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What I learned about audience connection from Gallagher

The Sensible Flutist: What I learned about audience connection from Gallagher

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What I learned about audience connection from Gallagher

My husband and I started the weekend by going to see Gallagher, a comedian that was popular back in the 80's. My husband was actually the one who introduced me to his comedy several years ago, and we even bought one of his shows on DVD. When I saw that he was going to be in town, I just had to go.

For two hours, we were entertained by a guy that has some brilliant insights that is encased in non-PC humor; however, I was also taken by how he interacted with his audience before the show.

When we entered the theater, my husband exclaimed, "There he is!" Instead of hanging around backstage, Gallagher was milling around the auditorium engaging with members of the audience. He continued this until about 5 minutes before the show, when he yelled out for someone to come introduce him. At this point, it turned into a comedic bit but I loved how there was no formality but just a simple start to the show that didn't take anything away.

In the show, Gallagher didn't pull any punches. Regardless of whether you find his jokes offensive or an accurate commentary of American culture, Gallagher's ability to stand up and say things that are not necessarily politically correct is rare to find in today's society.

This brings me to why these observations were so exciting for me. We in classical music put ourselves on pedestals which generally makes us miserable. We wonder why our audiences are shrinking, or why we're not getting more work.

Gallagher is a master at audience connection. As classical musicians, we don't have to become comedians to connect with our audiences but we can be out in the audience before the show talking to our audience instead of remaining invisible until it's time to play. By treating the audience as a faceless void, our performance anxiety goes through the roof because we're making our performance the first connection. Even if it's an audience that you don't know (Gallagher didn't know the people he was talking to), you already have something in common - you both love music. It means stepping out of your comfort zone, but your satisfaction level will increase.

Gallagher's creativity and courage to speak his mind is something else we can take. Playing chamber and solo music affords us more opportunity to be creative and explore what the composer intended in his or her music. Lately, I've started reconsidering my path of what I should be doing as a musician. I'm not ready to announce these changes publicly, but it's taking a fair amount of courage to derail from the typical musician track and create my own map. Stand up for the music you believe in, and allow your creativity to shine through. People don't want to hear canned music. They come to hear live performance because there's nothing like it...if you are willing to inject humanity in it instead of a unrealistic perfection.

Go and find a few Gallagher DVDs to watch. Or attend a show. Other comedians may do the same thing, but I have a feeling they don't. This was the first stand-up show I have ever attended, but this guy captivated me within my own context of classical music and how different the show was from the usual concerts I go to. And guess what? This guy filled the theater.

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At August 9, 2011 at 9:06 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I manage a classical music radio station. When we sponsor concerts I keep telling the musicians some of these things, but they think they know how the show "has" to be. An embarrassing moment was when one of the performers made me tell an audience member to quit fanning herself because she wasn't in sync with the rhythm of the piece. Lighten up! Good grief! Musicians should be grateful that there are ANY people willing to come listen and should do all they can to make the experience enjoyable. Why humiliate those who clap at the wrong times, or commit other breaches of traditional concert etiquette?

At August 9, 2011 at 9:51 AM , Anonymous Gretchen Saathoff said...

Brava! I'll try talking to audience members before my next concert.

Many performers need time to focus before they play ~ I think I'm one of them. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes would be enough. There's one way to find out!

At August 9, 2011 at 11:55 AM , Blogger Erica Ann Sipes said...

Fabulous, Alexis! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. My husband and I very rarely do the back-stage pacing thing prior to our recitals anymore. We're finding that it's much more enjoyable for everyone if we just get out there and hang out with the crowd before it all starts. It doesn't work for every situation, especially when we're in other people's territory but boy, is it a relief to not have to stare at each other backstage. Ha ha. Just made me wonder if that's why they call "Green Rooms" by that name. Perhaps it's because they make one turn green from anxiety. ;-)

Thanks again, Alexis!

At August 9, 2011 at 6:58 PM , Anonymous Bill Plake said...

Whenever I perform, I make it a point of spending some time with the audience before I go to play (unfortunately, not always possible because of the venue, production, etc.) It always makes a HUGE difference.

As you stated, making your performance your first connection with the audience can be a sure recipe for performance anxiety. And even if there is no really discernible anxiety, it's still nice to take on, and absorb and process the energy of all those people before it's time to play. Thanks for a great post. (BTW, I completely agree with your assessment of Gallagher. I saw him once some years ago and was floored by his brilliance.)


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