Rendered Fat Content


Albrecht Dürer: The Monstrous Sow of Landser (1496)

"The breathtaking's almost always worth taking the risk."

If my years as a performer taught me anything, they taught me the necessity of Patter and also of the absurdity of preparing Patter beforehand. Proper Patter, my experience taught me, should be impromptu, off the cuff, unscripted. The Patter of which I speak comes before and between the songs, the introductions and reflections that serve as a sort of stage punctuation in the performance conversation. I know that the old vaudeville performers scripted every second of their stage time. Us veterans of coffeehouse stages and small college venues did not, or learned not to. We sought a more authentic presence on stage and did not seriously consider ourselves to be performing, certainly not acting a part, or so we would have insisted at the time. We all were, of course, trying hard to successfully channel whomever we wished to be like, so that we would be liked. Many were bad Dylans. I, myself, leaned more toward the awful Donovan persona, though I was serious about aspiring for authenticity.

What does the term Authentic Performer even mean?
It strikes a paradoxical pose since any stage seems an unnatural place for authenticity to show its face. How would anyone in the audience know whether what they observed up there was the genuine article or some projected pretend character? Why should they care? They probably don't, but the non-performing performer might hold ample reason to care about who they become up there and who they decide not to become. It quickly becomes confusing if one's work depends upon performing. The character can become more than the man temporarily assuming the role. He might refuse to go back into the box at the end of the show. The spouse might reasonably wonder who in the Hell he's become. He might never notice the difference as his public persona moves into his private residence. The spouse will notice. He'd best care.

The tenth time I'd present the same lame joke introducing one of my songs, I might notice how deep the rut I'd constructed had become. I was not present in that moment, but past, recreating a monologue created in anticipation of another context, and not the present one I was then sitting within. I was actively preventing anything interesting from happening in the interest of avoiding catastrophe, even though catastrophe had always been an unlikely outcome and usually proves interesting. My Patter disclosed my lack of courage in the face of a pedestrian unknown. I feared that the stage might strike me mute, that I might not have anything interesting to say, that I might prove to be at root uninteresting and unworthy of anybody watching me perform. I dealt poorly with the inevitable insecurity of the situation and practiced my Patter as religiously as I practiced my songs. There's nothing exactly wrong with this approach. I figured it was a choice.

One way to face the great unknown involves facing it. I admit that this has never been the most popular option, even among the more professional classes. Most seem to prefer the formality preparation brings. They avoid Tabula Rasa like they might avoid The Void. Yet what happens in the sincere absence of adequate preparation tends to produce the most telling results. I'm learning that beginning without understanding the meaning creates space for meaning to emerge. This requires a certain attention, of course, and active interpretation, but an interesting story almost always emerges, every bit as reliably, if not more so, than the cover a script might provide. I came to understand that I'd been hiding behind my script and that I could rely upon some story emerging that would tie together the performance, and one that seemed custom made for that present context. The result reliably seemed like pure magic to pretty much everyone in the audience as well as anyone up on the stage, just as if we'd created something together rather than just revisited somebody's else's story from some past.

The underlying insecurity might be the source of the greatest magic, though one might never suspect it from within any carefully prepared and performed script. Presence produces breathtaking experiences as well as risks. The breathtaking's almost always worth taking the risk. My greatest learning where performing's concerned came from my mentor Dani Weinberg, who simply asked me what had just happened. I had forgotten my clever Patter when introducing a workshop exercise and flubbed my lines. I'd failed to cleanly improvise in that moment, a stumble I, of course, failed to acknowledge to my audience because I didn't want them to think that I was the sort who sometimes flubbed introductions, like I'd just done. Dani pointed out that everyone in that room had wondered what was happening while I stoically refused to disclose that I was flubbing. What might I do instead? Dani suggested that I just tell 'em, resolve their mystery and they'd very likely be right there supporting my real time recovery rather than mentally throwing rotten tomatoes at me. And so it's been ever since then. Authentic performance often begins by simply reporting what is. "I feel a little shy sitting up here in front of you this evening. I'll probably get over it, but I might seem a little lost at first. Bear with me, please." They will.


