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:
|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.