Five "Must-Have" Elements for a Show-Stopping Performance
Have you ever sat in the audience, listening to a singer who maybe *sounds* great, but whose stage presence is just… awkward?
Or, maybe you’ve watched someone perform and marveled over how well they embodied the character, but their vocal tone or musicianship left something to be desired.
Performances like these highlight the fact that most singers are naturally gifted in one particular area of their craft. Some are excellent technicians. Some are compelling actors. Others are incredibly musical. And still others are masters of vocal expression.
The thing about being a singer, though, is that we must be able to do all of these things. This is why it takes years to become a good singer. And why you pay big bucks to see the pros.
There is a basic priority checklist of elements that I believe are necessary for virtually every solo performance, regardless of genre. Some performers might prioritize or describe these elements differently, but that's okay - at the end of the day, we're all after the same thing: an authentically expressive and holistic performance that is the result of perfect performance-prep mixology.
The elements are:
3. Your personal, emotional connection to the piece
4. Vocal expression
5. Acting/stage presence
Some of these elements can be addressed concurrently, especially as you become more experienced and can absorb new material more quickly. This list also assumes that you’ve already done some research into the character and context of your piece, and completed an analysis of the text, music, and overall dramatic intent.
The piece must be "in your voice," as we singers would say, and the way to get it there is to practice, practice, practice. Unless you are in a situation that requires you to learn something very, very quickly, you should practice your piece until you can literally roll out of bed and sing it. What's required to make this happen? Time, patience, and dedication, to be sure. But also... TECHNIQUE.
Yes, of course technique is always a work in progress. The takeaway here is to do the best you can with the piece right now.
Why is this so important? Well, when you're up there on stage, you don't want to be worrying about whether you'll hit the high note or run out of breath during that long phrase. These things should be practiced so that they're automatic, which will free up your brain to do the more artistic stuff that audiences really come to see.
All pitches, rhythms, and vocal entrances must be executed accurately. You must sing at an appropriate tempo and keep time with the accompaniment. You must have a solid understanding of the musical and vocal styles, and sing the piece accordingly.
Now, as you can see already, technique and musicianship often go hand-in-hand. Many of the musical/stylistic choices you make can’t be achieved without technique; conversely, you sometimes can’t complete technical work on a passage until you know how to handle it musically.
Musicianship, just like technique, needs to be automatic. You don't want your brain to be preoccupied with counting the beats leading up to your entrance, or trying to remember if the next phrase should be sung forte or piano. Musicianship, like technique, is part of the nitty-gritty bedrock stuff that needs to be in place before any real artistry can happen.
3. Personal Emotional Connection
Whether or not you can personally relate to the character's specific emotions or circumstances, it is your job as the performer to make *some* kind of connection to the piece. An audience or adjudication panel can smell an emotionally-disconnected performance from a mile away. If you're not connected, they won't be, either.
Sidebar: When we talk about art being representative of the human condition, this is the kind of
thing we mean. Well, one aspect of it, anyway. You need to communicate emotional authenticity to your audience, because the goal of art is to widen one's capacity to understand various issues and perspectives. It doesn't mean you bludgeon them over the head with the thing; it means you simply propose it for their consideration. The urgency with which you do this is up to you and the context of your performance, but it can't happen at all if you don't have emotional skin in the game.
Now, back to practicalities.
This is a very important step in the interpretive process. It is from this point that your vocal and physical expression grow. Skipping this step results in a shallow performance that may come across as inauthentic, shallow, and meaningless, even if you use gestures – actually, especially if you use gestures.
4. Vocal Expression
I’m talking about acting with your voice. A listener should be able to close their eyes and still tell what emotion you're conveying.
See how this is dependent upon element #3? Your vocal expression should be an organic outgrowth of your personal emotional connection, just as the various tones of your speaking voice in everyday life reflect your feelings.
5. Acting and Stage Presence
This is really the icing on the cake. Without the cake - i.e., elements 1-4 - the icing doesn't make much sense. Your physical embodiment of the character should be a natural outgrowth of elements #3 (your emotional connection) and #4 (vocal expression). Think about it: we don’t gesture or move in regular conversation unless our emotional instincts move us to do so. Gesturing or moving on stage without emotional motivation just looks... weird. So make sure you have a purpose for every movement you make.
This is what holistic performing looks like, folks.
I'm a voice teacher and a holistic wellness coach, and the more deeply I study both disciplines, the more I realize they are not as different from one another as one might think. Just like health is more than just the absence of disease, good performance is more than just the absence of wrong notes.
If you are polishing your rep for a big audition or performance, or just want to sing your pieces more confidently, I have just the service for you! I offer dramatic coachings for teen and adult singers, where we take a deep dive into the text, the music, and the drama of your pieces to bring them to life. You won't be left wondering what gestures you should use, what to do with your eyes, or how to move on stage - you'll feel confident and prepared to give a truly show-stopping performance! Book yours now.