At first glance this might look like a blog bemoaning lack of audiences at live music nowadays. Fear not! That is a well-worn whinge and I’m going somewhere else.
I’ve been lucky enough from time-to time, to perform in front of big audiences. I think the largest was an Australia Day show in front of Parliament House in Canberra, which had an estimated live crowd of 30,000 as well as a television audience of who-knows-how-many. And I’m sure that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the regular gigs performed by the Beyonces of the world. People often ask performers how we cope with nerves on such a big stage. But the weird thing is, I think it’s way more nerve-wracking to have a small audience!
I have a show called ‘The Swell Sisters’ which is a retro-style girl group act. Recently we were hired for a big birthday party interstate and the birthday boy went all out with a proper stage and professional lighting rig and sound set up in his football-field sized backyard. Trouble is, in a fit of pique from the weather gods – rare in that particular part of the country – it rained. I’ll cut short the long story (which includes being plied with copious amounts of expensive champagne while waiting for said weather gods to stick their heads in) but we ended up performing inside, stage-less. In fact, we performed in his lounge room. Of course the number in the audience was the same as it would have been, but the whole thing was just so much…smaller. Instead of seeing the tops of heads and silhouettes of waving arms in front of the stage, we could see the whites of everyone’s eyes and there was no getting away with any holes in our fishnets.
Well the Swell Sisters’ birthday performance went great – but we felt we had to work so much harder than usual and we all wondered how we would have coped if this had been in the early days of our careers. Experience is everything. Interestingly, we met someone at that party who managed very large entertainment events and he was interested in booking us. Only thing, he said, is that he was concerned we wouldn’t be able to handle working on ‘a large stage’. He took some convincing but we managed it in the end. Watch this space for an announcement on that very exciting Swell Sisters show which will be interstate towards the end of this year.
In fact I think that is the difference, when you’re up close and personal, you need to be ‘authentic’ and you can’t get away with the broad strokes that distance allows. There’s no escaping someone snarling at you with their arms crossed, or deciding Facebook on their phone is more interesting than you, or worse still, just leaving. And you can probably hear the discussion with their friend about your ugly shoes (yes this has happened to me).
So next time you see an artist in a small space with a small audience, particular if it’s in cabaret mode (ie people are actually watching and listening intently) don’t underestimate the skills and nerves of steel they have had to acquire to be able to put themselves on display at such close range. And please pretend you haven’t noticed the hole in their stockings.
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