As straightforward as it can get. 

I’ve started teaching a new workshop this Slapdash Festival, named “Get Real”. It’s called that because it’s a snappy title (if I do say so myself), and also to help performers get at something that I think is vital: reality. Or authenticity.

A lack of reality (or commitment, or vulnerability) is one of my biggest turn-offs in improv. And in performance (and people), in general.

By ‘real’ I don’t mean ‘kitchen sink’ grittiness, nor do I mean mundane situations or a lack of character work: I just mean that there needs to be some element of the performer visible and sensible to the audience. There needs to be some ‘skin in the game’. As a performer you need to care.

Audiences want to see some aspect of humanity onstage. And the easiest way to show that is by baring a little bit of your soul. Of course, they want that mixed in with talent, experience, passion, polish, wit, and lyricality  among other things. But they also quite definitely want people who show some measure of who they are.

It’s an interesting relationship between the heart and the brain onstage. People want to laugh, they want the performers to be witty, and the situations full of humour. But they also want to care about the characters, and feel that there’s some personal investment on the part of the performers. If not, it can still be funny, but it will seldom  if ever  be anything more.

Me doing “technically stand-up”

A brief return to stand-up
While Chiara and I were on holiday (as we were until last week), I did very very little “work-related” stuff. But I actually did do a show. I did a six minute guest spot at Ratfish, a stand-up night in Victoria. I deliberately didn’t prepare anything, I just went up there and improvised. And, because there was a live band, I finished with a freestyle rap on setlist topics solicited from the audience.

I loved the show overall because it was the first time I got to see my brother do stand-up (and he killed), and we got to be on a bill together, and a bunch of family  some of whom I haven’t seen in years  came out to support.

My set also went down well. And Chiara (my staunchest supporter and toughest critic) said she loved it, which she doesn’t say often. Because I was myself, she told me.

Going into it I knew that if I tried to do actual written stand-up I wouldn’t be able to draw upon my improv skills, so I opted to go with a strength. Plus, having so much solo improv experience  which relies on audience interaction and connection  under my belt, it was where I felt most comfortable. Although I wasn’t sure how it would fit into a stand-up night. But freestyle rapping always goes down well with an audience, so I figured I would at least finish strong. Of course, I was also really nervous, but in a controlled way; I was able to show enough of myself and take risks, without going over into something rote, nor be out of control.

Accounting for taste
Part of that sincerity comes from a real desire to connect with the audience. When performers attempt to connect with an audience, with confidence and consideration, they will almost always succeed. Sincerity is underrated.

Of course for most performers, the act of performance is some sort of sublimated attempt to get the love and approval they desperately crave. So automatically, when they pretend that it’s not, that they don’t care what the audience think, it rings false and is a turn-off for the audience.

Of course, go too far the other way and beg or be overtly needy, and it will also fail. Because nobody wants to deal with that person in any capacity.

But when the attitude is along the lines of: “I’m glad you’re here! What I’m about to do is something I’m excited about, I’m proud of, and I want you to like it too. I’m going to enjoy myself up here, and I invite you along for the journey.”, then you should be in good shape. And if any of those sentences don’t apply to the performance you’re doing, or the audience you’re doing it for, you’re in trouble.