I’ve had this metaphor bubbling away for a little while as I’ve been here studying at Gaulier.

It relates performing to surfing the waves.

It’s about that “leap of faith” you take when you’re on stage that can take your performance from mundane to spectacular.

Is it a good metaphor? I don’t know yet. How about you and I find out together? (as I blurt it out messily into this blog post like an unwanted mouthful of soup)

Here goes…

For years, I’ve talked about taking “the leap” in a performance. The leap is that moment when you say “fuck you” to your hangups and nerves, and release all your energy into your performance.

For example, say you’ve decided to sing a song on stage.

There are three million, four hundred and thirty seven ways to sing a song in a shitty half-arsed way. (yes, Gaulier’s use of “shitty” is rubbing off on me… it’s a good word isn’t it!)

The problem with singing in a shitty half-arsed way is that it’s entirely unsatisfying for everyone (both you and the audience).

As Michiko might say “The audience hates you.”

(Michiko is Gaulier’s lovely wife who has the spirit of a lion tamer that could make the lion run and hide with a well-placed look)

Yes, you can get a few titters from an audience by singing in a half-arsed way.

But when you take “the leap”, you really go for it. You sing with all your lungs and soul.

Magic happens when you take “the leap”.

And you don’t need to be singing. Anything you do on stage can be transformed when you take the leap.

Wasn’t I talking about surfing? Oh yeah…

One thing I’ve noticed at Gaulier recently is that “the leap” is only the beginning. You have to take the leap or your performance will be banged off stage right from the start.

If you’re not “committing” to the performance with every part of your being… get off stage.

If you don’t fully commit, your energy on stage is like watching a surf board floating on the surface of a dead sea. No waves. No ripples. No movement at all.

“Oh!” You might say “A calm sea. That might look beautiful.”

Thing is…

It’s fucking boring.

Your audience isn’t there to watch nothing happening. They want something to happen.

If you deliver a script, sing a song, dance, or anything else with the energy of a dead sea… we’ll get bored.

The audience wants to see some surfing!

Most performers, I would argue, put as much energy into their performance as adding only a few waves and ripples.

Yes, the surfboard starts moving. But it’s still fucking boring. There isn’t enough energy to make it do more than float around randomly.

If anything, this half-arsed movement is even more boring than the dead sea.

This is what it looks like when you don’t commit to your performance.

“The leap” is what happens when you suddenly turn up the waves. By committing fully, the sea gets rough and powerful. Things start to get interesting.

For years, I’ve been focusing on this moment.

Naturally, as a person, I’m more like the dead sea.

I often don’t reveal much about my inner self and emotions as they’re all locked up, bouncing around inside my head and barely visible to the outside world.

There are times on stage when I have managed to take the leap and turn up the waves. In those moments, my performances have gone from nought to sixty.

Those are the moments when magic has happened.

What I didn’t know is that I was only just getting started.

You see…

There’s a problem with just turning up the waves.

If you don’t know how to surf, your surfboard is going to thrash around all over the place. You can’t control it so the energy of the wave overpowers you.

The audience is impressed by the force of the wave.

They’re not bored.

But they’re also not as satisfied as they could be. And they might not feel safe watching you thrashing around up there on stage. They can tell you can’t really control your own performance energy.

What I’ve been learning recently is that there is a whole other level beyond “the leap”.

After you’ve turned up the wave, when you’ve committed all your energy to the performance, you then have to actually learn to surf.

Good surfing isn’t about thrashing around in the waves. It’s not about indiscriminately splashing all your performance energy all over your audience.

It’s about harnessing that immense energy of the sea and skillfully riding it.

A skillful surfer can look very calm as they ride the waves.

Similarly, the skilful performer can appear to be doing very little on stage. They can even be silent and still.

But the mistake that unskilled performers make is to see that stillness and assume they need to make their own performances like the dead sea.

They are wrong.

The stillness of a dead, boring sea is a million and two miles away from the stillness of a skilled surfer riding a 30 meter high wave.

What I’m learning recently is that I’ve gone from dead sea to thrashing uncontrolled waves

Now I need to learn how to surf.

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