Monday, July 25, 2011

Bardic Etiquette

A Bardic is a type of talent show and can include singing, music, dancing, acting, storytelling, poetry, magic, juggling, and more! A bardic usually involves several performers who each take the stage (or the centre of a circle) in turn, and the performances are usually less than 10 minutes long. Sometimes a bardic can involve judges and prizes, but it's often just a venue to showcase our community talent and while-away an evening.

A bardic is usually held at night around a campfire, although there have been venues with stages, lighting, and microphones. But a bardic is usually a low-tech, cozy, and home-grown evening of entertainment.

Bardic Etiquette applies to both the bard and the audience. The Bard and the listeners both enter into a pact where the listeners pledge to open themselves to the bard, and the bard pledges to share something inspiring. The chances of the Bard failing in this pact are as epic as the legends of old, and if the Bard is not ready to move his listeners, his listeners will move away, leaving the Bard powerless.

Truly, a Bard without an audience is a fool talking to himself. This is why the Bard needs to pick his material carefully, rehearse it methodically, and deliver it passionately. Any power he wields over his audience is given freely to him; it is not wielded solely by him and it certainly is never lorded over his audience (or at least, not for long).

When a bard performs a piece in a bardic, the audience is expected to:

* turn off their cellphones
* be respectful towards the performing bard
* be quiet, attentive, and responsive
* support the bard by participating when asked
* show appreciation at the end of a performance (applause)

When the audience gives the bard a venue in which he can perform, the bard is expected to:

* have selected, prepared, and rehearsed his performance
* speak in a loud, clear voice (where appropriate)
* make eye contact with the audience as much as possible
* speak respectfully and eloquently
* present a piece that fits within the Bardic theme
* perform within the agreed time-limits

This is a really touchy subject, both for the bards and the audience. Some say that no one should heckle the performers, while others say that a bard should expect and know how to deal with heckling. Some people even think heckling is a venue for expressing consequence-free abuse. Heckling is an attempt to distract or disparage the bard during his performance, ruining the performance itself and potentially humiliating the bard.

As an absolute rule, you should NEVER attempt to humiliate a performer, no matter how bad you think the performance is. It doesn't make you a hero, it doesn't make you a good person, and it can do incalculable damage to the artist. Having the courage to stand before any group of people and lay yourself bare before them is no small feat; having a person simply take that risk deserves your respect. Most performers will tell you that performing for a crowd is terrifying, so part of bardcraft is learning how to master that fear and use it to better your performance.

The Bard has craft something beautiful that he wants to share with you, the audience. Give him a chance to do that, and if you don't like it, it'll soon be over and you can move on to the next Bard. If you can't stand the performance, then maybe you shouldn't be in the audience in the first place. You can always walk away.

Trying to destroy a Bard during his performance from the comfortable safety of an anonymous crowd is an act of cowardice. Hurtful hecklers are bullies who cannot stand to see someone else live the glory that they are too afraid to seek for themselves. They should be pitied, but not tolerated.

How a Bard can Deal with a Heckler

There's no way to predict how an audience will act during a performance, so it's best to be ready for anything. The Bard needs to understand that anything can happen, accept it, and even relish it. It's the dangerous beauty of live performance. But if you need to deal with a Heckler, here are some suggestions:

1. If someone shouts out something that adds to your story, find a way to work it in. If you can't work it in to your performance, take a moment to give a smirk in the direction of the caller, and then move on with your performance.

2. If one or more people continue to make too much noise, stop your performance and wait for them to quieten down. The rest of the audience will usually tell them to shut up. DO NOT attempt to silence them by shouting back: this only feeds their satisfaction in controlling you.

3. If a person shouts out something derogatory ("YOU SUCK!!"), try to ignore it and move on with your performance. If the abuse continues, stop your performance and wait for them to quieten down. The rest of the audience will usually tell them to shut up. If you know who this person is, find them after the show and make them explain why they felt the need to say such awful things. DO NOT deal with it during your performance.

4. If you keep getting interrupted, walk away from the stage quietly. You have failed to hold the audience's attention, so take your lumps, move on, and learn. Maybe your material wasn't right for the show, maybe you weren't ready, and maybe the audience wasn't ready. Maybe you need to revisit your performance and figure out what went wrong (length, timing, language, topic, etc.) Try to keep your ego under control and take this failure as a chance to be better next time.

Note: I have rarely seen this happen in a formal bardic; it usually happens during an informal gathering of friends or colleagues. It's important to realize that sometimes you need to pick your moments and your audiences more carefully. If you're surrounded by children, telling them a 2-hour epic tale will not hold their attention. If you're in the company of adults, leading a "Little Bunny Foo Foo" sing-along won't always go over well. If the adults are drunk, their attention span may be too limited for even a 5-minute tale. Pick your moments carefully.

Audience Participation

There is a way for the audience to take part in the Bard's performance in a positive, constructive way. Some Bards may see this as a dangerous suggestion, but I know that audience can be so enthralled with a performance that they may call out to the Bard as a show of support.

When in doubt, don't shout. If the Bard is young in his career, you should refrain from calling out until he gains more experience and more confidence. You can test the waters by calling out encouraging words or something appropriate to the story. For example, if the Bard is singing a song about a beautiful woman, you could burst out with exclamations ("Wooohoo! Hawt Girl! Sexy!"). If the Bard is encouraged by this, he may feel confident enough to adlib his way through the song based on what the audience is giving him.

You could also engage in known cliches, challenging the Bard to respond in kind. Again, if the Bard is telling a story about a beautiful woman, you could call out "How beautiful WAS she?" The Bard should be able to roll with that without missing a beat ("She was so beautiful that she looked just like you!").

To know when it is appropriate to call out anything more challenging to the Bard, you need to take the time to get to know the Bard first. Maybe talk to him about his performance, find out how he feels about audience participation, maybe even warn him that you will say something during his performance, so he should be ready for it.

But in all cases of audience participation, keep it short. The Bard is the main attraction, not you. What you want to do is add to his performance rather than take away or distract. Anything more than a few words of encouragement or challenge can damage or destroy the sacred moment between performer and the audience. If you have more to say, then swallow your fear and walk into that Bardic space yourself. Until then, respect the Bards that choose to take that risk.
Copyright© 2010 John David Hickey