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
-Intonation;
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

-Posture
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?

-Footwork

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.

-Enunciation
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.

-Listening
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.

Proud Roots

cropped-img-20180613-wa000611.jpgSometimes, when I dream,
I wake up as nothing short of
A Proud African Woman.

But, I’ve always been short.

And I can’t paint my skin,
anymore than I can stop
myself from being human.

So, that leaves me just short of
consenting to pride,
because my lightness reminds
of times that had signs that said
“Europeans Only”

Even though my father was not born here
and arrived with nothing
except the will to explore,
and a soul so full of hard work,
that he broke off a piece and used it to make me,
Me.

Night Terrors

My family, is huge,
There are so many husbands and even more wives.
My dad had to build us a whole neighborhood,
Because of his family’s size.
We kids, are too many to count, though we’ve tried.
But before we finish counting, more kids have been born,
more kids have died.

There are times, when a hand full of us would go out,
just to shop, or to school, and bullets ended their lives,
but for the most part, our terrors, are more likely a job from inside.
You see, our family is too big to get on. And our names too easily divide.
Those named on dads side, start with W, and those named after mums, have their own letters.
From my mum, the boys are O and the girls are A, So they call my mum Mama O
Then there’s Mama L, Mama S, Mama K, and Mama M.
A long time ago, before our Mamas were born, all the families fought in a war.
They fought together, but when it was over, Dads family got the most.
And so, out of inequalities, a feud was started,
between those who did, and didn’t share in the spoils.

Our night terrors are nasty. Once, Mama, my mama had twins, named from dads side,
And they went over to our cousins to spend the night. They were only five.
In the night, our cousins did unspeakable things to little Winnie, on the floor by her bed side.
Then burnt both Winnie and William, in their room. They said the room had no use after they had spent the night.
Nine years ago, was the worst, all our houses became smoke
and blood, until, we were all told not to speak of it.
But in the night, these memories haunt, lips sealed, we see each other different.

The other day, we found toy tires, burning in the hall way.
Yes, we managed to walk around them. But the smoke, did well to remind
that burning and bleeding, are things that run in our family.
We are much more in danger, from within.
Than outside.

As She Should Be

Cucu and I would take trips,
To see, The Animal Orphanage,
“Nairobi is cold.” She would say to me.
Still, I would beg, for those bright red,
Red Devil ice lollies, that would paint my lips red.
We would watch lion cubs,
Stretch and stick out their tongues,
They looked like teddies.
 

Mama would take me to Forty Thieves,
There was this fallen tree on the beach,
We as kids, would run down,
sunny, sand dusted stairs to reach
and compete for who could climb it first,
and get to the branch, that thrust up, and out.
So we could swing from it,
Or stand on it and sing from it;
 

“I’m the King of the Castle,
You’re the dirty rascle!
Nyenyenye Boooooboooo!”
 

It’s ironic how, even then,
We stood atop fallen pieces of
mother earth, to pretend Lord
over each other.
 

I visited again, in my teens,
The tree, then sunk beneath
sand, so the castle branch
was so low, I could sit on it.
The stairs were buried too.
The last time I visited,
Just the tip of that swinging branch,
Peeked
At a Forty Thieves
that is now half the size.
The sea and sand having
Claimed back property.
 

‘Daddy took me snorkelling!
In Tiwi Beach!’
And we would see kaleidoscope
Coral reef, with uncountable multi-coloured fish
Darting between
Their rippled surfaces.
We visited again, him, my brother, my sister and I,
last year. All we could do was
watch out for sea urchins.
 

As adults, we clamber,
With the Kings of the earth
Pumping the most fumes above us,
No filter,
Streaming live threads and trends,
as we ‘forget’ not to litter.
Besides us, little footprints patter,
Licking lollies, and dropping
Wrappers.
 

My daughter is starting to walk.
I wonder,
How will I explain, hurricane,
Katrina to her, once it’s happened again
and again.
While we are yet to stop making the same mistakes?
 

I will tell my grand children,
Stories of Giants, who had
giant teeth, we called tusks,
Big enough to carry three children on.
They will laugh.
But I will not find it funny
Because although I’ll love to see them smile,
They will find my stories senile,
For dwelling on historical times,
When Rhinos existed in real life.
 

I will tell them about a fallen
tree, that by then, sits sunk and
salty, decomposing.
Possibly along with the Neem,
And taller trees, that hold up
Ladder bridges for the Colobus monkeys
Safe passage across Diani’s main street.
 

Our mother earth is not human,
Were she person, she would
Be buried already.
Under the weight of
her selfish children.
That said,
It is finite, what she can take.
While we errect gardenless mansions on her riverbeds
and look on benevolent, as
entire islands are under threat
of the clear indications
that we are pushing hard
for her boughs to break.
 

Truth be told, to be mother,
Is a thing of beauty.
We don’t have to make her
look haggard, then
fault
her continuity.
And there is hope, in here,
Everywhere I look.
 

If all the wold needs, is
For us to make the right decisions
In rooms like these.
Then we are here
To save the sea
From emissions,
To save the land
From the sea.
 

