So we’ve all been to shows where the host is really giving you the most… They are relaxing you, making you feel welcomed and providing a smooth link from act to act… Looks easy, doesn’t it? In fact, it can’t be that hard, so you reckon you could give it a go… Here’s really what’s at stake:
The basic jobs:
- You are the face of the show
- You make the audience welcome
- You intro the acts – and outro them so the audience knows when to applaud (again)
- You cover setting up and strikes
- You keep the audience engaged
- You don’t keep needlessly talking after the act is set up – imagine that poor performer waiting in the wings – don’t keep them or the audience needlessly waiting
- You keep the night moving and on time (ie you don’t rattle on between acts, the audience want to see the performers not hear your anecdotes on your last shopping trip to Tescos)
- YOU are the master of ceremonies – you are in control
- You have fun and enjoy! If you have fun and enjoy, the audience will too!
Getting the right person
The right compere is the face of the show. A good producer will choose someone who represents the show in the best way possible. Sometimes a glamorous face is needed, sometimes a comedy-based compere, a singer (who has a few songs under their garter belt if needed to fill)… It is crucial to producers to get the right person for the job as their show is literally in your hands and whatever comes out of your mouth will represent their show.
- Continual self-promotion -believe us, we’ve seen hosts give themselves bigger intros and forget the names of the international performers they are supposed to be introducing, we’ve also seen comperes that continually talk about themselves and spend the link time with anecdotes about themselves and then give the performer the briefest intro ever.
- Being drunk – you are supposed to be in charge, the face of the show, getting shit-faced on a few sherries and slurring your way through the night, laughing at jokes that only you think are funny is not a good hosting style.
- Being angry – whatever is going on, whatever has happened before, during and after – you need to remain neutral, boyant and professional. You should never get into any arguments with performers or patrons and you should never bring bad vibes to the stage…
- Telling the audience to ‘shut up’ – this indicates that you’ve lost control and you will never get them back on your side if you shout over them or tell them to shut up.
- Being loose – by this we mean just unpredictable, in style, flow, interaction with the audience and erratic actions on stage. Never do anything that would jeopardise the show (or the safety of anyone at the show from performers to patrons). The best policy is calm, collected with a flow that makes sense.
Pull on a big personality! Confidence is something that can be faked by pulling on a personality. Be a bigger, better and bolder version of yourself. Make it genuine. And most importantly, make eye contact and keep your words loud and clear. And look up! By all means take note cards (prompts) on stage but make eye contact with the very people you are talking to – thew audience! A mumbling master of ceremonies, continually looking down into their notepad will not be doing a good job.
Flow is the general chat in between the acts. Once you find your flow it’s great… Have a live chat to someone in the audience and expand on what they have said (warning here – never EVER give them the mic as you cannot predict what will happen. Act as an interpreter!) If you have info about the act to give out, make it into some kind of story that has a solid ending – their intro! Don’t be tempted to go off on a tangent and leave your original point hanging. The audience will just get confused and it interrupts your flow. If you do go off on a tangent, head back neatly and quickly. Remember you are just covering the gaps in between performers, and when you hit your flow, always keep an eye on what is happening on stage – set up-wise. Do not keep the next performer waiting in the wings while you finish your story.
Oooh, and a quick word of advice if you are the type of emcee who likes to tell jokes, or say something important – let it land. Give the audience a few seconds to take in what you have said. Especially if you are imparting something hilarious. If the audience are having a giggle (even an unexpected giggle!) let them have a moment before you move on.
Making the audience feel welcome and setting the tone for the night
Obvious but important things -make the audience feel welcomed. Again, you are the face of the show and the welcoming face of what they are about to see. Burlesque audience virgins might actually be a bit nervous about what they have come to see (“oh my god! Boobs! Bums! Someone might think I’ve gone to see a strip show! What will my nan say?”/ “holy merkins! My NAN is also in the audience!”) while there might be a few in the audience who think they know how to behave and it’s your job to nip anything that would spoil the show at the top of the show.
Some hosts like to have a ‘rules of burlesque’ type spiel where they outline the “no touching” / “not shouting ‘get your tits out’ – because the performers will and you will look like a fool” / and, “yes to whooping and hollering – give the acts some encouragement” basics, while other hosts make the audience repeat after them a ‘pledge of burlesque’ ie “We promise to blah blah blah…”
So- telling the audience how to behave is a big one. Aside from the “do not touch… etc” some audiences new to burlesque have never been to a show where going nuts is permitted. So you might like to have a little reminder that the performers like to feel appreciated. Performing to a silent audience is just so effing weird. Effing weird. And polite claps at the end are also weird too. However, when an audience goes absolutely nuts while a performer is doing their fabulous thing makes the performer do more of their fabulous thing and they feel like a god/goddess of burlesque when they float elegantly sweating off the stage. Have a little practice run with whoops, claps, feet stamping – even weird noises (our hostess DeeDee is quite partial to a weird noise…). You can even make them do it louder -try it! Like He Man, you have the power!
