July 14, 2008

Are you stagey or spontaneous?

On Saturday night, at Hollywood and Highland, the most lively corner on Hollywood Blvd., where Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame, old movie stars' footprints and thousands of dumbstruck tourists converge, we came upon a series of street performers.

First we watched a group of poppers with several performers. Each person would dance for a few minutes while a fellow dancer would pass around a hat. Another dancer would smoothly move into the circle when the previous one was finished, as the music continued to play. The energy never dropped in between performers. The constantly flowing and changing crowd clapped, cheered and dropped money into each hat.

It was obvious the performers were having a great time and it wouldn't have mattered to them if there were ten people watching or a hundred.

The second group we watched, break dancers, had a different approach. They created an atmosphere with a buildup of loud music and a countdown to showtime: "One minute six seconds!" "Twenty-five seconds!" "Ten seconds!"

When it was time to start the performance, the group leader started warming up the crowd with humor, asking us to clap and cheer, although nothing had happened yet. Once they started the performance, the crowd became energized and hooted and hollered appropriately.

Then the group took a break (I guess you would call it an intermission), to call out some kids into the circle, make a statement about avoiding drugs and alcohol and give a shout-out to world peace. They also passed around the hat at this time, explaining that they didn't want people to leave at the end of the show without contributing!

The leader (and his group with occasional callbacks) had a patter that clearly had been repeated many times. One member in particular seemed a little robotic, not engaging with the audience and appearing to be on auto-pilot. Maybe he didn't want to be there.

By the time the "intermission" was over, the energy in the crowd had dropped, but most remained, patiently waiting for the show to resume. Finally, the second half of the show began, and the wait paid off with a somewhat shocking finale for a public street show with kids present (let's just say I'd never seen a break dancer who was also a stripper).

The first show had constant energy, kept the crowd engaged, and felt organic and spontaneous.

The second show was stagey, lacked flow, and was more about the performers than the audience.

Both groups were talented and entertaining, but the first group made the audience feel like a seamless part of the show, whereas the second group (at times) made the audience feel awkward and uncomfortable.

As a speaker, are you more like the first group or the second group?

P.S. We were in L.A. to see Ricky Gervais' stand-up show at the Kodak Theatre. If you don't know Ricky Gervais, he is the creator and star of the original "The Office" and "Extras." Hilarious, even from the nosebleeds.

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