Have you spent any time thinking about your identity as an artist? How do you think the world perceives you? And how does the world actually perceive you?

The Performer’s Edge Programme looks into Identity. Here is an example of a workshop I did exploring this concept with a group of singers.

To start we explored our ‘labels’, such as daughter, son, singer, British, Asian, Australian, Cancerian, well educated, professional, non-professional, poor, mother, pop singer, jazz singer, amateur. Having a label may just be a way to describe what you do, your work or social status, where you come from, there is no intrinsic meaning behind any of these labels and they do not define what you are capable of.

We discussed how applying ‘labels’ can hinder our perception of who we are as an artist and what we are capable of doing or being.  For instance, one singer hooked up on the fact that she was a mother and that this would work against her when trying for singing work or how she would be regarded by other musicians or performers. Through class discussion, she was able to see that this was a constraint that she had put on herself and had nothing to do with how others perceived her. That, in fact, there are many successful professional singers and artists who are parents. In fact, when looking at it from the other side, there even more performers who are unsuccessful who don’t have children.

Labels we give ourselves

We then used Johari’s Window to explore the things about us we knew the world saw and then got feedback on what others saw in us. We discussed how this information might be of use to us as performers and the need to consider changing those things not working for us when communicating to the audience e.g. nervousness, tenseness or seeming cheerful in a serious moment.

For instance, I know I am seen as confident, calm, able and independent but will that serve me as a performer if I am wanting to create an ethereal, creative and eccentric image. Probably not. Saying this if the former descriptions are part of my authentic self then it may be wiser to work to this image, the audience may appreciate me more if I am true to my characteristics and personality traits. Something to explore and experiment with.

We looked at artists such as Lady Gaga and Tim Minchin and discussed how they used their personality, style, skills and interests to create their performance persona. For instance, at times Tim uses a certain nervous tension when singing about what may be seen as a potentially offensive subject. Maybe he sees it as a way of excusing his outrageous and offensive thoughts. Lady Gaga keeps a distance and air of mystery by changing her image frequently. In the early days, she often opted to cover or mask her face, now less so. Does that demonstrate a move from a lack of self-image to confidence in who she is? What are your thoughts?

Lady Gaga

By delving into ourselves we open up some fantastic opportunities to uncover our potential as a performer. It can then help us to focus on our message. This, in turn, means we can focus away from ourselves and our performance issues. By sitting down and identifying your labels and the information that you do or don’t reveal publically you may also begin to find your unique selling point (USP). This, in turn, will be expressed through your music, your lyrics, subject matters, wardrobe, arrangements, staging, and overall branding.

Try out Johari’s window with a few friends or workmates, you will be surprised, I am sure, at what is revealed. Here is a link to an online version of the exercise.

Bst wishes with finding your artist identity!

Lady Gaga image by loveyousave [1], CC BY-SA 2.0, http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11835942