3 Things That Make a Performance Unmissable

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Photo by Peri Pakroo.

One of the biggest struggles a performing artist goes through in this day and age is how to get people to show up to your show. From theater to music to comedy and beyond, the challenge of pulling people away from the convenience of online entertainment and plopping them into your venue is a constant, no matter how far up the chain you go. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to think about ways to do it better.

Clowns, too, can have a message.

There are many ways to draw more people to shows: Release a video that goes viral; promote shows to local media with some gimmick that grabs headlines; give out tickets with some kind of contest. These can be perfectly effective methods—but the other thing you can do is make your performance unmissable. As far as I can tell, there are three critical elements to this: technique, spectacle and message.

Technique

Technique is, you know, doing whatever you’re doing REALLY well. We should all practice and rehearse more (myself included). And not just rehearse what’s been done, but try things that you haven’t yet tried, even with works you’ve been doing for years. Technique is important and we should always be developing it. Since we’re not all technical geniuses, and it takes a lot of time to grow, make a point while you’re practicing (and practicing and practicing) to work on the other two aspects: spectacle and message.

Spectacle

What about spectacle? This is a fine thing to develop, and though some people are dismissive of it, I relish spectacle. It’s a tool, it has its uses and those uses can be very powerful. Spectacle is the visual, the aesthetics, the action. It’s the clothing we wear, the movements we make onstage, the fireworks we set off at the grand finale. It’s the surface of your performance, and the surface has value; some of the greatest artists of all time, the ones with a great message and great technique, also had strong sense of spectacle. I mean, Bowie’s performance would have been much less successful if he dressed in a sweatsuit and sneakers onstage, right?

Message

Here’s what I’m really getting to: the message. Even if you’re not the most technically skilled performer in the world, even if you’re not the most spectacular performer in the world, people will still come to you for your message if the message is right for its time.

As a singer-songwriter, the message matters a lot to me and my peers. It’s the main driving force of many performers. It’s the basis of our archetype: one lonely voice on stage, singing into the darkness of the crowd, asking the right questions at the right time, spilling our emotional baggage out on the stage for others to pick through and find something of value in. Hoping to move the crowd to emotion with the simplicity of words and melody. When people think of singer-songwriter, that’s often the go-to mental image. The voice and the words.

But the message isn’t just for singer-songwriters. Comedians can have a message. Dancers can have a message. Clowns, too, can have a message. As performing artists, we get to decide what subjects we focus on, what style we employ, and over time, those choices start to form a theme, an overarching message to the world about us and what we stand for. I think about it like a motto on a coat of arms, or the mission of an artistic ministry. What does our work stand for?

Here’s mine: SILLINESS. KNOWLEDGE. COMPASSION. HOPE.

If you could sum it up in four or five words, what does your performance work stand for?

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Aaron J. Shay

About Aaron J. Shay

Aaron J. Shay  is a writer, performer, and musician from the Pacific Northwest. An active and independent recording artist, Shay has self- and co-produced 8 EPs since 2010, some for his own projects and some for his friends and collaborators. More recently, he has been active in theater, writing/producing two one-man singer-songwriter shows, and also serving as musical director for fringe productions. Shay currently lives in Seattle, WA, where he doesn’t mind the weather.

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