I am not a natural performer, not a good public speaker, not a good actor. My history with performing is inauspicious at best. As a girl, I rarely got through a piano piece without major mistakes when being adjudicated in the Kootenay Music Festivals, I was consistently put in the chorus for the annual school play, and when I landed a role as the angel Gabriel in the Christmas pageant I was lucky enough to remember my speech let alone give it any meaning. As a young dancer I seemed to do alright, but that was due to many, many rehearsals as part of a group. It is frontline solo performance I speak of here.
I found out fairly recently that I can read my writing out loud to an audience tolerably well, as well as talk about it, but that may be because my feelings about writing transcend self-consciousness (finally). And I can finally sing well enough to feel fairly good about singing in public. I am an anomaly in my family, however. My eldest and middle sisters are both comfortable on stage as actors, and the other one is a seasoned performer of music (she was even the singer in a disco revival band called 'Shag' that gained a large, devoted following), both my brothers are entirely comfortable singing and performing professionally in public, and both my parents have performed on stage as both actors and musicians. I also turned on CBC radio the other day while making supper and heard a new song by my nephew James Lamb. My other very talented nephew, Christopher (James' brother) has also put out a CD and performs regularly, and several of my nieces are lovely dancers. And don't even get me started on the bravery of my own children (but of course, I will talk about them at length if asked).
Landing as the youngest child in such a family, I think I just grew up to believe something had to be done really well, or it just shouldn't be attempted on stage, in front of people, especially paying people. I do not think that everyone has the same idea. I have seen many, many performances which never should have made it to the stage - most of the acts at the last talent show at my kids' high school for example, not to mention Miley Cyrus. And even some people who could be good performers just, well, blow it by not striking the right balance between too much and too little. In my experience there is a tendancy among amateurs to overdo performances - to overact, to sing beyond their ability, to read too long to an audience. I do understand that performers have to learn the art of performing and the tolerance of an audience, and so they have to start somewhere in order to test their skills, which is why the audience of a school play, dance recital, or music festival is composed mainly of cheerleading parents and grandparents. I do think, however, that more should be expected of more experienced performers, and I will share a little story to support my case.
We were sitting on stools around the kitchen island in my parent's house last August - My sister, Pauline and I, and my mom and dad. Pauline and I were eating toast and peanut butter and she was telling us about her gig the evening before. Pauline is a wonderful singer/songwriter who has been performing for about twenty years, and had played at an event, which included another musician and a poet. The following is how I remember her telling it:
Apparently, when it came time for the poet to read, she announced to the audience, which consisted of people of all ages including children, that when she teaches her poetry class she has them read the poems twice because it takes the students at least two readings to really get the meaning of the poem. Therefore, she had decided it would be a good idea if she read the audience each of her poems - twice. Pauline then described the reaction of the poor audience, which took the opportunity after each first reading of a poem to gradually, methodically back away and out the back door in order to wait it out until the next performer. Did the poet get the message from the receding audience? No! She carried right on, double reading until she ran out of time (or maybe out of audience. I wasn't there.)
Amid the groans and laughter of everyone in my parent's kitchen I said, "Hey, that sounds like that movie, The Postman Always Rings Twice, except in this case it would be The Poet Always Reads Twice.
Pauline said, "That sounds like a great title to a murder mystery."
My dad finished us off, "Yeah, guess who gets murdered!"
Better her than me.
Note: The top photo is of my sister Pauline Lamb, photographer unknown. The black and white photo is of James Lamb and was taken by photographer Christine McAvoy (she has a blog) of Vancouver. All musicians mentioned have a myspace page if you would like to look them up. Please let me know if you need further direction. I'm not very good at providing links yet.