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The Art of Powerful Performance
by Toni Land

from Portland Songwriter's Newsletter January 1998

How is it that one can have a great song, a great voice, be a great musician and still be boring on stage? How is it that one can have an average song, hardly any voice to speak of, know how to play only 3 chords on a guitar, and pack the coliseum?

Why do some people seem to sparkle with charisma and others don't? Are they born with it?

I don't think so. It's true that some people seem to have an easier time of it than others but I've seen people become wonderful performers even though they were initially awkward, boring, or fearful on stage. I've seen them learn to touch their audience, to acquire the seemingly mysterious quality called charisma.

Actually it's more of an unlearning process. Young children sparkle with the stuff that makes for inspiring performance. We all start out moving in our bodies without inhibitions. We start out spontaneously exploring our world, fearlessly trying new things. But over time and through certain life experiences, we do what we need to do to survive in a not always ideal world. We become cultured, or in some cases rebellious of our culture. Either way, this has taken a toll on our sparkle and it's up to us to consciously reclaim our ability to express fully what once was so natural.

The one thing most needed to accomplish this fuller and more natural expression of ourselves, is unrelenting desire and willingness to break through our status quo. To seek and not to grow complacent. To not buy into thoughts that say 'I've got my act together'. Truly having 'our act together' is boring. Audiences want something that is on the edge of destruction, that could fall apart at any moment, that lives and breathes with life. They will go anywhere the performer takes them but the performer must take them somewhere. And of course this requires great performers to be willing to go where they haven't been before. ..that is.. to open up to what they don't even know about themselves and to discover their own wild nature, their own true spirit. This, my dear friends, is where powerful performance lives. Performance mastery takes work just like learning to play an instrument, learning to sing, or doing anything well. There are books to read including "Going Public.....A Practical Guide to Developing Personal Charisma" by Hal Milton. Meditation and journal writing are wonderful tools. Make it a point to study other performers but most of all study yourself.

Video taping your performance is a great way to step outside of yourself to see what it is you're actually doing. Ask yourself what's working about your performance? This is an important question and one to start out with. Ask yourself what's not working. Look for overly repetitious actions or mannerisms. Are you continually moving side to side? Try something new. Are your arms or legs locked into one position? See if there might be some other way to move them that's more natural and expresses more freedom. Look at your clothes, your make-up, your facial expressions. Is your presentation what you want? Improving your performance demands a detachment. We all have insecurities and feel vulnerable to criticism but try and look at your performance personality as a separate person. I refer to her just like she's someone else. She's wilder and braver than me. I don't know what she'll do next. Who does she think she is anyway standing up there in front of all those people? etc. etc.

Just as an athlete uses a coach to help him train, a professional performance coach can be invaluable to the performer. It can be difficult to see ourselves objectively. Even looking at a video can be tricky when it's yourself you're looking at. A second pair of eyes can help tremendously. Finding a coach for yourself is like finding a doctor for yourself. You need to trust him or her to be "on your side". Your coach should be looking for ways to help you improve your performance that are appropriate for you, your body and your music. You are unique and it's not about looking or behaving like someone else that happens to be famous. You don't want to "glue on" some sort of "act" for yourself. An audience wants 'you' not your Mick Jagger or Alanis Morissette impersonation.

Toni Land

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Stagework courses are led by Toni Land, performance coach and creator of "The Power of Performance" workshops.  She is a professional performer, award winning songwriter and recording artist.  

Available for individuals and groups

Stagework Courses

PO Box 169
Amboy, WA 98681
(360) 247-4475 

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