Playing the Fool

Over the past few weeks, I spent a large amount of time preparing for a musical in which I (and several of my unwitting music students) became increasingly involved in the action on stage. The original thought of having two bands for the show – one electric, one acoustic – turned into my acoustic band being fully costumed and on-stage for the entirety of the two-hour show. I suspect that, had they known that they would end up portraying members of the Bohemian revolution, my students may have been somewhat more hesitant in signing up. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that this production allowed for the development of an important skill for musicians. One evening, as I was sambaing around on-stage with an accordion strapped to my chest while sporting a rather pointy moustache, it occurred to me that there is something to be said for standing on a stage and, knowingly, making a fool of yourself.

In Be Brave, I wrote about how musical performance gives us the opportunity to build uniquely personal and human relationships with our audiences. However, there is nothing to say that these relationships need to be serious. Some of the most memorable performances I have seen have been those given with a twinkle in someone's eye and a quick flash of a grin. The stakes are raised in such performances, however. Looking silly when you perform is one thing, looking incompetent is another. As performers, our egos may be easily bruised when others question our technical proficiency. Thus, in order to reach the stage where we can have the comfort of acting absurdly, we need to play well enough that we aren't worried about hitting the right notes at the right times. As Amy Poehler has said,

There’s power in looking silly and not caring that you do.

That power is twofold. First, you have the power to deliver that performance with a certain level of technical control – you know what you're doing and can almost go on autopilot if need be. Second, you have power over your own ego. You can temporarily release your insecurities to allow you to pursue a greater artistic goal. If we commit to a performance enough that we simply don't give a damn how silly we look, then we help pull our audience in. Whether out of amusement, fascination, or simply curiosity, they will watch simply to see what happens. Likewise, as was the case of the misadventures of my Bohemian band, the audience may watch – and mirror – your joyful immersion in making music.

The question for me is how far you can take this concept. What do you think? Have you ever acted the fool for an audience?