interrupted. A constant cycle of activity, like a hamster in a wheel, can lead to a feeling of meaninglessness. There are many who have jobs which are not particularly fulfilling. People get up in the morning, go to work, work hard, come home from work, fix supper, watch tv, go to bed…to get up the next day to do the same thing again. If this is all their lives seem to be about, they begin to feel insignificant. More than a few people do feel insignificant.
Going to a live event changes the routine. It indicates life is more than being a hamster on a treadmill. Therefore, within the live event, people want to feel alive. They must not be bored, for they are already on the edge of being bored by life itself. Shows and social interaction are to remind them I am a person with feelings, goals and dreams. I am someone who can laugh, cry and love.
It is a tall order to try to provide audiences with such a message, but it can be done. To accomplish it, the performer must view his or her work as being for the benefit of those who come to experience it. The performer who is on an ego trip, who is there to show-off and get applause, will never be as effective as the one who is there to share the joy and wonder of life.
How do we work in a way that can be life-changing?
- Make sure to enjoy your own work. If we are bored by what we do, or if we act as if our main concern is our own moves and tricks, we will not communicate the idea of life being an adventure and a great and wonderful thing. Enter every performance with personal appreciation for what you have to share. Don’t lose sight of the privilege which is yours to put on the show.
- Make sure to enjoy your audience. This is a crucial thing to remember. Do not take an audience for granted. Do not treat them as if they are just a painted picture of people in seats. Make eye contact. Notice smiles. Smile back. Don’t be afraid to go slightly off script if someone says or does something to which you can personally respond. Remind yourself that the people who are there should matter to you just as much and more than what you do matters to you.
- Take care of your body. When you come into a show tired and stressed, it is much harder to enjoy the situation. When a performer does not enjoy a situation, an audience can lose its joy. Sleep well. Eat right. Take care of your heath. Come into the show with energy and enthusiasm. To convey excitement about life, you must possess excitement about life!
The subject is “live entertainment.” As magicians, clowns, and variety entertainers this is what we are about. We are not those who people watch via video. We are there in person and they are there in person. Therefore, we must pay attention to persons and personality. The tricks we do, the jokes we tell, the routines we perform are not ends in themselves. They are tools. Our shows are not about how great we are, they are about how great we can make others feel. Our shows are not about our abilities, they are about how our abilities convey emotion, meaning and a sense of life to others.
To be successful, we must seriously focus on the relationship we establish with our audience as the show takes place.