Are you an Offensive or Defensive Performer?

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I was looking through my blogpost ideas for today and came across something I saved marked Offensive/Defensive, and I thought it would have something to do with football (the Super Bowl is this Sunday).

But it actually came from a Seth Godin post about offensive/defensive behavior and finding the place in between. It pertains more to marketing. But I was thinking about how these terms pertain to performing and I think they also relate to the idea of armored vs. daring leadership (or performing), which I wrote about here.

As far as being defensive, Godin writes:

The problem with becoming defensive is that our internal narrative gets in the way of expressing what’s actually going on. Because we’re imagining all the blame and shame and scorn that the other person may or may not be feeling toward us, we bring those feelings into our words and actions, and end up making a mess.

If your performance is a defensive one and is all about yourself and how people are receiving your message, yes, you wind up making a mess. Because you aren’t expressing what is intended by your song, your dialogue, the composer, the playwright, etc.

Godin uses the term “offensive” here to describe offensive behavior, which also gets in the way of the message. I don’t think that this works in performing, because “offensive” can be in the eye of the beholder. You can be performing something exactly the way it was intended by the work’s creator, and someone is going to be offended. So let’s switch over to the idea of “offensive” and “defensive” as they relate to business, because I think they might be more relevant here.

In Mark Samuel’s blogpost on Bstate.com, he talks about the roles of the offensive player as they relate in football and in business. Here’s a quick overview of the differences between being on the offense vs. on the defense:

Proactive Reactive*
Has a goal in mind Is completely in the moment
Sees the obstacles in the way and creates strategy to counter Is the obstacle
Scores points Lets other people score points
Has motivation to keep moving forward Keeps others from moving forward

*You might say, “But Christine! Isn’t all acting RE-acting?
Shouldn’t I be reactive if I want to be authentic?
Wouldn’t that mean that I should be defensive?”

That was the conventional wisdom. But current wisdom favors responding (more measured, more thoughtful, less spontaneous) in favor of reacting (knee-jerk, emotional, instinctive). A response is done with the intention of eliciting a positive outcome. A reaction might elicit a positive outcome, but it might elicit a negative one as well. According to the article, A Blueprint for Leadership Transformation:

Reacting is emotional, responding is emotional intelligence.

With the exception of improvisation, as performers, we know the story before we begin. We have the information so that we can make those decisions, even if they’re in the moment, in order to create a positive outcome. We have a story to tell, whether it’s a narrative of two minutes or two hours, and we need to make the choices based on the information that we have gathered in advance.

And even with improvisation, the best improvisers – in both music and acting – have developed strong enough technique to have that stored information at their fingertips, so they are, in fact, responding to the situation with the tools that they have learned rather than reacting in a knee-jerk fashion. They are on the offense, rather than the defense.

Both definitions of being defensive work here because they both involve blocking something. In the case of Godin, you are blocking yourself from being authentic and vulnerable in the cause of self-protection. In the sports use of the term, you are preventing someone from getting somewhere. In the case of performance, you very well might be blocking yourself – or the audience – from achieving the satisfaction of an authentic interpretation.

In performance, we need to be able to respond in a manner that gets us to our goal and to move forward. We need to think offensively in order to achieve our goals and to tell our stories.

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If you want to develop the offensive skills necessary to be a good performer, then try a Vocal Discovery Session with Mezzoid Voice Studio to hone those skills – and have fun (without the possible head injury factors involved in football)

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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