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Working on your stage presence                                                       01 March 05


A good performer, whether a magician, comedian, actor or musician, needs to think about four elements of his or her performance in order to be successful. These are as follows:

      Verbal Material

We'll talk about each one separately.


"Character is the unique person that the artist pretends to be while performing."

To better understand what that means let's look at the 7 dwarves. Not only does each have a distinctive character but they're named after that character! Happy is always happy, Grumpy is always grumpy. Happy will never cry and Sleepy will never become a disco dancer.

We all have many characters inside us. The man who commits a crime while drunk at night will find himself a very different person the next morning when he wakes up in jail.

All musicians have a character. Ozzie Ozbourne is playing the burned out rocker, while Joan Baez plays the pacifist, gentle, left wing protester. Often when a musician tries to change his character he can run into serious trouble. Unless he's lucky and a genius such as Bob Dylan who has had numerous characters over the years, starting out as a young enfant terrible through his folk rock super-hip period, country boy, born-again, and lately his back to the roots, older but wiser, grizzled bluesman.

Willie Nelson has always had one character. He wouldn't throw a tantrum on stage or put on Groucho Marx glasses. That would be breaking character.

Actors of course change character all the time. Many observe that actors are often blank slates until they're filled with a role. They find a character and practice it sometimes for months before presenting it in a play or movie. Comedians often remember a character they once knew. They then exaggerate that character and present it. Eddie Murphy played a character based on his grandmother in "The Nutty Professor". Jim Carrey found one in "Dumb and Dumber". SNL cast members are famous for finding these kind of characters.

It's up to us as performers to find an aspect of us that feels comfortable and natural and is interesting to others.

Perhaps the character you choose is simply a part of you that's charming and outgoing or (like Leon Redbone) crotchety and cranky. That's enough for many musicians.


"Style is how a character behaves"

Let's look at the 7 dwarves again. Sneezy is always sneezing. That's his character. But HOW he sneezes is his style. Does he hold his hand over his mouth and try to stifle the sneeze? Or does he sneeze with a huge roar!

The more time you spend in character the quicker your character's style will develop.

The more you play the part of Sneezy in a play of "Snow White" the more natural Sneezy's style feels to you. You learn what feels wrong for Sneezy to do and say as well as what feels right.


"Showmanship is anything a performer does to keep an audience's attention and interest"

Showmanship is the ability to capture and hold an audience's attention. If a performer has showmanship no one coughs, no one looks at the clock, no one gets antsy. The audience is spellbound.

Showmanship is how you move, how you relate to the audience. It's your unique personality and your ability to think on your feet. It's anything you do to make your performance dramatic, exciting or otherwise interesting.

Let's get back to Ol' Sneezy. We know what his character is. He's a sneezer. We know his style is how he sneezes (quietly or as a nuclear bomb) but if he has showmanship, he does it in a way that impresses everyone who hears it. When he sneezes, people may laugh, cry, scream with fright, or be speechless with amazement-but whatever their reaction is, they think, " that guy can sneeze!"


"Material is anything you say or sing during a performance that makes it more interesting for your audience".

This includes songs, stories, jokes, instructions to your audience or even a zinger to silence a heckler.

It's the key to a successful performance. Your material will sound best if you act confident. When you're onstage you own it. Everyone is paying attention to you and people assume that you're cleverer than they are. Use that to help you. Act like you know what you're doing, even if you don't. Give it all you've got. Be original. Use material to make it your own. If you perform differently than other musicians you'll earn a reputation for being creative. And if you become a professional you'll get more work. More people will come to see you. You'll feel better about yourself.

With verbal material pretty much anything goes with just one rule to remember; your character, style and material should match one other. Keep in mind what your character would say naturally.

A Few Final Tips

If you have a great character, fine style, showmanship and spellbinding material most of the work is done. But also be kind to your need them. Act as if you genuinely like and respect them. Relax and look like you're having fun. Smile a lot and mean it (unless you're singing songs about death). But most of all make sure you eat all your vegetables and don't pick your least not on stage.

(Steve Charney is one of our select artists with a cd in The Portal Store and tracks in the Listening Room)