Yes, we all know what it is to play. We’ve played in playgrounds, we’ve played with our cats and played with a lot of other things… But how many of us performers remember the art to creating great things on stage is playing? Here’s a guide to why it’s important and how it can enhance what you do…
In our other, non-burlesque, world, we recently had training to refresh our skills when it comes to facilitating drama workshops and had an epic reminder of the importance of play. Play is all around us; we play to experiment in everyday life, we play with people but sometimes we forget to take this play into the studio to help us with our routines.
Pre-performance play – why is it important?
Play can help you find your stage character – whether that is as part of your narrative or a general presence you adopt when you hit the stage. Playing around with different ways of holding yourself (or your character), walking, different speeds, even different facial expressions etc, is a great way of finding one that sits perfectly with what you are about to do.
Opening yourself, your body and your mind to making extraordinary stage pieces is what you are here for and pushing those ideas to the limits, even when you feel they are done. Sometimes we hit the wall when it comes to ideas, or we get blocked, which is where play comes in. Just trying something so seemingly off the wall and unrelated or ramping a character up 1000% can be all that is needed to spark an idea before you bring it all back to an ideal level.
Take a look at this cycle… It’s David Glass’ theory on making theatrical pieces (you can read more about David Glass and his ensemble here) but we can directly translate it to anything cabaret and burlesque. Basically, we prepare our routines with ideas and research and it’s by playing that we make important discoveries (eg, how we move, what are the limits we want to take this, are there limits? What is the character? What are we going to do? What is the point of the routine? What are we trying to say? How are we trying to say it? etc). Play allows us to fill the act with ideas and then we organise them into something understandable, present them to an audience and then, another important part of the cycle, we reflect on what worked – as much for us and the audience before the whole cycle starts again. More often than not, we Prepare and then present the piece without playing. But all these steps are an important part of an ever evolving creative process when it comes to act and routines. And an important part of making our acts better and more refined. And making new discoveries, not just about our acts and our on-stage personas and characters, but about ourselves as well.
Playing With Your Act, Live On Stage
So. we’ve been through the choreography stage, rehearsed and rehearsed and now we’re about to present our acts live on stage. Are we prepared to play? We should never be afraid of our acts not going completely the way we’ve rehearsed them, and we should never be afraid of not being so solid in our choreography. Leave room to play. If something happens, just go with it. By now, you should know your act inside out so if something does happen a bit off kilter, then you will be able to jump right back at a given moment and know exactly where you are/what you’re ‘supposed’ to be doing at that point. One of the most eye-opening (freeing and best!) workshops we’ve ever brought to Bluestocking Lounge was Kiki Lovechild’s clown workshop. In it he told us to never be afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes can lead to comedy gold – in a good way. and he demonstrated this, completely by accident in the show, when he accidentally spilled water on an unfortunate area just before he went on stage – and ‘went with it’ by drawing attention to the moist ‘area of concern’, and throwing a whole glass on himself whilst on stage. Hilarious (you might have ‘had to been there’).
That was such an important lesson. Never to be afraid of making mistakes. What are mistakes? Only you can consider something a mistake as only you will know what was meant to be there instead of what you did. The audience have no idea of a mistake. The audience will just go along with what you are presenting to them as the truth. So if something unexpected happens, just go along with it and see what happens. Sometimes, the unexpected things that happen on stage can become highlights of a routine – which is why it’s important to reflect after you present – and see what you can keep! A tip here is to try and film your performances, as this will help you see those ‘mistakes’ with the eyes of the audience.
Oh, and by the way, from now on, we’re changing the word ‘mistake’ to play. So now, every time your routine changes on stage, think of it as playing rather than ‘going wrong’. Relax, enjoy and go with it.
Playing With The Audience
If you’ve not already discovered this as a performer, you might already have realised this as an audience member… Audiences are playful and they love it when you play! They love to be involved… As always, eye contact is so important when it comes to performing, and through this you can usually see which audience member would love to be ‘played’. We’ve already written an article on Audience Participation so here’s a few of the points in that post in a nutshell:
- Create a dialogue with your audience. Yes, you can talk, actually talk. We forget this and sometimes view being on stage as a cue to become ‘silent movie’. You can also create a dialogue in a non-verbal way, which includes everything from eye contact to bouncing off their energy and allowing them to bounce off yours. Whatever you do on stage should be a two way thing – you giving to the audience, you remaining open to them giving back to you (unless they start throwing anything unsavoury on the stage. Then it’s time to go).
- Recognising who is a willing participant of you want to directly take your action into the audience (there’s loads of tips in the link above on the safe and sane way of doing this)
- If anyone doesn’t look prepared to play, step away. If anyone is ‘too keen’ to play, step away. You want the balance, not an unwilling participant or someone who thinks it’s their moment to shine.
- Recognising what they may or may not be comfortable with and the limits you can go with that playfulness – and the golden rules, never humiliate, poke fun or embarrass or upset anyone in the audience. And NEVER get into a war or words or shame them.
- Playing with the audience should be fun for everyone.
- Playing with the audience should enhance your act
- Have something in mind, whether a cliched polish of a head, a help of a glove removal or balloon pop or a sit of a lap, etc.
The unexpected will probably happen – in all ways, but keep reflecting on your play and remember to incorporate things that do work in your routines.