Stagecraft and the art of poised performance

This post is adapted from an article I wrote for Pianist magazine’s April e-newsletter

Pianist Stephen Gott taking a bow after his performance at Normansfield Theatre, May 2012
Pianist Stephen Gott taking a bow after his performance at Normansfield Theatre, May 2012

‘Stagecraft’ is the term for a number of aspects of performing and preparation for a performance.

Stagecraft is not just the ability to walk onto the stage without tripping over. From the moment the performer enters the stage, his or her communication with the audience begins, and the way one greets the audience can have an important effect on the way the audience receives and enjoys the performance which follows.

Amateur musicians, children and young people may feel that such careful attention to stagecraft is unnecessary, but I think an understanding of good stagecraft is very important and can help one produce a good performance, regardless of the level at which you play. Stagecraft is an important factor in music diplomas and candidates are marked on their stage deportment, communication, programme notes and clothing. Good stagecraft can also increase your feelings of confidence in a performance situation. Get into the habit of building good stagecraft into your practising and preparations and you will find you can pull off a poised performance.

Here are some suggestions on how to achieve good stagecraft:

If you are well-prepared and know your pieces  (the Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz used to say ‘I know my pieces’) you are far more likely to pull off a polished performance while also keeping your nerves in control. Play within your capabilities and make sure all tricky passages have been thoroughly ironed out.

What shall I wear?
Curiously, choosing the correct clothing for the time of day, and venue, can be very important. Getting ‘dressed up’ for a concert or performances turns the event into an ‘occasion’, and makes it separate from practising done at home. Make sure you feel comfortable in your concert clothes, with plenty of freedom of movement and no distractions such as tickly labels.

Walking to the piano
No matter how nervous you feel, the way you walk onto the stage should not betray your anxiety. Walk confidently across the stage, greet the audience or bow, and sit at the piano. Take a moment to compose yourself before you start to play. Don’t tell the audience you feel nervous! At the end of the piece, don’t hurry away from the piano, nor scurry off the stage immediately.

To play from memory or not?
The debate about whether playing from memory results in a better performance rages on, but if you do use a score, try not to cling to it as if you life depends on it. In particular, make sure tricky sections and page turns are memorised. Have someone turn for you, as this can increase the professionalism of your performance.

After the performance
Enjoy the compliments from the audience and never apologise for errors or slips in your performance. Save these things for when you next go to practise, for all these issues are useful and help prepare for the next performance.

Above all, learn to enjoy performing. It is a wonderful cultural gift to be able to share so much fantastic piano music!

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