The Validation Effect

Do you ever find yourself in front of your audience, and are completely confused by their lukewarm reaction?

Do you feel like you are doing everything you can, practically standing on your head, and yet the acclaim just isn’t happening?

What causes the cheers?
What causes the audience to get up on their feet and scream for more?

It can be very easy to start spiraling into,
I must be doing something wrong.

Or even more so,
I must not be very good.

And we watch these incredible Artists, who just seem to have it all:
Loving what they do, and thriving.

What is the deal??

 

On New Year’s Eve I went to see an incredible band I had never seen before at the Asbury Hotel in Asbury Park, NJ.  My man and I showed up, ready for festivities, and I had no expectations about the music.

As soon as they took the stage, I knew I was in for something special.

The musicians all came out, and started a rocking jam, and my whole body began moving in response.

Then, the three backup singers came out, and introduced the front man, who bounded onto the stage, picked up the mic, and launched into their first song, his voice exploding into the space.

And then I started screaming like a teenager, my eyes widening.

They were amazing!  The band was so tight, the lead singer capturing my total attention.  I could feel energy rising all over me, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

There were three backup singers, who came out and did solos.  The first was doing Beyoncé covers, and was off the charts.  She was fierceness personified…..

Again, totally captivated.

And then the second female singer sang her solo, and something changed.

I stopped dancing.  I wasn’t singing along.  I started to look around the room, and my mind began to wander. It was confusing at first, as the singer was gorgeous.  She was tall, blond, and stunning…..a beautiful package.  But something was missing…..

I went from feeling SO connected to the band and the singers, to feeling strange.  And as I took in the moment and how I was feeling, I remembered being on stage myself. I remembered belting my face off, and just not getting the reaction I wanted.  Even worse, I remembered losing my audience, and feeling so confused.

I used to be the pretty package too….

In the Fall of 2012, I was hired by a very up and coming choreographer to be a part of the new musical Zelda.  This was a HUGE moment for me, as I was going to be working with Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn.  There were plans to take it to Broadway eventually, and the cast was made up of some of the best in the business.

I thought, I’ve arrived!

We were doing an out of town production and I showed up for the first day of rehearsal so excited.  The choreographer came up to me and said,
We are so glad you are here!

They gave me this awesome solo vocal feature in one of the most exciting numbers in the show, where I got to strut down the center of the stage, and just let it rip.

I was beside myself. 

And yet…..it seemed to never work.  The choreographer kept giving me notes about this moment.  She must have changed it every time we rehearsed it, and I was so confused.

I felt like I was taking her notes every time, and yet I kept seeing her stoic face.  I kept feeling she wasn’t happy and this exciting moment just wasn’t happening.

And I knew it was me……

Yet, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing WRONG.

What had changed from the callback where the whole creative team was over the moon to have me, to rehearsal where I seemed to be falling flat?

All my insecurities about my singing came roaring to the surface, and I was doubting the moment and HOW I was performing.  I was doubting my voice, my ability, and my presence.

Worst of all, the choreographer became more and more distant from me.  Before the show began, we had spoken about collaborating on a choreographic project.

Once the show was over, she didn’t return my emails.

And I never worked with her again or Frank Wildhorn again.  In fact, the show fell away.  It never went on to Broadway.

And a month after the show closed, my whole life fell apart, beginning with my marriage.

 

The pretty package I had tried SO hard to keep together all fell away. And something really surprising happened…..

I found my true confidence as an Artist, and started to take real risks, no longer concerned with HOW I looked. I had a total resurgence in my career, and when my next vocal solo was given to me in a production of “The Little Mermaid”, I not only nailed it in my audition, but also in rehearsal AND in performance.

And the director?   We are still friends, and she was thrilled with my work.

I went from relying completely on external validation to trust and confidence in WHO I was at the mic.

 

What would it mean to you to have this with your Art?
How would this affect your life?

What would you finally be able to CREATE because you let go of the fear and just went for it?

New Year’s Eve was such a strong reminder of what sets apart Artists that make it, and the ones that are in a constant struggle.

The front man and the other female singer were so solid in WHO they were, that they were able to CONNECT with the audience from a place of partnership, not validation.

I wasn’t doubting them or their ability, because they were solid in their gifts.

They were pretty on the outside AND inside.  The package was WHOLE.

And this not only translated to them both singing their faces off, but me as an audience member LOVING every minute of it.

This is what I lived for on the stage.

And I remember the sting of isolation.  I remember feeling so unworthy, and the pain of self doubt.

Have you felt this?

 

Let the wall come down.  Know that you come to your audience as ALL of you.  Let them see you, and place your attention of building the relationship WITH them, not asking them to validate you.

Claim your power.  This is your birthright as an Artist.

Step to the mic and share your beautiful gifts this year.

I see you, and your light is brilliant.

Separation Anxiety

CONGRATULATIONS NIKOL!  You’ve just been hired for the Broadway production of Hairspray!

OH MY GOSH!!  This is my dream!  This is what I always wanted!

