Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Are you afraid your audience will Boo you?
Do you find yourself in front of your audience tongue tied, dry mouthed, and so nervous on how you will be received?

Do you find yourself working on your projects again and again, hoping it will actually work and be adored?

You look at other artists and performers who seem to have the Midas Touch, where everything they release is a HIT!

How the HECK do they do that?

Our audience can feel so elusive….have you ever felt like this?

What would be possible for you, if you really knew?
How would it feel to look into your audience’s eyes and see not only joy, but that you have moved them?

 

Alright Rogers, you’ve got the floor.

1969, Fred Rogers was testifying in front of a Senate committee, headed up by the very gruff, Senator Pastore.

The future of PBS lay on the table.

Nixon wanted to cut public funding, and $20 Million dollars was at stake.  With this, PBS could continue it’s programming.  Without it, it would disappear.

Senator Pastore had spent the last two days closed off, unconvinced, and PBS had saved their most valuable speaker until the end, Fred Rogers.

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood had been on the air for over a year and was radically different than all the other children’s programming. Instead of cartoons showing violence, and pies in the face, Fred Rogers was writing and performing content that dealt with much larger issues, like childhood anger, and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

Fred began to speak, and share what made his program different.

Our show is about a Neighborhood expression of care, helping each child to realize he is unique.  At the end of every show, I say, “You’ve made this day a special day, just by being you.  There’s no one else in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.”

If we, in Public Television can only make it clear that Feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.

I think it’s much more dramatic to show two men working out their feelings, much more dramatic than gunfire.

Senator Pastore had become transfixed, quiet, and a change was occurring over his face.

He was softening.

He was listening.

Fred then shared the lyrics to a song he wrote called,
What do you do with the ‘Mad” you feel?

And then he spoke,
I’m supposed to be a pretty touch guy and this is the first time I’ve had goose bumps in the last two days.  You just got your $20M.

 

Why was Fred Rogers able to turn the tide when other men had not?
What was different in his performance?

In 1969, it was not common to have a grown man talking about feelings, and talking about self acceptance.

But, this was absolute truth for Fred.

He was CLEAR.
He knew WHAT he was talking about.
He believed deeply in what he was standing for.

Fred Rogers had great conviction, but he also had great respect. He never spoke down to the Senator, and included him the entire time he was speaking with him.

But, the piece that resonated most was WHAT he was speaking about.

Humanity.

He wasn’t trying to be clever or pull tricks. Fred wasn’t making something up on the spot, he was prepared.

He looked at Senator Pastore and spoke to him, not as someone on a pedestal…but just as another human being.

For years, as a performer, I would give all of my power to my audience. I would place their opinion over mine, put them on a pedestal, and meekly HOPE what I was presenting was worthy.

Where did this get me?
Years of frustration, resentment, and feeling like I wasn’t enough.

The incessant voice of
Will they like me? was exhausting.

Without even realizing it, my deep desire of approval was actually putting up a wall and repelling the very people I wanted to connect with the most.

Everything turned around when I placed the audience on the same level. I felt joyful because I now experienced my audience as equal.

In truth, we have so much more in common than differences with our audience.

I imagine when Senator Pastore heard the song about dealing with anger, he was recognizing how that was alive in him.

Because this is what our audience does….they look for what you SHARE. They are listening to every word, every note, reading every word to see,
Is this like me?

Because underneath it all, we really want to BELONG.

And Art allows that.

Your stories
Your talks
Your music
Your dance
Your paintings
Your photography

It brings you AND your audience to a place of belonging.

Or as Fred Rogers said,
An expression of care.

 

So, where are you placing your audience?
How would it feel to be on the same level and just SHARE what you have in common?

When you transform from within, your audience will do the same.

This is when they will be WITH you, and your confidence soars.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

This feels much better.