Now that my life around the Odyssey is virtual performances from home for the foreseeable future, I'm starting to find interesting aspects of in-person shows of which I was not aware while they were my only reality.
For instance, it's becoming clear to me that the process of getting to the performance and the unique circumstances of each space in which I performed had certain advantages in that they naturally created conditions I needed for good performances.
I've often written about the negative aspects of travel: the isolation and day-to-day punishment of being on the road. But I now see that the trade off for the punishment of travel was that I couldn't help but be in the correct mental and emotional state to perform a song about a guy who is punished by travel. The travel experience was sort of a shortcut for me to get into the right condition to emote and connect with my piece.
At home, I don't have that travel experience built in, which is good in that I don't have the punishment of it but challenging in that I have to be more deliberate about putting myself in the right emotional state to relate to the characters in the story. Or find different ways to relate to them not connected to travel.
Similarly, new performance spaces forced me to stay open and really work to navigate the strengths and weakness of each room. The newness, excitement and challenge kept me engaged and, I think, imbued my performances automatically with a sense of vulnerability. This vulnerability, once I got comfortable with it, was an easy way to develop intimacy with the audience.
When I started my virtual performances I feared that the sameness of space (at home) and distance created by technology would make it hard for me to be vulnerable and therefore harder to create intimacy.
But, as with the travel piece, it is proving to be more complicated.
I noticed one such aspect during a Zoom performance for a class at Macalester College.
The class was wonderful: they were studying operas inspired by classical texts and really just reception in general so my performance fit perfectly in the syllabus. I gave my intro talk and then settled into my first song and immediately made a glaring mistake, botching a note on the guitar in essentially the first phrase of the piece. The last time I performed for Macalester was on campus in St. Paul in 2016 in a giant beautiful theater with the most striking reverb I've ever encountered. In a room like that, my mistake would be swallowed up by the sound but in the small and largely dry sonic environment of a Zoom performance, I knew anyone listening (in particular on headphones) probably heard it loud and clear.
That's a different kind of vulnerability but one no less intimate than the type I've experienced during in-person shows.
The rest of the show was thankfully free of clams as egregious as the one in the first song and our discussions was long and wonderful.
Afterwards, I couldn't stop thinking about that mistake and how it helped me feel vulnerable, how even though it was a mistake in a musical sense it had some utility in building my relationship with the audience across the hundreds (or even thousands: one student was in China!) of miles.
Distance changes many things about a performance but it does not erase the fundamental relationship between performer and audience and any feature that helps build vulnerability and intimacy is one I have to learn to live with and harness as best I can.