What Still Seemed Unlikely
The week before a long-anticipated performance can become frantic. It tends to become fertile learning ground. Irrelevancies slip away and fall ever further behind. Some essence emerges. Curiously, some weight lifts off the performer's shoulders. It's a time for acknowledgement and acceptance. The preceding fantasy that fueled the pursuit has mostly receded, leaving what had to remain unanticipated until very near the end. The rehearsals might have even been worth the effort. A different person or at least a very different perspective seems queued up now. He's still not entirely certain how this house concert might turn out, but the known unknowns no longer dominate the immediate foreground. SetList finished, he's done wondering.
What still seemed unlikely just a week before now seems inevitable. The Muse said she'd never seen me prepare like this. Me, neither.

Jacob van der Heyden:
Sound, plate two from The Five Senses
(Not Dated: Artist's working dates 1593–1645)

I began my writing week engaged in a SoundCheck. "I could finally see how this performance might actually be, not a disappointment so much as a discovery."

Unknown Artist, Italian, 17th century:
Juno Commanding Aeolus to Release the Winds (Not dated)

I caught myself nakedly critical of my performances in
UndressedRehearsals. "Between today and a week from now, I must somehow move beyond my critic and encourage my most generous interpreter, such that I will hear what's right with my work rather than more iterations of what's still wrong. Performance after rehearsal might be all about believing self-deception just as if the emperor had actually put his pants on."

Paul Gauguin: Jean René Gauguin (1881)

I decided that I was not renewing my songs in preparation for the house concert, but
Newing them instead. " I am fostering a certain openness to difference as I prepare for this performance; not a slave to precedent nor an idiot to improvement. A few touches here and there should freshen my performance."

Stefano della Bella:
Mannen in een reddingsboot [Men In Lifeboat]
(Undated- circa 1620-64)

I experienced what I'd hoped to avoid when inviting people to my house concert in
LifeboatDrill. "These serve, I suppose, as some measure of character. The worse you feel about your execution of them, the better off you really are. Better, if not necessarily best, to take these tragedies without preparation, if only to acknowledge that nobody intended or wanted to do anyone any damage or harm, but did."

Artist unknown [Japan], Fukusa [Gift Cover] (circa 1801–1900)

The Muse graduated from the active treatment portion of her cancer regimen and began *Convergering toward full recovery. This posting proved the most popular this period, of course. "Graduating from that program does not release anyone back into the population from which they exited to receive treatment. Nobody exits unchanged. It might be that nobody ever really exits."

Jacob de Wit, after Peter Paul Rubens:
Oude vrouw met kind en vuurtest
[Old woman with Child and Fire Test] (1734)

I wrote about overcoming stretching to sing notes. I came to feel as though I was
SittingOnTop. "Achievement can leave the achiever feeling as if he's once again a member in good standing of the Age of Aquarius. There might not be any better feeling than the one that comes from finally SittingOnTop of some world again, even if it's just a world containing the once misplaced Key of D singing range."

Willem Witsen: Man die aan het wannen is
[Man Winnowing] (c. 1888)

I ended my writing week by finally thinning my SetList into a final few selections,
Winnowing. " … the purpose of every performance must be to leave the audience wanting more. Should the performer saturate their interest, an audience departs disappointed, for they would have much rather left feeling a little jilted but still in ardor instead of unprepared for even another ounce of whatever was served. Satisfaction comes from leaving the table still a little hungry for more rather than from saturation."

If I was paying closer attention, I might conclude that everything I do produces what I should have intended, I'm a self-correcting mechanism. I'm not always able to accurately predict. In fact, my inability to envision eventual outcomes might serve as my greatest natural gift, at least as long as I can manage to hold space for difference to emerge. I'll let this writing week prove my point. The story's still emerging. I have five days worth of as yet unwritten SetTheory Stories remaining to write, adequate room for a plot twist or two to intrude. I resolved my SoundCheck by going unplugged. Acknowledging that I need not remain my most own virulent critic relives considerable preparation pressure. I'm not, after all, recovering or renewing, but Newing instead. What I seek to avoid might show up
because I try so hard to avoid it. After will also not be as anybody envisioned it. We might never emerge, but remain. It might always be possible to be SittingOnTop, though it will require some effort. Finally, over-preparing and under-delivering might hold the key to satisfying success. Stay tuned. We finish this series next week and start another. Thanks for following along here!

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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