Pre Performance Hat Tricks for solo performances.

When you are performing on stage, on your own, rehearsing over and over can sometimes lead to a monotone. Unlike performance dialogue, you have no one on stage with you to bounce off. That can leave you at the mercy of your own idiosyncrasies.
The following guidelines and tricks are some of what I use to escape my idiosyncrasies, hope they are useful to you too.

Performance should reflect your intentions.
(Let’s call it performer’s intent). First we will cover some vital questions to help you shape your intent.

Who are you?
Who you are may be a protagonist. But, it’s important to define who that is if that’s the case. Define your character with a purpose, or defining attribute not name and or age.

Who are you talking to?
Identify and specify an intended audience. What language do they speak. Where and how do the live? You will address a five year old different than you would address a 45 year old policeman, so your intonations should reflect who you are talking to. Once you define who you are talking to, you can look for commonalities and differences between you and your intended audience.

What are you trying to say?
What is your intended message? How do you want people to feel? (devastated, elated? etc) The purpose of the content, should come through in the delivery.

All of the above questions would ideally have different answers from each person. That individuality is what a performer can draw from, to create an authentic, unique performance.

With the above ideas in mind, the following little tricks can help expand your versatility. You can apply the above questions to an entire performance set, and also to each line.

Like any tool, they only work if you work them. Choose tools as you need them based on the answers to the initial question.

Hat Tricks

For the below hat tricks, you can use the sentences in italics to experiment with the tool that’s being discussed.

Pace Control
Exercise your speed. Recognizing when to go fast, when to pause, and when to go slow can be powerful.
Saying something very slowly can be powerful.
Use it wisely.

Maintaining the fluid ability to change pace at will, is only achievable when you can also go as fast as you want too.
Say things in fast forward. As fast as you can, while only missing syllables that are permissibly missed in the dialect or accent you intend to speak in.

Emotional expression
Pitch variations
I can deep down my voice, but my exercise for high pitch is an excerpt from Under the sea, From The Little Mermaid.

Under the sea,
Under the sea,
Baby its better, down where it’s wetter,
Take it from me.

I prefer to attempt it in the shower, at times that there’s no unfortunate casualties in hearing shot. Bear in mind that the more you can brave embarrassing yourself, in front of yourself, the less scary it is to stand in front of people, so push yourself out of your comfort zones during rehearsals.

-Body language
Look at your full body in the mirror and attempt different postures. Put yourself kneeling down, begging, or stand as a king would over imaginary subjects. Body language can be spit into a few smaller bits that combine to form your overall body language. Posture, Arm movements and Footwork

Look at the physical postures people around you have, extend your posture out of your comfort zone while rehearsing. Get comfortable in postures that are not natural to you, and increase your on stage flexibility.

-Arm Movements
Be conscious, when the stage is yours, that it is yours. When you rehearse, compare wide extended, owning hands to arms folded across your chest. How high up on your body do your arms go, are you intimidating, or embracing your audience?
Are you cowering away from them?


Where are you going? Where does it look like you are going? This can be anything from military still, to Dancing in between. Even moderate movement can signify a place and or time has been crossed.

-Facial variations

Even when addressing downcast content, the variation in one piece can accentuate a particular emotion. When you are describing sadness, it often involves the loss of something. Describing the thing that is lost, helps your audience understand and feel the loss themselves. In this case , meet variation in content with variation of facial expression. I suggest sitting in front of a mirror, and looking back on past experiences,(eyes closed at first if you’re shy, then when you feel something, you weren’t feeling before, open them). Take a look at your palette of expressions and don’t be afraid to use them when you think they could be appropriate. I would advise against forcing smiles, unless you are meant to be doing a forced smile. Your audience can feel your emotions, so the best way to vary your facial expressions, is to call apon the feelings that inspire those expressions, not to change your face alone.

-Vocal variations
Consider volume, but for the most part reference the different ways that people have made you feel when they have spoken to you. Try out those ways. When you rehearse, reference the people around you. Mimic if you can. Mimicking can be complement as well as insult. When you are just starting out, shout during some of your rehearsals, get comfortable with hearing your voice loud, that way you wont communicate embarrassment when you are trying to impersonate a dictator.

Clarity and Audibility
Try out differing spaces when you rehearse, bigger rooms spread sound out more, differently shaped rooms spread things around differently. You may need to face more than one direction to project to a whole room, in the case of sound equipment, do a sound check, whenever it’s possible. Mic control does well with practice, so grab any appropriate times to test out different mics, and different ways of holding your microphone. Beware of Ps, Bs and Ts, try to angle your microphones in such away as not to push air directly into it when you say them, or they will cause feedback.

Pronounce words in the way that you want them pronounced, if you practice different pronunciations, you increase your versatility. Who your audience is, and who your character is will have great bearing on what kind of pronunciations you use.

Overall, try to sound, look and feel how you would like to be understood, use variations in pronunciation and accentuation that take you closest mentally to the places you are trying to take your audience.

Which brings us to the last bit:

Audience Interactions

All of your audience interactions will give you an idea of your performances effect on them. Compare that to your initial intentions of what you want to say. Remember this: No one audience can define your worth as an artist. People differ, so if you don’t get the reaction you wanted, you can try changing a thing or two, but don’t take it to heart to the extent that it stops you from performing. The entire process is trail and error, use their reactions as a feedback tool, not for your own gratification.

