In The Moment

Excellent blog from the ever-thought-provoking Stephen Hough today: Bad self-consciousness as the death of good self-confidence.

Mr Hough’s point is about the presence, or potential presence, or even the seemingly-ubiquitous existence, of recording technology making genuine in-the-moment performance harder for performers to achieve.

I’d also argue that the same is true from an audience’s viewpoint. A few years ago, a girlfriend asked me to video a performance of a show which she had choreographed. Afterwards she asked me what I thought of the piece, and I had to admit I had no idea, since I had watched the whole thing through the viewfinder of her video camera.

One of the difficulties facing live performers is how we access the immediacy, spontaneity and danger of our artforms with audiences who are increasingly used to the ‘fourth wall’ safety of watching (usually pre-recorded) events on a screen. (Interestingly, there’s a small but significant trend in television back towards live broadcasts – almost all of reality TV depends on this, but soaps too are using live episodes when they want to grab headlines with especially-dramatic storylines reaching their denouments.) The presence of a screen isolates an audience from the performers, and means they can feel comfortable watching ultra-realistic violence, sex and so on, which if seen live and in-the-flesh would be intolerably harrowing.

I think a major factor in the temptation for audiences at live performances to film, record or communicate (text, tweet, blog etc) about the performance while it is happening is the desire to return to the comfort zone of the outside world; and so if we the performers are trying to create an atmosphere of concentration and emotional intensity, the danger is that this is undermined by the increasing number of ways in which the outside world can intrude.

As ever, the audience at a live performance is an equal partner in the creation of the performance, and therefore carries a responsibility for the success or otherwise of that performance (hence my often-stated annoyance at football crowds who boo their own team during a game or leave before the end of it). So my advice to any audience member is to text and tweet and blog away to your heart’s content – but wait till the final curtain to do it.

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About Paul Carey Jones

Paul Carey Jones is a Welsh opera singer. He should be writing about the current state of the classical music business but might well digress into science, politics, football or cheese. He has recently started a series of irregular posts along the broad theme of "Things they don't teach you at music college." Any suggestions or requests on this theme will be treated with feigned or genuine interest. You can contact him via comments here or at: mail@paulcareyjones.com
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