The Show in Your Mind
How “Your” Show Differs From The “Actual” Show
A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Bob Fitch, the well know actor, magician and director during a short theater run in upstate New York. We worked on my 90-minute one-man show, Ten Fingers, for a full week. We had the full run of the theater and we would rehearse during the day and then we would videotape the performance at the theater each evening. During this week, I learned something about my performance that I was shocked to learn. It was such an eye-opening revelation that it literally changed the way I viewed my performance and it certainly changed the way I rehearse for a show. What I learned is something I think every performer can benefit from so I’d like to share it with you today.
The first night after the show I walked off stage and I said to Bob, “That went great!” There was a slight pause… he smiled and nodded his head and then he said: “Yes it was very good… but I want you to go back to your room and watch the tape tonight.” I told him I was a little tired and that I’d check it out in the morning, but he said, “No… I want you to watch it tonight… while the show is fresh in your mind.”
Now one of the things we had been working on in rehearsals was trying to get my performance to be more conversational. Trying to get me to slow down and talk TO the audience not AT them. (Rushing through a performance is a habit of mine… something I believe I developed from working at trade shows where the audience can walk any time they want. Performers at trade shows often find themselves speeding through a show in a misguided attempt to hold the audience.)
The difference in performance
But I was paying Bob good money to direct the theater show so I did as he requested. I went back to the hotel room, turned on the video, and on the small camera screen I watched the show I just performed a few hours before and I was shocked at what I saw. It was NOT the same show I just did. I was racing through tricks that I thought I had performed at a much slower pace. Was I really working that fast? It was rather strange. Perhaps the video was playing on a faster speed?
This same sequence of events happened the next evening. After I finished the show I said to Bob: “That went great, now that time I really slowed down.” And again Bob would smile and say: “Watch the tape.” I went back to the hotel room and again watched a show that was different from the show I had just performed. As I viewed the recording I began to recite my lines out loud at the pace I thought I said them on stage that evening… but the video on the playback was always performing at a much faster pace. I was still not talking to the audience—I was talking at them. Something was wrong. This went on one more evening and I noticed the guy on tape was starting to slow down… but still the video I watched in the evening was not quite the show I remembered doing just a few hours before.
Learning the magical lesson
Granted it took a few days but finally the light bulb when on. When we met the next morning for breakfast I said to Bob: “I think I know what you are trying to teach me.”
He gave me his Yoda like smile and said: “And what would that be?”
I said: “There are two different shows going on here… right? He laughed.
Bob was trying to teach me that when we perform there are TWO shows going on. There is the show in our mind and there is the show the audience sees. The two shows are NOT the same. The audience is not always seeing the show in our mind, that is the ultimate perfect performance. That is the one we are striving to achieve each time, but often we fail. The show in our mind is the one we think the audience is watching… but often we are fooling ourselves.
And that is the reason that you must videotape as many shows as you can and review them right after your performance. Now I can hear what 90% of you just thought when you read that last suggestion…
“I HATE WATCHING MYSELF ON VIDEO!”
And my response to that comment is going to be very brutal… but very honest. The reason you HATE watching yourself on video is because when you watch yourself on video you are seeing exactly what your audience is seeing each time you perform.
Ouch! That hurts right? But it’s true. They are seeing all the verbal tics, the ahs, ums, you knows, what I’m gonna do, awkward pauses, repeated phrases that are part of your show. And these things are hard to watch and that’s why we don’t like watching ourselves on video. My audience was not seeing a conversational performer speaking to them in an engaging manner. They were seeing someone racing from trick to trick. But that’s not the show I thought they were seeing.
And the only way we can come closer to the ideal show… is to study what we are doing on each and every show. A video review of each show is critical. Why do you think David Copperfield tapes every show and reviews the parts he is trying to improve before he comes out to sign autographs? If it’s good enough for David, it’s good enough for me. The goal is to bring your actual performance closer and closer to the perfect show that you imagine your audience is seeing, and when the two come together not only will you know it, and feel it, but when it happens, your audience will be seeing you at your very best. They will be seeing … “The Show in your Mind.”