-Eye contact
Look at people when you can, before, after, during a performance, they will express different reactions to you, and that is your truest feedback.

Try to understand different types of audible audience feedback, volumes and timings of applause, the difference between a tension laugh and a mirthful one. How are they sitting? Are they moving around in their chairs, or are the dead still. Keep your ears open to their feedback.

-Prompting Feedback
Call outs, chants, and questions can be a way to hear back from your audience to guage their mood. Every way that you can receive feedback will tell you how your initial intention was received.

NB. I’ve seen a performer do this before, so please don’t make this mistake: DO NOT ask or demand for a standing ovation. Speaking as an audience member, it is extremely off putting. Standing ovations are a spontaneous voluntary compliment and should never be demanded.

Keep your process flexible

Sometimes a different and better outcome can come out at the end of the process, but putting the time into it can help you refine, what to change your mind about. Bear the first questions in mind when you record your rehearsals for review, and when you have the opportunity to have someone to practice for, ask them how your presentation made them feel.

Journey To Mali P4 -Coconut Trees

My first impression of Mali, is the road from the airport. It is lined with Neem trees, so I busy myself explaining to my hosts that they are called Mwarubanne at home because they are said to cure 40 diseases. My French is stiff and very broken, but I have found that most of the people I meet have a great inclination to understand what I’m saying. Together, we bandage and package the misconjugated verbs and put splints between nouns to communicate, not just effectively, but aminatedly. By the end of the first day, I am convinced, half the time, that I can speak French. By the end of the first day, I am head over heals in love with Bamako. Neem trees are not the only sights there are in common with Mombasa. Coconut trees are everywhere, shrubs which have enormous faded green leaves spot the sides of the roads. Flat roofed buildings dominate the architecture, the weather is hot, not as humid as Mombasa but more humid than Nairobi.

Swarms of motorbikes (les moto) habitually swerving, like the cars, through the traffic, like a flash flood, creating upredictable paths. Men and women ride motorbikes here, wave after wave of colour swim around you. The low back lines the local dress design is mesmerizing, bright red, yellow and green, bright orange is also a popular coulor. Flared sleeves flapping in the breeze of sacheing speed. The men wear white and gold, Kanzu-like attire. Traffic here, has it’s own rhythm, in order to understand how to dance to it, it would be wise to forget everything you’ve been taught about staying within the lines, or else assume, that no one else was taught it. Here, it seems like you need only follow a straight line when overtaking, moving in waves, slightly left, slightly right seems to be the default procedure.

The people are stunning, everywhere I look I see defined cheek bones, faces that light up with beautiful smiles and toned bodies are in plenty. Wearing traditional attire seems as normal as wearing uniforms and western style clothing. The shapes of sleeves and the waist line are individual, each with their own curvatures and folds, the designs are flamboyant and expressive.

When I passed through Nigeria, there were many comments on my hair. With the levels of heat here, the length of my braids is not practical I will cut them, sooner, rather than later. Dread locks here come in shapes that stand and curve with defenition that would make a person identifiable by their siloet. They appear naturally nurtured, unlike Nairobi where the slightest amount of growth is swiftly silenced by a trip to the salon. Although it does seem like people who have professions which are not artistic have the same array of ‘normal’ hair styles that there are at home.

When I was much younger, my mum and dad would read books to me. They both used different voices for the different characters. The stories would come alive in my mind, those were the days. I remember the murmuring of the trees in the costal Diani winds. In Bamako, for the first time in my life, I found trees that stood absolutely still. There is no wind.

The airline I sent my suitcase with decided to leave my suitcase in Nairobi. So I had to make do with what was in my hand luggage to freshen up at the hotel, before setting off to meet the Malian artists.

They were waiting at CCGM, The Goethe Institutes headquarters in Bamako.

They were introduced to the project, the same way we were, except, in French. Just like in Nairobi, the contestants are stunning. Perhaps I am preprogrammed to find poets beautiful. 🙂 Half of them are students at the Performance Arts School, most of the rest have graduated from that same school.  After the summary of what is expected, we all sit to watch the three videos of the top three performances from Nairobi, so they can choose a theme.  Wanjiku Mwaura makes me cry again, but I manage to hide it well enough, because everyone is fixated on her performance on screen. By the end of the viewing session, the contestants are happily repeating; “Do not say goodbye to the Mau Mau”. I feel proud to be the one to say, ” ils sont les combattants de liberté ” , they are the freedom fighters. A piece of Kenyan history will remain here when I leave. 🙂

Now, poetry is an interesting thing. It is based in a language, but takes liberties with it. It acknowledges grammatical rules, and ignores them. It picks up sayings, turns them inside out and presents them to represent more, in less words. I successfully manage to translate the topics and storylines of all three poems. Translating the line by line content is much much more difficult. Here, the language barrier raised it’s head at me and stared me straight in the eye. Being poets themselves, they want to understand content, so they can base their theme on ours as was required. The meeting is concluded with a decision to meet the following day, with an English teacher.

After a series of “bonne soirée”s I head back to my hotel.