After last week’s blog some of you may have overcome the nerves and decided to venture out in front of people. The next part of the performance is how do you look, what do you wear, how do you stand, do you move around and what choreography can you use effectively?
First impressions can be so important, even to the point of how you arrive on stage, how you approach the podium for your presentation or what intent you show when starting your game. Do you saunter on to the stage and then spend the next five minutes with your back to the audience whilst you tinker with equipment, do you sheepishly walk to the front and have your head down in the notes or do you walk on to the field and just look at the surroundings? All three examples give the impression that you are not ready, not confident and the first impression for the audience is a negative one. This is difficult to turn around in the time you are under the spotlight.
It is about being prepared for the situation you are about to face, the stage should be set and ready or you should be able to control the instruments whilst facing the audience, the first part of the presentation should be known off by heart so there is no need for the notes and you can look towards your audience and in sport, stride with intent onto the field of play.
Most of the research about communication in business gives between seven and thirty seconds to make a good impression with good information to deliver in a confident manner. This part of the performance is more appropriate to personal meetings, how do you give that impression when you are detached from the audience, on a stage or field of play? These situations need more consideration, how you move, where and how you stand and often the very important part, how you dress give signals to the audience. It is a stage performance and much can be taken from the work of theatre direction to enhance this presentational aspect.
During my career as a percussionist I have worked with many performers, some have a sense of the theatrical and others have a take it or leave it approach to their performance. There have been very effective, stage-managed first impressions and others that worked in theory but the practicalities were not fully considered. Dame Shirley Bassey invariably arrived on stage to rapturous applause due to the careful planning and management of people, lighting, costume and music that created expectation and excitement.
One opening I witnessed should have impressed, the music started with the audience looking at a dark (black) stage. The theory was when the vocalist sang the first note, the lights would flood the stage to reveal the singer and the band. What had not been rehearsed was the singer (all dressed in black and holding a black guitar) had to find a black lead on stage and plug it into the guitar before he started. To add to the image the star was also wearing sunglasses. After what seemed like half an hour (but was probably only five minutes) of repeating the musical introduction and still no singing, the lights went on and there was a chaotic scene on stage. No one had found the lead and the stagehands were searching by feel to try and locate it. (Wireless technology needed for this effect).
Finally the costume, dress or kit needed to create the right appearance. Team sports used to wear a uniform (or strip) but there are now different undergarments and styles of shirts as well as the footwear that allow for easier recognition of the individual, most important if they have are sponsored by a clothing manufacturer. Creating a uniform look that does not unduly influence the audience is how many music events are staged. The orchestra usually dress in black and white and if there are soloists, they are similarly dressed but are at the front, standing if possible, to give some focus but not too much as the music is important, not the performer.
Other styles of music have some dress codes or conventions, from jeans and t-shirt rock look to sharp suited for jazz and many more in between. Pop music artists tend to follow the fashion and culture of the period although the notable exceptions were during the first punk era when artists initially promoted an underground fashion/culture that then became more mainstream. One practical tip, whatever you wear just make sure it is comfortable at all temperatures and during all movement.
As a performer there are decisions to be made as to what audience you want to attract most, what is the ‘look’ for that audience or do you want to avoid this market research and just be yourself and let the music speak for itself? If you have made the decision about your appearance then that is one less item to consider and you will be more confident, give a stronger first impression and can concentrate on putting your message across.