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.

Antigona

Antigona Church

A dark stage, save one white light, shining like a beacon from above, casting a circle onto the black wooden floor.  Silence echoes off the stain glass windows, the rows of seats, and paper fans beating in anticipation, held by sweaty palms.

Then she steps in, and her heel drops.

The first beat, resounding in the cavernous space, then the second, and her face looks out asking,

“Why?”

As her fingers slice the air, breaking up the spotlight, she beckons us to join, surveying the dark, and lifting her skirt to reveal her voice.

The voice in her shoes.

Her song begins, and her call received as the spotlight widens to three guitars, singers, dancers, and a drummer, answering in kind as the music builds and all join in.

Welcome to the Story.

Welcome to Flamenco.  

 

This week I sat in absolute awe, witnessing Noche Flamenca’s production of Antigona, playing at the West Park Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  While I am familiar with Sophocles’ Greek Tragedy, I have never seen this company, nor a stage production of the tale.

Their inventive storytelling, and powerful imagery sent shivers through my body.

“The themes in the work include catharsis, issues of dictatorship, repression, loss, the strength of family and female empowerment; strong themes not only in Sophocles but also in flamenco.”

I found that there were two main items that moved me to my core as I sat in the wooden pew: the total integration of all the artists on stage, and Antigone herself,

Soledad Barrio.

This was my first time witnessing her perform.  I have read about her several times in dance reviews, and as she turned and commanded the stage, I began to fully understand the words typed out in magazines and newspapers.

Soledad, born in Madrid, has appeared as a soloist with countless dance companies, winning awards from over 15 different countries, including a “Bessie” for Outstanding Creative Achievement.  Tonight her role wasn’t just as the lead, but also as choreographer.

As goosebumps rose up my legs, and I leaned forward in my seat, I knew my engagement was reflected by her commitment.  She strode onto the stage, a Goddess alight, with one intention,

To tell the story.

And all were with her in this intention.  All 18 bodies, whether creating from their hands, their heels, their guitar strings, their wailing voices, or their tapping fingers, all joined to create the world at the gate of Thebes.

They spoke
They sang
They played

And they danced.

At times, I felt I could do no more than just take in the whole, as each artist’s mastery filled the sanctuary.  I marveled at the singer’s soaring breath control, the guitarist’s intricate picking, and the director’s creative staging.

Elements intertwined in fabric, masks, levels, lighting, language, and movement.  I saw influence of traditional Greek tragedy to contemporary communication, jumping between chorus, duet, and solo.

If I isolated each of these things in the moment, I was lost.

The power was their integration.

 

I went from sitting forward, to exhaling back throughout the 90 minutes, slowly sipping a spicy ice tea and holding the sweating plastic to my skin to cool me down.

I was entranced.

Antigone entered the stage for her final solo in a long black dress, her exiled dance in a rocky cave.  In a semi circle stage left, sat a line of men, awaiting her cue.  Their intent and focus narrowed into her feet, her breath, and when she gave the signal, they exploded in song and rhythm, accompanying her dance.  The timing was flawless.

There was complete connection.

 

Upon the final moment I leapt to my feet to clap, hands raised in appreciation as I shouted out, “Bravo!”  My friends and I stayed rooted in our spot, even as the actors exited, and the audience left.  The energy was buzzing through our bodies.

The energy of inspiration.

We went for food and drink, our impressions and observations spilling over like sprinklers in a summer backyard.  The fire created now burned within our minds and planted seeds, wanting to emerge in our next projects.

What had we just experienced?

 

As I road the subway home in the urban July twilight, I read the program, and grabbed a pencil to underline the small black type:

“All aspects of flamenco – dance, song, and music – are interrelated and given weight creating a true communal spirit within the company: the very heart and soul of flamenco”

Each element indeed, all related to the whole.

So, in this moment of communion, what are you bringing?  

I’ll see you at the sprinkler.
Antigon Soledad