Friday, December 02, 2011

What IS Performance?

**For an entire month this Fall (2011), Deborah Henson-Conant and I threw ourselves into a joint traveling adventure of performances, workshops, and the ongoing development / implementation of fantastical ideas and dreams.**

And so, what IS performance, really? We'll peer into the window of my own experience, conveniently captured in this hardly-vampy video.

Here's the setup:  It's the last performance of the DHC Fall Tour 2011.  For an entire month (or more) we had been talking about playing on stage together and disagreeing about the reasons why it wasn't happening.  In classic uncomfortable 180-degree style, rebelling against our own resistance, we threw this not-quite-duet together just minutes before the show was scheduled to start.  DHC showed me the form, the parts she wanted me to play, and areas open for improvisation.

We are wearing outfits that I don't normally choose for myself and that DHC chooses for herself all the time -- about which she commented a few weeks earlier, "Good thing we don't get tired of seeing each other in the same thing every night..."

We are tired and had just finished building our own sound system out of equipment we had in the over-packed van, due to miscommunication about what the venue could provide.  I had spent many tens of minutes behind the video camera documenting this process and wondering whether it was for learning purposes or because we were gathering evidence for a Just-in-Case we might file down the road.  I had yet to slam together / sacrilegiously transform a sacred platform into our product table in all its glittery well-organized glory.  In short, in many ways I was completely unprepared to do this.  This is my least favorite way to perform, or really, do anything.

In high boots and tights that I now see aren't true black, I'm crouching at the harp stand because I frankly had never officially played an electric harp before, and playing it at an uncomfortable height was less of a liability than my actually wearing it.  Both string tension and the "voice" of the electric harp are unlike that of a pedal harp -- this requires in-the-moment readjustment of technique and reevaluation of engagement with the instrument (think of an acoustic vs. an electric guitar).  All this is to say, I had no idea what I was doing, feeling very vulnerable, on an instrument foreign to me, playing music that just barely made sense, as the closing piece for someone else's show.

Explaining the setup is not to sell you on why you should see this as a remarkable performance.  Because in many ways it's not, and while I treasure honesty -- Exhibit A, the last post -- whether it is or isn't is beside the point.

The point is that it happened, because we grabbed at and stepped into the opportunity to try a Big Something.  We could either let that slip by, or seize it in a myriad of semi-reluctant ways.  The mere act of doing it became more important than how.  That's not to say the "how" didn't in some way matter -- witness the video edit punches where both DHC and I cut out parts we declared were uninteresting or unacceptable and didn't want the rest of the world to have access to indefinitely.

This was imperfect action.  Messy, uncomfortable, and also oddly enlightening, liberating.  Two tired harpists unsure of an outcome and going for it anyway.

This was living out exactly what we were presenting in workshops during the tour:  Navigating the treacherous and oft-visited waters of Perfection and recognizing the futility of expecting, waiting, and striving for it.  Exploring how structure frees rather than limits you, musically and beyond.  Letting your life experiences show up on stage and disabling the old and out-of-date stories that can otherwise sabotage your experience.  Living in the moment and having that be enough.  Committing to your authentic self when you feel anything but -- "don't do more, hide less" (Karen Montanaro quote, from the Barn experience).

Would we have done that performance differently? Yes! And! No! The point is we do not even know what Yes and No are until we step into the experience.  Live it, in the moment, imperfectly.

And what happened after? We splayed all the travel food on the table we had thus far hoarded to replicate a massive congratulatory feast, then quickly tired of that and went on a slow search for frozen Snickers bars.  DHC edited out parts of the video we didn't like as we randomly commented and cursed about what was and wasn't happening in it.  We sat through late night tension about whose computer housed what and the proper way to affix receipts to larger pieces of paper.  We wrestled with illogically designed alarm clocks.  Real life.  The stuff that happens before, after, and during a performance.

Performance is not about editing life / reality OUT.  It's about letting it IN.

DHC will be in Atlanta on Sunday, December 4 to share with you both the broader and more detailed elements of what we experienced above, using the Blues.  I will be there a day later, but that's fodder for another post.  Will you step up and into the unknown, to learn about parts of yourself you didn't know were there, and other parts you know damn well you are both aching for, and hiding from? Click here to learn more and register for the Atlanta workshop.

Congratulations for the brave yes-and-no way you will choose to hide less today.
Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
Joy to the World  (Pink Martini)
Trista's newsletter
Get notified of posts to this blog
Calendar of December 2011 performances
Other tour posts (in non-chronological order):
Prepared or Paranoid?
Firsts -- How the Tour Began
Sense of Place
Opportunities to explore who you are, with your music, unconventionally, using principles above, with me -- visit the website / email.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:51 PM

    Brava to performance! That moment when you let everything that ISN'T take a back seat to the utter abandon of jumping headlong into what IS.

    The performance in that video is one of those moments of "Hey, we'll never be 'ready' and conditions will NEVER be perfect -- so let's forget all that and just do it NOW!"

    And that's such a bigger engagement with an audience - the exhilaration of jumping into a pond with them, rather than standing on shore and modeling the swimsuit you've crafted to hide as many imperfections as possible.