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Old 01-23-03, 04:19 PM   #1
Butterfly Man
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Hat Perception

Motionfest is a rather unique opportunity for performers to explore ideas that have no other venue.

I have in the past and intend in the future to use it’s resources to find out as much as I can about this wacky world of show business. I know there are a lot of great entertainers with great minds that frequent this bulletin board and I welcome any and all feedback on the following issue.

It is my contention that audiences perceive us to be a certain “character” onstage and that perception is not always how we perceive ourselves or necessarily how we would like to be perceived.

Whether by nature (our physical looks) or design (how we make ourselves look) it is probably just human nature to make those kind of judgment calls.

As performers, as in real life, we make “first impressions”. They, indeed, are hard to break. This is a concept I would like to explore. Not the “real life” issue but that of a performer to his audience.

Sometimes, we buy into other peoples perceptions and become what they expect us to be onstage and become very successful. Other times we try to be who we think we are or how we would like to be perceived and fail miserably.

I have no expertise in this area of psychology and am certainly no authority on why we do the things we do but I have come to believe that if you perform long enough an audience will mold you into what they want you to be, reinforcing behavior that fits their perception and not reinforcing what doesn’t.

I am not really interested in whether or not we should or shouldn’t buy into this philosophy, I am more interested in how we, as entertainers, can make it work for us.

Thoughts?
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Old 01-23-03, 05:58 PM   #2
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A very interesting topic, indeed!

I believe it was the great Harry Shearer (Spinal Tap, SNL, etc.) that said that after a while all public figures become caricatures of themselves. His point was after a certain amount of success with certain phrases, styles of speech, etc. the public teaches them what they want the person to do. So after a while Ronald Reagan began to *do* the Reagan that so many people loved. Repeating his oh shucks "well" or saying "there you go again."

The same is clearly true of Cagney, Robert DeNiro, Jack Nickelson, Clinton, etc.

Of course our audiences probably only see us once. Definately once for some of us.

But I do think it's vital to get a sense of what an audience 'gets' from you based on your physical presence, costume and demeanor. If it's not what you think you're putting out, you have a big hurtle to overcome. Or it gives you a great opportunity to break their expectations to comic or dramatic affect.

Penn and Teller supposedly started wearing the grey three piece suits because the didn't want their costumes to infer anything about there individual personalities. It also clearly separated them from all tuxedo wearing magis.

Standups often open with a comment that either works against or confirms the message of their physical presence, but the informality of many of the venues we work doesn't allow for this formal a begining. We are often expected to 'glide' from setup into performance.

It sure makes you think. And not about fish.

[ 01-23-2003: Message edited by: Peter G ]</p>
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Old 01-23-03, 09:09 PM   #3
Butterfly Man
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Question

Charicatures of ourselves ... exactly!

How others perceive us is what we become ... am I wrong here?

I did NOT start out as a rough and tough, ascerbic wise guy in my first street show in NOLA way back when ... in fact, I was shy, talked about the books I was reading (Casteneda), did some corny poetry and would have juggled to classical music if there had been boomboxes available.

Yet, within one day, yes, one l-o-n-g 6 show day, my character emerged ... why? Did my freshly tattooed scalp have something to do with it?

What if I didn’t get that tattoo and went out there as a slightly balding ex-chemist ... would I still have had a long and reasonably successful career as a juggler?

And now, as I am trying some serious monologue work around town here, does that butterfly on my head keep getting in between me and what I’m trying to say?

All I know is, I sure wish I had worn a wig the other night when I did that piece entitled “Suicide” up there in Hollywood. Maybe they would have heard what I had to say ... maybe I wouldn’t have died in front of a bunch of people who wanted me to be just funny.

Who are we when we go onstage?

I don’t know the answer ... do you?
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Old 01-24-03, 11:27 AM   #4
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[quote]Originally posted by Butterfly Man:
It is my contention that audiences perceive us to be a certain “character” onstage and that perception is not always how we perceive ourselves or necessarily how we would like to be perceived.


Woody Allen is an excellent example of this. As a stand-up and in films he learned that audiences perceived his character as bumbling and ineffective. He played this very well, and was quite successful.

In real life he had this going for him:

- accomplished writer: television, films, theater, New Yorker

- accomplished musician

- had relations with prominent Hollywood actresses (Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton) (and their daughters?)

- was athletic (One story said, as a child, he would have been a Golden Gloves boxer, but his parents would not let him.)


These qualities don't appear in his stage persona. Woody Allen strikes me as a performer who picked up on the cues his audience was giving him, and played to them.

Todd Strong

[ 01-24-2003: Message edited by: Todd Strong ]

[ 01-24-2003: Message edited by: Todd Strong ]</p>
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Old 01-24-03, 12:39 PM   #5
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I'm now paying the sometimes painful price for not knowing what you all are trying to tell me.I chose the full white face clown persona, not to hide but "only" to justify me playing with tops on the street corner.NOT even considering the baggage that goes with that.I'm in my 5th year of obsession with giving my best effort in this endeavor of mine and only now understand what is expected of me when I'm in face.I just hope there is still time to learn how to actually do it.
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Old 01-24-03, 08:21 PM   #6
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"How others perceive us is what we become ... am I wrong here?"- Bman.

