5 reasons having a persona works on stageNov 18, 2021
Many professional performers use the tool of a created persona to enhance their performance skills and elevate their presence on stage. Beyonce shares freely about the creation of her performance persona, Sascha Fierce. "Usually when I hear the crowd, when I put on my stilettos, the moment right before when you're nervous and that other thing kind of takes over for you, then Sascha Fierce appears in my posture and the way I speak and everything is different," she told Oprah in 2008.
Some call it a character or an alter ego. Psychologists talk about the benefits of self-distancing to ease anxiety and allow yourself to behave in new ways or make choices that line up with what you're committed to. From an acting training background, I like to distinguish between a character and a persona. In some acting methodologies, a character is something you put on. It includes the clothing, the way you inhabit your body, and even how you speak. Some actors step into a character completely different from themselves. In my view, a persona is you; it's simply a bigger, bolder, and even more exaggerated expression of you. It's a part of you that we have shone a light on - the masculine expression or the feminine expression for example. We are leaning into a particular type of expression from within you.
Everyone has masculine and feminine energies (and more) within them and available to them. Drawing on these gender expressions can aid you in expanding your reach and the energy exchange between performer and audience.
5 reasons having a persona works on stage
If you suffer from imposter syndrome, why me? Then having a persona can assist you in granting yourself permission to show up on stage. Ok so maybe little ol' me couldn't get up there and perform, but my persona could.
When embodying a persona, you grant yourself way more room to be, act and express yourself. You find yourself doing things that your everyday self just doesn't do. Crotch grabbing? No worries! Bootie slapping yourself? Sure.
3. Go beyond the binary - access a broader gender expression
In our Diva personas, we are expressing the fierce divine feminine. In our Drag King personas, we lean into the divine masculine. In exploring these archetypes, we discover expressions that we were previously locked out of. We can go beyond the gender learnings we have inherited and learn how to integrate these energies or exaggerate one gender expression and really lean into it.
Whenever you draw upon something bigger than yourself, how you know yourself and how you wound up being, you have more energy resources available to you. Energy is the currency of performance. Not talent. Not moves. Energy. This is what is conveyed to the audience and what they give back to you when you connect with them.
When you stuff a pair of rolled-up socks down your pants and walk down the street, you feel different. You walk differently. People will respond to your presence and your energy differently. You may even walk with some swagger.
Perhaps you slip into a sequined dress, get your hair and your nails done, put your stage make-up on, and boom! You feel like a million dollars.
Playing with gender, with your presentation, with who you are in the world - even if just for one song, gives you the confidence to take risks and show up bigger, bolder, and in ways, you never have before.
An additional benefit to having a persona on stage is that it's your creation. It's a conscious, intentional invention and you're less likely to step into a pitfall of expression that isn't authentically aligned with your values. For example, representing toxic masculinity on stage may not line up with your values. Just because there are everyday experiences of toxic masculinity in life, doesn't necessarily mean that you want to embody this stereotype nor include it as a form of entertainment. Consciously creating your persona allows you to avoid falling for easy stereotypical representations of gender that most likely, your audience does not want to re-live either.
And lastly, creating your persona guides you in an authentic expression of yourself. Within this guideline, you can draw on your own cultural heritage and would never even consider appropriating anyone else's culture. Queer history has had chronic examples of this outdated, unacceptable practice. A persona keeps you trued up to your authentic self while still giving you the freedom to play and explore.
Enjoy the ride!
Photo credit: L image - Miss Understood by Rob Bennett, R image - L-R Nawab Lord Lestrange and Zaddy B Cool by Sarah Malone
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