As hoop performers and those who may want to be someday, many assume that our opportunities for performing lie mostly in the realms of nightclubs and bars. While these venues definitely may very well make it into our schedules, it’s important to realize that prospective clients are everywhere. It is not only our privilege, but I see it is our responsibility to create products (in our case, acts) that can be enjoyed by a multitude of different audiences in a wide variety of venues.
This summer has already been personally explosive and challenging as far as performing is concerned. I’ve been presented with numerous opportunities, and they have all had their unique requirements and requests. From the typical nightclub setting, to rainy street shows, to music festivals, and even to the zoo, spinning things up in so many different settings has found my performing skills being questioned and judged at every turn. Throughout it all, I have realized something vital and important, that the theme of a show can’t really be the only deciding factor for how my act will be constructed.
When I first began performing, I bashfully admit that I relied pretty heavily on a solid smile sprinkled with a few jaw-dropping tricks along the way. The more I have gotten comfortable hooping on stage, the more I’ve discovered that a enthusiasm and a cartwheel does not in fact wow every audience. Some audiences are much more difficult to please.
When I first realized this fact, it seemed very discouraging. I performed at a show street-side where the music was very hard to hear, and people whizzed past me all immersed in their cell phones and dull conversation. I felt very disconnected from my audience, and I spent that night considering all of the ways in which I could have done better. What a little more experience has shown me, however, is it’s not always about what you bring to the table. It’s wise to prepare yourself for a stellar show no matter what the cost by heavily considering your audience beforehand. In fact, here are three questions to always ask yourself prior to a performance, as well as some suggestions for dealing with those less than ideal audiences along the way
1. Is your audience aware that they are an audience? This might seem like a silly question, right? Of course they will know! Unfortunately, much like the aforementioned street show, the audience is not always aware that there is a performance happening. These sorts of events are the ones I find the most challenging, because it is not only your job to grab their attention, but to keep their attention. I’ve found that the best way to deal with a surprise audience is to use strong, visual choreography and eye contact. For example, I like to include a solid set of speed breaks in almost every act, but if my audience doesn’t know they should be watching, speed breaks probably will not gain their attention as well as a cartwheel or even leg hooping. After you rope them in with whatever higher level skill you have at your disposal, keep your focus and flow a little more minimally.
On the other hand, if your audience knows they are an audience (they bought tickets or came with the intent of a seeing a show), then the work is a little less up to you. You already have their attention, so it is only your job to maintain it.
2. Will you be on stage? A frustrating reality is that not all of your performances will be obvious with a raised and beautiful stage and a M.C. to introduce you. There will be many times that you will be ground level, face-to-face with your audience. How do you use your space optimally? Moving around, if you have room, can help tremendously! While it’s a little more difficult with a flailing circle, if you can maximize the use of your full performance area and make eye contact with every person possible in the crowd, you wind up inviting all of them to feel a little more important, and to be a little more a part of what you are sharing. Think about it-if a performer seems to be staring at you on stage, it’s not nearly as intense and chilling as when they are obviously doing it right in front of your face. Allow them to feel like they are a part of your act, rather than a bystander.
3. How old is your audience? I think we can all agree that children are the most fun to perform for. They are easily inspired, and open to feedback. Work with that. If they cheer, cup your hand over your ear and ask them to cheer louder! Engage them in a way they will understand. When I perform for children, I more often than not make my character more childlike. I attend to the silly, dream-like performer inside of me, as opposed to the sexy one. I over-exaggerate my emotions, and often will often times hand off hoops to the crowd so they all feel engaged.
Adults, conversely, can be a bit more difficult to dazzle, especially older ones. A recent performance of mine for upper-scale grownups proved to be one of the most intimidating and frustrating shows I’ve experienced. Some people were engaged in a mental tug-of-war. They would begin to watch, then shy away, then turn to look over their shoulder. These people are the most important to capture. As soon as you find them straying, make them feel like they are the only person watching. Make eye contact, move their direction; let them know that it is perfectly acceptable to watch and enjoy. For whatever reason, there will always be those who feel the need for permission before they can enjoy things, so give it to them quickly. You can’t always captivate everyone though. Even though I clearly had flaming hoops spinning on my feet while doing a headstand some people walked right past me, and at one point right into me. There are those who refuse to be catered to in an artistic environment, and those who may be drunk or have other problems, and the show must go on.
There will always be certain audience members that simply cannot be satisfied. In these moments, it is important to remember that their attitude is simply out of your hands. Don’t let it distract you from the audience members that are engaged, the ones that notice and love what you do. Go where the love is. Cater to them as if no one else is watching. And on a personal note, do not allow a less than ideal audience to be a reflection of your skill as a performer. Attempting to make people interested in something you love is a huge step of faith and confidence. Even if it is not as successful as you had imagined it would be on any particular night, the fact that you found it within yourself to share your love and joy of hooping is magnificent and inspiring. So try again. Learn as much as you can, engage as much as you can, and there will always be those out there excited to witness your story, so make sure that you give them as much of an opportunity as possible!
Megan Smith, aka Sati Flow, is a poet, artist, yogini and hooper based in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA. She has been hooping since 2011 and writing for as long as she can remember. Follow her hoop teachings, performances, writing and more on her website, satiflow.com!