Evan Bortnick http://musa-vocalis.de/
Stage presence is a term I’ve heard since my first days on the stage. I always found it palpable as a phenomenon, yet almost impossible to describe. Is it possible to ‘teach’ it? Is it possible to ‘fake’ it? Is it possible to ‘evoke’ it? I’ve drawn some interesting conclusions to these questions in some recent courses on Performance Training, Mental Training and Presenters Training. I’ll give you an example first, and then explain my conclusions to date.
Long ago I asked an energetic, very emotional, ambitious young soprano to compare two versions of a phrase. First, sung as she’d prepared and second, standing on a ‘bosu’-like balance training disc. In the first example she was ‘emoting’, ‘acting’ doing her level best to ‘interpret’ the phrase. In the second she was actively involved with finding and keeping her balance. Two completely different voice tone colors. Completely different carrying power. Completely different sense of rhythmic and melodic phrase. Of course the second on the balance disc was a bit less stable and ‘oriented’, especially the first time around, yet it had a much larger shape, tone and ‘presence’. When I asked her in which example she felt her ‘presence’ was strongest, she replied, predictably, the first. After repeating the comparison a few times and seeing/hearing it on camera, it became patently obvious to her that the second had much more ‘Presence’. Why?
I heard from an actor long ago; ‘never go on the stage with animals and children!’ They steal focus. They’re just so “THERE”! What I discovered by the above comparison and many such like it, is that presence is in large part a function of balance in the here-and-now. That means that when a singer, or a speaker, or a trainer or a meditator, puts focus on the ‘here and now’, finely-tuned sensations in the body, that focus IS Presence. Hard to believe for young singers sometimes, I know. They’ve been trained to ‘interpret’ and to ‘emote’. This training is probably important for the learning process. The point is that it’s not the last step. The last step has to do with putting a great many interpretive factors on auto-pilot and finding the balance of your own flow-state. Focusing on your body’s precise sense of actual physical balance is a reference experience for just this presence.
Some additional vocal plusses for the anatomically-minded among my readers; standing on one of those discs AUTOMATICALLY releases into flexibility the diaphragm, the psoas-iliacus-iliopsoas complex, the internal and external intercostals, any extraneous helping tensions in and around the clavicle and sternum, plus the important pelvic bowl musculature, among others. It makes any inhalation habits, like moving the head forward or raising the shoulders immediately transparent through a loss of balance. Even more critical, balance is found and maintained through finely-tuned structures in the inner ear. Our Choclear and Vestibular inner world are mobilized through balance exercises. This differs, of course, from one to another, but everyone reports a more effective, more transparent listening mode when doing such comparisons using balance.
The good news for teachers everywhere is that these efficient and transparent modes can be effectively integrated as a referencing experience for the student. In other words, you don’t have to stand on a balance disc to reference the effects if they’re well integrated.
Another fascinating phenomenon I’ve observed is an enhancement in the quality of active listening. I would maintain that this quality of listening is just as important for coaches as it is for singers. The above-mentioned mobilization of the inner ear is a factor, but the listening I’m referring to here is a whole-body experience. When we listen we are naturally involved with our own thoughts and impressions as well as with the multi-faceted expressions in the speaker’s communications. Too much of the former (internal reference) or too much of the latter (external reference) hinders our listening competence. We each seek and find a natural and unique balance of these modes of reference.
Physical balance IS an internal reference to the surrounding external space. This could be one accurate definition of presence as well! The precise, multi-tasking mix between internal reference and external reference is what makes PRESENCE so expressive.
Evan Bortnick http://musa-vocalis.de/