AAAAHHHHHHH

So the poetic soul after a lifetimes clowning finds it hard to remove the cloak.
Vunerabilities never attractive unless its artfully contrived.
So you attacked defensively and did spectacularily well at it.
Now you get onstage with vunerability your shadow
and create inappropriate laughter.
Nothings changed robert they laugh because its the easiest out you give them.
Try being proud of surviving the stories you tell (in the telling and the having lived them)
Only be tentatitive so you can sucker punch them with some risk far greater than standing there in front of them.
I gather the comedy you have in these monolouges is not your point.
Strengthen your point or weaken your comedy (as if)
The difference between group therapy and performance is merely a degree of detatchment.
Group therapy is where you are defined by others. Performance sadly is your responsibily entirely
THEY don't define you, for as long as it lasts you define them.
They get to define you in the taxi home or whenever it is you give their reality back.

Reagan was an evil weak half-shell meatpuppet, oliver sacks in one of his books on the mentally ill noted that patients who were beyond processing language used to collect and laugh at his political deliveries on the tube because he always appeared to be telling a funny story, eye contact, smiles etc, he made them feel included, and now he's joined them which is fitting.

Creating persona's that are only part of the whole is marketing rather than any phlisophical standard.
Woody Allen is not a bumbling loser, he's just one of the more charmingly passive aggressive people on the planet (and a great entertainer)
Charlie Chaplin did not in fact almost starve to death in a log cabin.
Sylvester Stallone is a wooden mono-dimensiontal husk both on and off screen (or at least please god I hope so)
One tiny segment of the population saw him as a lucky cultural psyche whore, surfing the powerless underbelly of the worlds most powerful nation.
But most people just envied his tits and his ability to solve problems with explosives whilst never moving his face.
You want to trust the general public to define you?
Fuck that robert.
Ever considered that your anger didn't in fact mask some great sadness?
(I'm sorry I saw far too many crying clown biscuit-lids as a child)
It may well be inappropriate for you to even attempt to bond with them.
They are obviously confused, they are all seated and facing in the same direction
just focus on distracting them a while, if it goes well you can be the first to leave.

I do conceed however that in a motionfest environment where you are ready to be partly moulded by the direct input of others then sure, enough "keep that bit" and "lose that bit" would have a steering effect.

Bit of a ramble
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Old 01-24-03, 10:09 PM   #7
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here's how i see it

Last summer I went down to Harvard Square, and after watching shows for some weeks, I decided to just do it. I got some of my friends and we all went to the Square. I hadn't figured out a show. I just brought all my stuff and plunked it down literally on the street corner, not even on the real pitch. and started asking people to stop. Finally, two women did, So with them, and my three friends in the front row, I told them that I was going to do a street show and I told them that it was my first time and I was a little nervous etc. and I carried on and they enjoyed the show and a few more people came but i just worked to please those two. I still remember their faces. They stayed because we got along and they wanted to see how my first street show went. For the rest of the summer I did that same sort of thing, I was just starting out, I was a little nervous, I was cute and to be condescended to. This worked. People had fun and it made me happy. Eventually I started to improve my skill and I started learning to work the crowd. I started to get it and it wasn't like a first show for me anymore but the audience responded well to the first showness and so I kept it. I didn't think much about it because I got such a rush from that crowd and that perFORMAnce. But then the summer ended and I went back to school and I had time to think about my show and I realised. Wait, that's neither who I am nor who I want to be. I realised while doing my tenth birthday party that I didn't want to seem like a lucky amateur, I wanted to seem like I knew what I was doing. But my tiny nuances were set from that positive reinforcement of the summer. And now, as the summer aproaches again (It's February... summer?I wish.) I am able to set a new goal. Now I don't just want to do a street show. I want to do MY street show. And I want people to have a relationship with me and not my character. Of course, I'm not going to tell them that I'm in love with this girl but she doesn't love me and I've been fighting with my parents and I think I forgot to brush my teeth this morning but I will try to entertain them while being honest to myself. Perhaps this is only important to me but the street can be rough and at least Iwant to like my show. I guess what I'm trying to say is, think about what you want, for me I had to take a break to find it. Now I'm returning to performing with a new energy. And I can't wait.