Because it should be more,
than a dream,
That our great great great
Grandchildren
Get to be
On an Earth, that is still
 

Beautiful.

As She Should Be.

 

But, That’s Not What They Were Fighting For

The day Maitú snuck out,
to slit her ears,
to wear hangi,
I am sure she didn’t envisage
the day, when girls are stripped
      on streets.
When she, went back and
undid the deed,
I am sure, she did not see,
live video feeds,
Of legs apart on back seats,
with a voice
calling for a bottle.
There are those of us, who never had the chance
to meet grandmas,
who with their husbands names,
hidden under their teeth,
passed on violently, and loyally
at the hands of oppressors.

This what we have here,
This #Mollis era,
     This is not
What they were fighting
     for.

In Search Of Womanhood (I)

It started with a ‘ballerina’ dress,

Not a real one,

Just,

The skirt would spread,

When I spun, round and round.

 

When I would sing along to the radio,

“I’m honey, honey honey honey…”

Why the singer thought she was honey,

Only she knew best.

When “Shilalalalalong…

Was an extra zealous aerobics instructor,

in my head.

 

Ariel was my role model,

If she could become human,

Then I could be a little mermaid.

And true loves kiss could save me from anything!
 

Teenage hood came,

I could so easily have been named a slut from all the songs I’d sing.

I watched TV, and wanted to be

The kind of woman my crush had a crush on…

So, I had to have a pony tail, the kind they sell.

So it would wave,

As I sashayed,

In that first imaginary throw back skirt

I’d seen on the reggaeton video girls,

And wished for those sneaker high heals,

As I tried my best to be a down A** B****.

I had no idea I’d be attracting the kind of grown men,

whose liking for teenage taste,

let my hip hop inspired dress code say

that I was not chaste.

Setting the perfect stage for date rape.
 

But attention, is attention, and though

Beauty and the Beast seemed about the same age, according to Disney

They didn’t at first.

So who was I to say,

this man wasn’t looking for true love,

Like I was.
 

Happily ever after, was what I knew to dream after.

And youth can be less like a fountain, and

more like a treacherous sea,

For a little girl.

Sunlight

The windows of this jav are clean.

That makes me comfortable, it shows care.

Care isn’t love though.
 

If this was a loved car,

It would be all clean.

Not just wiped down,

So obvious bits gleam.
 

Why can’t I stop myself from seeing,

the familiar, cloudy brown, bottoms and sides?

The pane still stumbles on unidentifiable grains

as it slides.
 

Love is expressed, in the corners, the cracks,

Away from the flat, accessible surfaces,

Away from the places that are easy to reach,

easy to shine,

Deep. In the crevices, we’d rather hide.

Love reaches in, through, underneath the lies.

The musky smell, and the tout tapping me,

remind me…

This is not my ride.

You are a space, not meant to be mine.

 
But the windows of this mat are clean.

So the sun falls on my skin, unfiltered.

For some reason, that leaves me lifted.

Reminding me…
 

Sometimes, care is enough.

So today, it may be ungrateful

To demand love.

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.

Journey To Mali P3, Kenyan Timing

So, this  morning I was scheduled to fly to Bamako Mali, as you must already know.

I missed my flight. Having spent the night fretting about what I may forget and have I got everything I need, that I managed to forget what may well have been the most important thing: my phone on silent. So, running late as I was, I checked in online, thinking; with a prayer, I’ll still make this flight.

The taxi who took me did everything in his power to save us time on route, Langata road traffic was not being too bad, but that still means traffic. As we pass the bypass, on our dual carriage section, on our way to turn around I spot a police car and bike. I told him, that if we use the Uhuru Gardens entry to turn back to the bypass, we have to actually turn into Uhuru Gardens, then exit it ( I know someone who recently got nabbed for using that entry to do a “U turn”). In a rush moment of bravery, he decided to go for the U turn. Just as I had predicted we were flagged down.

One hour later we are leaving Langata police station. As we drive past City Kabanas, my call to Kenya Airways confirms that I have in fact missed my flight. The Goethe Institut, in their heroic fashion, found out what else was possible. I committed without a second thought, to whatever flight would take me to Bamako fastest.

As it turns out, that means, a twelve hour stop over in Lagos, and three connecting flights. Under normal circumstances, that’s a bad thing. As it turns out, I am so at home here at Murtala Muhammed Airport, that I’m writing this, sitting on a couch, that I can choose to nap on if I please. I feel at home in more ways than I can describe, but I will attempt.

Eavesdropping doesn’t seem so bad when you don’t understand the language. 🙂 When I got off the plane I found, like at home, that smiles are as easy to get as they are to give. I am so exited, that the reception I am receiving from fellow passengers, crew and airport staff is very happy. Conversations in the languages here sound like the ones at home.  Serious intonations punctuated by smiles and laughter. Happy, flirtatious energy bounces off the high ceiling, leaving me feeing safe to rest here. I’m admiring all the beautiful eye shapes around me, people in their different sizes wait and walk heavy laden with quantities of luggage which signify long stays and distant destinations. One lady, at a loss as to what she can afford to remove from her enormous bag, was carrying allot of hair extensions. I decided to leave mine at home this time.