Hugging myself in elation, I look at the casting director and say,
Thank YOU! 

 

Sounds amazing, right?

 

It’s 2003.  Hairspray is blowing up the box office after winning the Tony Award for Best New Musical.

I go to see the show, with stars in my eyes, seeing myself up on the stage.  The show is dynamic, alive, and perfect for me. I can’t wait to audition!

So, the day comes, and I show up, along with about 200 other women to sing a whopping 8 bars of music, the equivalent of about 30 seconds.  I belt my face off, and I get a callback!

I’m over the moon, because it’s the first time I’ve been called back by this casting office, which is the top casting office in the city.  Even better, they aren’t just looking at me for the ensemble, but the understudy for one of the lead roles.

They give me this thick packet of songs and scenes and I have a week to work on them.

And I do.

I pour all my energy and heart into the callback material, and a, really excited because not only am I strong dancer, I’m a strong singer too!

And I feel it…this is my BIG chance!

I walk into the callback, and all I see are all these women,
…and all these women,
…and all these women.

I thought because it was an invited call, there would be 20-25 women there.  I thought I had made it to the next level, I thought I had arrived.  Looking around, this was just another cattle call.

And all I could think was,
I’m not competing against a FEW, I’m competing against a HUNDRED! How do I stand out?

I go into the room to learn the combination, and I’m completely in my head.  I can’t seem to pick up anything.  It’s as if I have two left feet. I’m so worried how I’m looking and how I’m going to get kept, that I can’t get back in my body.

My turn comes up, and I completely bomb.
And I’m cut.

Inside my head voices were screaming, “NO!  This show is perfect for me!”

I go up to the associate choreographer, who I know, and beg her to let me stay.  Because she knows me, she gives me another chance.

I learn the second combination, but I can’t see straight. Nothing is making sense, and I get cut AGAIN.

As I walked out of the room, I looked at the women that were being kept to sing, and all I saw was competition.  All I did was compare myself.

I went out onto the NYC street, in the pouring rain and sunk down onto the concrete sidewalk and called my mother, absolutely inconsolable.

What had happened in that audition room?
Why couldn’t I dance?

 

Has this ever happened to you?

It’s your BIG moment, your time to shine and you’ve completely bombed.  You’ve worked so hard and then couldn’t deliver in your performance.

So, what actually happens in this moment?

Well, we go into comparison, and then a process begins;
1) We disconnected from our bodies, shutting down.
2) We then isolate, and put up a wall.
3) Behind that wall, we go into self judgement and shame.

So, how do we meet this and get past it?

The answer is actually something you may not think of at first.
The answer is Your Audience.

Here’s my big idea for you:

You are not separate from your Audience.

 

So what does that mean and how does that help you as you are stuck in competition and shut down in your performance?

Well, let’s play a game! Why don’t we put ourselves in the place of our audience?

So, there they are. They are sitting looking up at you, and they are enraptured. Why? Well, they are enraptured because they are seeing a piece of themselves in you. But what’s important is WHAT that piece IS. It’s something very personal for them and it’s something that they want desperately to live. The only way it’s living in this moment is through you, through whatever that expression is you are putting out.

You’re allowing your audience to access that piece of themselves, giving them the permission slip for life so this part of them doesn’t whither and die.

That’s the effect you HAVE on your audience.

Now…let’s jump back into your body, UP on the stage. What is your role in this? Well, this is the first part of the process, and it means you don’t separate from yourself.

It means you aren’t jumping up into your head, and cutting yourself off, and isolating behind a wall. It means you are grounded in three the solid keys to performance:
1) WHO you are
2) WHAT you are talking about
3) A clear INTENTION behind what you are trying to say.

And it’s because you come to the stage with honesty, that allows your audience member to see you. There is no wall, because you are showing up fully present and clear.

So, you arrive, not separated from yourself, which allows your audience to see and keep that precious part of themselves alive.  Now you have created a beautiful loop that allows you to tell your creative story again and again, and your audience a very real reason to return again and again.

You feel connected and fulfilled, and your audience is raving, because they feel alive from your work.

 

The key to putting your work out to the world is your Audience.

Back in that audition room in 2003, I completely separated from myself, and forgot WHY I was there, and WHO my audience was!  I wasn’t connecting with the artistic team of Hairspray, I was too busy comparing myself.

I found myself in this place time and again in my performance career because I didn’t have the tools to come out of isolation and truly shine.

Everything turned around when I as able to do two things:
1) Take Risks
2) Embrace Imperfection.

This led me to realize, I actually had way more in common with those around me.  I realized I’m not separate from my audience.

We’ve all been there and had our moment in the rain when we have been so hungry to be SEEN and HEARD in our Art.

There’s a way to drop that wall you’ve put up between you and your audience, so you can truly receive the acclaim you desire.

And it begins with seeing what you have in common.

So, come out of comparison, and place your energy on your intention. Place your energy on what is unique and honest to YOU in your Art.

Your audience wants what you have.

So, bust down your walls and connect with them.