Linking acts and informing the audience of acts
The audience might not know who the hell is going to hit the stage. The audience might not know that the producer has flown the said international (expensive) performer in from the tropics. You need to tell the audience why they are going to go nuts for the said expensive performer – and actually all performers. Especially those who are newcomers, as after all, the audience might be seeing someone for the first time who goes on to be a massive talent on the scene. Tell the audience how fabulous what they are about to see is – but make it genuine! Don’t just link every act with a bog-standard “you will love X, they are fabulous” with a fake smile. Do some research. Part of your job as a good compere is to know who you are introducing. Once you know the running order (and a producer should send you this in advance – they might be extra nice to you and fill in some info on the acts) get online and have a look at the performers. Look up any awards they may have won, and anything interesting you could tell the audience. Also, check in with performers if there is anything that needs to be said about their acts (sometimes performers like their act to be intro’d a certain way, some have things you shouldn’t say!) A golden rule – never actually describe the act! That would be like describing a joke and why you will laugh, giving away the punchline before a joke has been told. Let the audience see it happen. Live.
Covering for any set ups and strikes – and any mishaps
While everyone else is getting uncovered, another of your jobs as the compere is to cover up. No – not the performers! You don’t need to be the pastie police and act as some kind of modesty shield! When you are running a professional show things can (and do) go wrong. And you just have to go with it. An important part of that skill of going with it is not letting the audience know there is a problem. Say an act is taking a bit longer to set up than usual, the skill here is getting into a flow with the audience (whilst keeping one eye on how your stage manager is getting on) so you can cover the set up, but without adding any more talking or delays than needed. The communication between the stage manager (often unsaid!) is crucial to this working. If there has been some kind of technical difficulty backstage (for instance, a performer’s costume falling off just before they are due to go on stage, or a broken prop, or a problem with the music) it’s this communication that will save the day, where the compare knows to get into a flow with the audience until the stage manager (or sound tech) signs that the problem is okay and the show is good to go.
More serious problems can occur on stage, such as music failing during an act (in this case, some performers usually know what to do so wait until they give you that ‘help’ signal for you to step in – don’t automatically step in as they may have got it already), a performer injuring themselves (in which case, calmly step in and reassure the audience while the performer is helped, you might want to also create a diversion!) and even some rare occasions that the theatre needs to be evacuated mid show (as the one with the mic, the audience will be looking to you for answers. Do not rush on stage shouting “fire! FIRE! F I R E! and crack open all the fire extinguishers. Instead, step in calmly, reassure the audience and let them know the building is being evacuated and to follow the instructions of front of house staff. Also you can prepare for this, as master/mistress of ceremonies by checking out the fire exits when you come into the building).
Hecklers – and that one annoying drunk person at the show who continually shouts out…
There is always someone at the show who wants to get a little bit more involved that everyone else. There will always be that annoying fool who finishes your punchlines for you – or worse – thinks they are actually funnier or better than you or any of the acts on stage and the audience needs to feel their talent. The best policy, once you’ve identified the culprit, is not to give them any air. Just gloss over them by ignoring them and moving on. They will soon get the message that what they have to say is hot air. They’ll probably have got the message sooner by a fellow audience member telling them to shut up or elbowing them in the ribs.
But how do you deal with that one person who crops up and drunkenly, continually shouts out. You’ve got to remember they (think they) are enjoying themselves. But they might have overstepped the mark and might be so drunk they think they are doing a good job (before disappearing in the interval to stumble into a cubicle and heave their guts up). Basically, the best advice is to ignore them. Maybe have a quiet word with Front of House to have a chat to them or ask their friends to have a word to calm them down.
The golden rule here, in both cases, is never get annoyed or have a go at the offender. This will only fuel them. This will turn into a battle of who has the loudest mouth and will turn the show into an unprofessional sparring session. A totally ugly watch for the rest of the audience.
The main thing is…
Be in control – you got this! Be cool, calm and collected. Be fabulous. Be larger than life! This is what the audience want to see. You are like a mirror and they will behave the way you behave!
Let’s have a big shout out for DeeDee DeLa Rouge (in all pics)! she is the face of Bluestocking Lounge and has been doing a grand job since we thrust the mic in her direction back in January 2012! She will, of course, be in action on our Ding Dong Merrily on Thigh show, 17 December at Swansea Grand.