Still, I look back at times, when I would have to look for someone to borrow shoes from, to wear for performances.  Being a size four an a half, doesn’t make that any easier, I would like to give special thanks to Joie and Amy for putting up with me. I believe that every chance on stage is the only one of its kind. You never get that moment back to ask for another chance. So I have tried to treat every moment on stage as though I’m  auditioning for Broadway.

It was during that time, when I launched this blog. Starting my blog is yet another example of things I would not have done if not insisted upon. Thank you Mutheu. 🙂

I continued with the habit of reciting for anyone who would listen. One day, on a drive through the park, I was referred to Wamathai Spoken Word. I wasn’t sure if I was good enough, but was reassured that I definitely was. I still remember the first time I met Wamathai himself. He introduced me as ” Raya Wambui, she’s a poet, and I’ve been told, she’s very good”. My body shook for the entire afternoon. I was so nervous! On stage, the same, crippling stage fright took a hold of all my bones. I had managed to perform despite it, but I was frozen in place. I later discovered that moving around on stage helpes my knees not to quake so much.

The mood in the room at Wamathai events is something I still look forward to. I think I have only missed one of his events since the first one I attended.

The audience really listens, not just to the words, but also to the deeper meanings behind them. It is always a pleasure to perform there. 🙂 I still smile inside when I remember the first time I asked him to put my name on the poster, he said yes. There, I would have the honour of first seeing Sentimental Floetry, El Poet, Kennet B, and Wanjiku Mwaura who did a rendition of Dis Poem, that I will never forget.

During the next two years I would take part and be featured in a number of other events. I’ll never forget being featured by The BOGOF, where, unbelievably, I was hosted alongside Asali, who had long been an unmirrored inspiration and still is. We were given ten to fifteen minutes on stage, my pieces average one minute. I was terrified! Convinced that I had to make full use of the time, I had prepared a set of eleven pieces. The theme of the day was – Vision Twenty Thirty, two days before the event, inspiration struck for a piece titled Twenty Thirty, which is not in my blog, but features in my manuscript for my soon coming book; Speak. The problem was, two days was not enough to prepare  a performance. I would have to read! My shaky hands would not permit the privilege of holding a paper, so I devised a plan. I told Jacque, that I would need a podium.
That idea worked much better as a concept, than in practice. When the time came, standing behind a podium that was almost my height, in front of a two hundred plus crowd who were comfortably sitting on the carpet, I all but disappeared. My nerves reached a new height of terror, by the time I got off stage, I had drenched my spaghetti top in sweat, and the room was not hot. Thankfully, the crowd still commended my performance, and the organisers managed to get an awesome video.

I was on a road that would lead me to greater exposure. I would not have dreamed that poetry would end up taking me on my first ever visit to West Africa.

Poetry DTR

She.
She is a tease,
She turns on her heels,
When I’m down on my knees.
She doesn’t aim to please.
She just is.

She, is the ornament,
My infernal tournament
An aching torment.

She…

Is a breeze, through the trees,
Coconut and Neem painted leaves,
Jacaranda,
Buganvillia,
Cheeky dreams.

She. Is a dream that
I call into being.
She is a greed I will
Agree to beyond the need
For meaning.

She makes me leave the house
Forces me to get dressed up.
She makes me wear my soul on my sleeve.
Makes me cover the tab.

She beats me down.
Till I swallow my pride.
She strips me, of my pretense,
Lays me bare on my bed,
heart throbbing and legs spread.

She heals me…

I, will walk to the ends of the earth for her.
I will kneel on the floor,
Covered in battle scars.
I will water the lawn with my blood.
For her, I will fight.
Tip my pockets inside out.
I will brave my demons,
For her.

Sacrifice for her.
I will beg and borrow to provide for her.
I will leave home,
Not knowing how I’ll get back,
Take her to the many places she lives,
And make her know:
She is at home with me.
But, she stays when I have to go.
Later, without having to open the door,
I’ll find her spread
across my desk.
A creative mess.
Waiting for me, to address her.
Undress her,
Confess to her, that it is me
That can not ever leave her.

She likes the camera,
Loves the pen, the paper.
She knows that she is a star
and I am nothing without her.
I faulter.
She doesn’t seem to want to have my daughter.
She would rather she, were my only child.
My only smile.
Or else, she would want to split the bill sometimes.

I, will not commit to her.
I’m not sure she commits to me.
I just, cant help conceding to her
predetermined victory.

We will be, for as long
As we can be.
I can’t remember much before we, were we.
I love her,
Maybe more than she loves me.
Perhaps.
I adore her.
I lay all at her feet.
She is sweet, not like a baby, like sugar.

Last night, she blew my world off it’s feet.
She flew in, and magic carpet, carried me.
To a place where I could speak from my truth,
To a multitude, who told me that they heard me,
In their different languages.

And my goddess resumes her throne,
Amongst the living
As a Queen.

I love you,
               Poetry.

I hope one day,
   I can ask you…

‘Will you, marry me?’