With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility: The Performer/Producer’s Debt, Part 1
By Persephone Phoenix, Executive Producer of Hysteria Machines in Atlanta USA.
On behalf of Burlesque Magazine.
DISCLAIMER: The following post represents a single point of view which may or may not be influenced by viewpoints, articles, posts, events, or actions of others. It should therefore be taken with as much levity or weight as the reader wishes to assign to it.
To The Audience
As a Nerdlesquer, quotes from superhero flicks command a particular sense of nostalgia and understanding that might not otherwise be cultivated with original titles. Specifically, Uncle Ben’s speech to a young Toby Maguire Spiderman just as he was gaining his powers: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s cliche, it’s melodramatic, it is easily quotable in situations that absolutely do not call for it. But here, I use it as plainly, genuinely and as honestly as I can. As powerful as our art and expression of art can be, we have a responsibility to our audiences, employers and colleagues to wield that power with care and attention.
Simply put, we cannot do what we do, to the extent that we do it, without an engaged audience to support us, and provide the resources with which to do it. And we cannot maintain that engaging audience if we do not provide them with entertainment that they want, need or are willing to invest in.
Performance artists (and really, all artists) have the power to create incredible moments in time for their audience. Eliciting emotions ranging from lust to outrage and everything in between, you wield great power in your moment. Your conscious decision to present your art to an audience must therefore by preemptively informed by intent. So, ask yourself: why am I presenting this number to an audience? Is it to show off your sick new costume/moves/tricks? Is it to express something entirely original simply for the sake of the expression itself? Is it to feel sexy/empowered? Is it to entertain a carefully curated audience/anyone who watches it? Is it to fulfil a need for devotion/attention/adoration? The likelihood is, we’ve performed for all of the above reasons at one point or another during our performance careers.
But once we venture into the realm of PROFESSIONAL PERFORMANCE, our intent must become less ambiguous and individualized. So, what is defined as PROFESSIONAL PERFORMANCE?
Any performance in which there is an exchange of services for compensation, either monetary or otherwise, with the expectation of performance which adheres to specific constructs. Examples: you are putting together a themed act for a corporate charity event, which will provide you a tax-deduction ticket at the completion of your specifically-curated performance. A producer reaches out to you to do a number as a certain character in a themed, paid show in the future. You are a member of a group that has been hired/accepted to perform in a show in which patrons are paying to enter. Etc. Specifically speaking in the burlesque/Nerdlesque realm, once we accept a professional position, we essentially lose certain freedoms of expression and our intent has to be informed by a number of predetermined responsibilities to our audience and employer.
Responsibilities to Your Audience
Any time you are performing for an audience who is paying you for the privilege, you gain a responsibility to insure that there is a commensurate, equitable exchange. This starts with the marketing of your event (and the expectations that develop therefrom) and ends with the satisfaction level of your audience once they depart. For example, higher-budget productions which demand higher ticket values must also provide higher-quality performances, with marketing that sets the expectations of a larger show. Fly-by-night, low cost, one-off small shows with low ticket values have a lower bar to meet, both in expectations of their audiences and marketing. While it may be hard to place monetary values on quality of acts, it is possible to maintain generalized standards based on the production value and ticket costs of a show.
Importantly, we must recognize that there are appropriate times and venues to workshop acts. Acts which are comprised entirely of students that are recital in nature have a place and a time. Acts performed by newbies have a place and a time. Entirely artistic, unbridled expression has a place and a time. It is the responsibility of the producer and performer to adequately curate an experience that meets the expectations of the audience, which were formed based on pre-show marketing. For example: charging a larger price per ticket to a varied, wide, and well-marketed to audience? Then no one should be workshopping, recital pieces should not be included, your transitions from act to act must be smooth and/or your MC must be entertaining not at the expense of the performers or audience, costumes better be of high quality, and tech cues should be intricate and well-designed.
To wrap up part one of this series, I urge all of you, as performers and producers, to go forth and create the powerful art that you are capable of. Continue to push boundaries, provide entertainment, and express your sexiness; just remember to wield your power responsibly.