Four Words All Creative Practitioners Should Live By

RESPECT YOUR GODDAMN AUDIENCE.

Okay, here’s your warning. I’m going to rant my fucking pants off in this one, ’cause I’m mightly passionate and this post has been sparked by something that really pissed me off. If you’d prefer to skip the rage, feel free. Go read something else. I won’t be offended. Just remember those four words, ’cause everything else is just a cautionary tale explaining why they’re important.

Respect your goddamn audience.

There’s plenty of reasons to follow this advice, but here’s the big one: if you don’t, there’s pretty good odds I’m going to hunt you down and carve out your fucking spleen with an ice-cream scoop. Especially if I’m part of that audience, and you’ve contrived things so I don’t have the option of leaving when it becomes obvious that your fucking lack of respect is wasting my goddamn time.

This one irritates me enough that it probably should have been a conversation with the spokesbear entry, if only so I can present the illusion of having an even keel, but the truth is that this is one of those things really pisses me off. I’m firmly of the belief that anyone who takes their audience for granted should be herded into an open field and hunted for sport, preferably by the audience members who were utterly ripped off by the creator’s complacency. There is no leeway there. There is no reasonable part of me when it comes to this. An audience is a privileged, not a right. Treat them as such.

This is not to say that you need to be brilliant all the time. I recently went to an open mic night that was marked with a steady streak of performers whose approach to the audience seemed to be a hearty fuck you, you’re stuck here and you have to listen to me. People were permitted to tell long, rambling stories without time-limit or, in many cases, a point. At least once I considered throwing a beer bottle at the performer on stage, on the theory that I’d either hit them and they’d shut up, or I’d miss and get ejected from the venue. Either way the night would be over and I’d be fucking free.

Instead I just sat there chanting Skip to the Fucking End when it became obvious that the rambling wasn’t actually leading to a point, it was just rambling. The whole demeanor of their performance said they didn’t give a shit about the people they were performing for, and it wasn’t just a case of nerves. If they’d rehearsed, they hadn’t rehearsed enough to be comfortable with their material. If they’d given their material any thought, they hadn’t really given it enough. Listening to them was excruciating, because the venue was cramped enough that there was no way of getting up and walking out until intermission was called.

It wasn’t all bad. There was one guy who’d rehearsed his piece and actually had some idea of how to work a crowd. His performance was great. Polished, entertaining, short. I’d go seem him read or perform again in a heartbeat. It was the performance of someone comfortable in front of a crowd.

But my favourite was actually the least showy performance of the night. It was the most nervous, verging on hesitant, and it consisted of a woman who stepped up to the microphone and told a story she’d obviously written and memorized. Occasionally she stumbled, occasionally she’d pause and struggle to remember what came next. It wasn’t polished in any way, but it was rehearsed and it was shaped and it was personal and it drove towards a poignant point. In short, they’d taken their brief for the evening and thought about the audience and respected them enough to prepare.

It’s about being good. No-one is good all the time. Everyone starts somewhere.

It’s about respecting your audience enough to show them that you’ve put in effort, even if you’re nervous as hell. It’s about showing up prepared and willing to do your best, not a half-arsed facsimile of your best.

You don’t have to be good at what you do, but you have to show your audience that you’ve respected them enough to deliver something you’ve put effort into. You have to appreciate the fact that they’re giving you their time and their eyeballs and their money. You owe your audience, your audience doesn’t owe you.

And if you forget that, then you’re in trouble, ’cause I’ve only got a vague idea where the spleen is located and I’m perfectly willing to keep digging around with that ice-cream scoop until I find it.

  4 comments for “Four Words All Creative Practitioners Should Live By

  1. Flinthart
    16/06/2012 at 5:51 AM

    I know where the spleen is. I can help you find that.

  2. 16/06/2012 at 9:04 AM

    Digging about for it is kinda the point, though.

  3. John Farrell
    18/06/2012 at 10:20 PM

    Can I borrow your spoon? I want to talk to George R.R. Martin about finishing "A Game of Thrones".

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