Performing Like a Professional

After a week back, after a lengthy lockdown, I have grown as a performer more rapidly than ever before in my career. It’s as if I got to start again, except this time, I had the knowledge of over ten years of experience. I went from amateur to professional in a matter of weeks. This rapid transition has given me a bit of insight into what sets a beginner apart from a veteran. It helped a lot that while I was in lockdown, I was working on my juggling and circus routines – on the good days.

I’m not talking about circus skills though, I’m talking about the art of performance. Currently, the only venue open to me is the street. Still, I’m sure this is relevant in any aspect of performance. Some performance skills come naturally. Some can be learned through training, but mostly, what I noticed separates the novice from the professional can only be learned through going out there and doing it. There is a noticeable social intelligence that performers gain from being in front of an audience time and time again. The more often an artist performs a routine, the more patterns they can see and the less likely it is that they will be caught off-guard by their audience.

My Zoom Show Setup
Covent Garden 2020

When you are watching a performer, you want them to be in control. If you lack confidence in the performer, then you lack confidence in the whole operation. The person on stage is the captain, and nobody wants to be on a ship that could go down. During my first few shows back, I was fumbling in my case, looking for props, I was uncertain about what routine came next, and I would start a sentence without knowing how to finish it. I quickly tidied up my act and gathered some kind of credibility. Even then, it wasn’t until I’d done it a few times that I remembered why some routines happen in the order that they do or the best way to pack my case so I can pull things out in the right order. I went from incompetent to passable much faster than the first time I took this leap. When I first started performing my street show, it took me about six months to work up my first real script. In March 2021, I did it over a weekend.

But I don’t want my street show to be passable. I want it to be the best it ever was by Summer. I realised one of the most clear-cut signs of a professional over an amateur is the precognition of how the show will play out. The more I performed, the more I knew the result in advance. I now know when a laugh is coming, I know when there will be applause, a gasp, a cheer, a groan. I know what the audience will do long before they do it because every other crowd has done the same so far. It makes the whole experience more comfortable for everyone. I’m not talking over people trying to laugh. Nobody is in the audience clapping by themselves and becoming embarrassed. I’m not waiting for the reaction – I’m anticipating it. The more shows I do, the more I will learn, and the more this captain will lead the crew.

It’s a live show; anything can happen, especially on the street. Suppose I continue to recognise these patterns and learn from them, I will develop a script that seems spontaneous and unique without deviating from the plan. Understanding what will happen then playing with it is crucial. It makes the performance more enjoyable for the artist and more comfortable for the audience. And when something unusual or unexpected does happen, it should come from somewhere so strange that the audience and performer can laugh about the absurdity of what has happened together.

Juggling Photo: Antique Diaries by Alex

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