Performance Skills: The Audience are Not Your Parents


Performance is a skill to be honed, just like your writing

I see lots of performers who are talented or with good material who don’t manage the relationship with the audience very well. They act as if the audience is there to give them the validation they craved from their parents. Then when they get a lukewarm reception, they go off into a spiral of self-hatred, or even stop performing.

I know. I was one of them.

The Audience are Not Your Parents

 They are not here to give you validation or make you feel better. This is the good news. Because audiences, possibly unlike your parents, are on your side. They didn’t pay money or give up their time to put you down. They want you to succeed. They want to come out of this experience feeling good.

So one of the most powerful things a performer can do is nurture their relationship with the audience. Get that right and you don’t have to be the greatest or most polished writer in the world. You will have given your audience a much greater gift, the one of attention.

The Eyes Have It

First, give them eye contact. Pick a friendly face, let them see into your eyes. Have a moment with them. Then move to another, and another. If someone is texting, or distracted in another way, either ignore them or play with them, but don’t take it personally. Their distraction is not your issue. And some people just have angry resting faces. So don’t focus on them, find your allies. There will be someone in that room who is digging you.

Be a Safe Pair of Hands for Your Audience

Some performers are naturally spontaneous and assured, and this helps the audience relax, because they sense someone is steering this ship. Paradoxically, that is when you can take them to the craziest of places. But most of us aren’t naturally spontaneous and assured, or only get there after years of practice. In fact some of the people who seem the most spontaneous are the most scripted.  I tend to have a plan, which I have rehearsed. I know what points in my set arc I want to hit… and I am prepared to go off piste or respond differently if that’s what I sense the audience wants or needs. If the performer before has lost the audience, or has been lacklustre, you’ve got to be ready to change it up. Set the pace and atmosphere that you enjoy.

How to Rescue the Sinking Ship

Sometimes it isn’t going well, you are disconnected from the audience, or you are not their sort of performer, but you can pull it back. You can point out the bleedin’ obvious. Saying, ‘That went badly, didn’t it?’ can break the tension because thank goodness, at last someone told the truth. Follow it up with ‘You might like this better.’ Or your own version of these words. After all, you’re creative.

But most of all, don’t give the audience the job of being the parents you should have had. In this relationship, you are maybe not the parent, but you’re definitely the caretaker. You are giving them something thought-provoking, entertaining, inspiring, funny, clever. You are going to do it in the best way you can, and let the audience’s response be whatever it is.

And you know what? Audiences will love you for it.


Tina Sederholm is a poet, podcaster and theatre-maker. Creator of five successful solo shows that have been reviewed as ‘Utterly enthralling’ *****(edfringe, ‘Stunning…beautifully humbling’ ***** (ThreeWeeks) and ‘A Must-See Show’ (Fringe Review), she is currently touring on her latest show, This is Not Therapy. 

When not creating her own work, she works as a poetry and prose editor. Email for more information on ways she can assist you with your latest book, collection, script or poem.