What makes a great performer?

At one of the community breakfasts I attend on a regular basis (the promise of a Full English cooked by someone else can get me out early even on a wet and windy morning…) I was talking hospitals with someone who knows operating theatres from the inside. I commented on the use of the word ‘theatre’ in this context. “But it’s correct” she said “You should see that way some of the surgeons perform!”  The brief chat got me thinking…

A surgeon doesn’t have a very big audience – the most important member is usually unconscious and colleagues should be doing their various jobs rather than sitting back and admiring the performer’s handy-work – however skillful s/he may be.

At a folk concert on the other hand the performer is very much in the spotlight and is there to entertain and (not unfairly) will be judged. At a concert the night before our breakfast-time conversation there was, I thought, a considerable gulf between the support act and the ‘headliner’. When I go to hear someone sing/play music, I don’t want to sit worrying on their behalf – that something is about to go wrong – I want to relax and enjoy the experience (particularly when I’ve paid to be there!)

The main act that I was there to see – a solo artist – did not disappoint. He’d been playing and singing on his own and in bands for decades and, apart from the ravages of time that affected his waistline and (a little I thought) his vocal dexterity, his performance was masterful. He was in charge, he controlled the tempo of the set and the audience reaction with it. He also managed to appear vulnerable but you never doubted that if there were any mistakes they’d go unnoticed by most of the adoring and forgiving supporters.

And I think that vulnerability is important alongside the confidence and the expression of sheer talent – I don’t want my performers to be like well-drilled machines; I want humanity and feeling.

Which reminds me of a talk I attended many years ago. It was given by the head of a very large public sector body – responsible for a budget of many millions and the livelihoods of many millions of people. He was also the managing director of a successful family business so he wasn’t just a professional bureaucrat. It was only because I was on the second row that I could see his hand was shaking as he gave his well-rehearsed and fluent presentation. Great, I thought, despite all that status he’s as human as the rest of us!

Do you know about the Impostor Syndrome? https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_cox_what_is_imposter_syndrome_and_how_can_you_combat_it?language=en

1 thought on “What makes a great performer?

  1. Gay Lee

    I wonder if people who appear overconfident in the eyes of others are often trying to compensate for their own imposter syndrome?

    Reply

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