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Old 01-25-03, 02:05 AM   #8
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I know what robert is talking about, but different audiences seem to want different things from me.
The street show character I did in Boulder was different than the one I did on venice beach. In Boulder my late night character was a lot more fun than the one I used at 7pm. Normaly my shows are pretty goofy, and in my opinion stupid. At my dad's wedding in september I was told I was expected to give a toast, and that I was expected to do a juggling show (it really pisses me off when family friends tell me they want me to do free shows but won't go and see me at a real venue). The toast I gave was a dry, sarcastic, demonstration of how I can balance a piece toast stuck on the end of a stick (on my nose). It got a great reaction, everyone was very impressed with my performance. One of my dads friends explained to me how my "character" was just how he imagined it would be, but that character was totally different from what I'm used to performing, as the sarcastic thing usually doesn't work for me.
As a young performer with less than a year of full time experience I have not had much time to fall into a solid character, but I have started using certain attitudes and tactics to fill dead spots. For instance if I stop and look at the audience, grin, and say "word", I can allways get at least a smile. I kind of see this as comic attitude and a bad habit to fall into cuz it doesn't really go anyplace. Have you ever watched a stand up comic that has one emotion for the entire show? It gets old after five or ten minuits. Steven Write is an example of this; he's funny as hell, but his show wears you out, a half hour is allmost too much because he only has one character trait, and no range of emotion. Audiences want you to have more than two vocal tones in your show.
So there is my thoughts on comedy performing. Comics really do have to fill the role of what the audience wants from them, and will fail if they try to push their personal agendas; "do the show in front of you, not the one in your head". I think public speakers have a simalar set of chalenges to that of comics. Actors on the other hand have to fill the role of their character within the context of the imaginary world they are creating, which has a lot more rules (like a fourth wall). They have a very different challenge, and it's been a long time since I've had to think about it, so I won't talk about it.

There is my imput from my perspective today, Jan. 25, 2003.

[ 01-25-2003: Message edited by: Evan Young ]</p>
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Old 01-25-03, 03:51 AM   #9
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Although a bit late in the game, I felt I should mention that, for someone who is usually guilty of every single issue that he accuses the Butterfly of, that was a surprisingly open, and even touching post. Martin, can we get together and cry some time? A feel a great change coming over me, and, I feel so connected to you now, I just want you to be there to share it with me...
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Old 01-25-03, 11:23 AM   #10
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[quote]Originally posted by Spinners' Wacky World of Tops:
<strong> I chose the full white face clown persona, not to hide but "only" to justify me playing with tops on the street corner.</strong>


Spinner,

You may want to check out the movie "What a Way to Go!" for one Hollywood interpretation of what happens to a white-face performer (singer, in this case), who takes off the make-up in public.

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Old 01-25-03, 12:36 PM   #11
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Robert -
When we work the streets, we have to create a space for performance and claim it for ourselves.

But on stage it different.

As performers we have to go back to square one and learn the rules of this new venue. The audience has already made a bunch of choices to be there, to see you and you don't have to work as hard just to keep them there.

Your stories are great because they are YOUR stories. The stories of a guy intellegent enough and crazy enough to have gotten the tatoos you have. I don't think you have to hide or deny any part of yourself; Just be willing to include it all in your material. If you're not ready to share your head with people, go ahead and cover up. But don't put away your humor.

Maybe the question you have to answer is: What does an audience assume (or decide) about a guy who has the tatoos I have? How can I confirm or deny these assumptions? How can I spin these assumptions to my advantage.

I'm just thinking off the top of my head (no pun intended), but here goes: Your traditional line, "Did you even get really druck and do something you later regreted?" (This is a paraphrase of your well-written line), may get a laugh, but it may also point your audience in the wrong direction from where you want to take them.

It seems to me that the butterfly is a lot of things, but it is not the action of a 'fun-loving drunk.' It is idealistic, optimistic, and probably a little crunchy-granola sappy. And maybe that is why your stage character is such a hard ass. Because you have to balance the butterfly on your head.

So figure out a way of talking about these contasts; they're what make you worth listening to.

By the way, a piece called Suicide better have some humor in it. Because how can you really talk about death without needing a bit of humor to keep the audience from retreating. What if the humor tricked them into listening to what you are trying to tell them?

Julie Sweeney (from SNL) wrote a one woman show about surviving Breast Cancer; Eric Borgosian took on addiction in Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll; Whoopie Goldberg's first (and only) solo show had teen rape, death, Cerebral Palsy, and more.

Maybe it's a question of venue. Are you bringing 'Suicide' to a comedy club? Maybe that's too far a leap.

Robert, you are so funny, so smart. If it ain't working yet, don't lose faith. It hurts to bomb, but remember what Livingston Taylor said. The attitude is always, " I love you all and if you don't love me back, it will break my heart. But that's OK..."

Best of luck buddy.

Peter

PS I have long ago forgotten that you have a tattoo on your head. I guess it's true but it is truly the least interesting thing about you.

[ 01-25-2003: Message edited by: Peter G ]</p>
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Old 01-25-03, 12:43 PM   #12
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I don't know. I think it lacks imagination to say that Steven Wright gets boring. I want to see the show that's in his head, not the one that's in front of him.

Of course crowd response shapes the show, so does imput from other performers. The most valuable part of Motionfest is the critique sessions, for that reason. X amount of times, and you hit on an idea that works.

Keep the rug on for the more serious work, Einstein.

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Old 01-25-03, 05:47 PM   #13
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Martin,
You don't talk when you perform right?
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Old 01-25-03, 08:10 PM   #14
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My mother drummed into me at an early age.
"If you don't have anything nice to say about people then you should say nothing at all."
I save all my verbage, I have close to 20 years worth of insults unspoken.
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