When I set out on my professional music career in 1980, the first thing I learned from my mentors was to connect with the audience. I was taught that the stage is not like a fish bowl, where the audience peers statically at the action happening on stage. The potent energy that flows back and forth from performer to the audience is a very important aspect of the presentation. That is why live performances haven’t been completely obliterated by movies and television; people still desire that back-and-forth, “being there” camaraderie of a live program.
The concept of “entertainment,” in the context of church, is forbidden in certain circles. But as I’ve said before, using musical and dramatic techniques to enhance the art of storytelling can help create a flowing and enjoyable experience — one that allows the audience to lose self-awareness, to the point where they are fully engaged in the action on the the stage. To make sure that I’m not misunderstood, I want to emphasize that delivering the message of Christ and His redemptive power is, by far, the most nobel and virtuous use of the stage, cutting-edge technology and excellence in all genres of performance.
The perspective of the audience differs from that of the performer. Tom Jackson, a professional live performance producer, helps bands develop their live shows to effectively deliver a powerful performance. In a teaching from one of his DVDs entitled Stage Performance: Making Our Services Rock, Tom spoke of several myths from a performer’s point of view:
- If we feel the music then the audience must feel it too.
- It’s all about the song (that the song is strong enough to carry the performance).
- If we play well, sing well and the audience hears the words, we win.
- There are no performance rules — we just “wing it” because we are spontaneous.
- “I’ve been doing it for ‘X’ amount of years; I know what I’m doing.”
- I feel comfortable onstage, so it must be great.
- If I’m uncomfortable, it must not be “me.”
- If it worked for a bigger church then it will work for me.
The difference between a great performance and an average or poor performance is essentially the connection with the audience. Jackson made a humorous but accurate observation of a great performer, using Bono, lead singer of U2, as an example. He said Bono is “married” to the audience, when most of us are just “dating” the audience. It takes a great amount of work and skill to create a great performance, and in doing so, we earn the audience’s respect. I’ve personally seen U2 perform live, and Bono had that huge indoor sports arena in the palm of his hand!