Why you should care
There are rich thrills to be had when ordinary folks take the stage.
All the world’s allegedly a stage, but many of us gave up performing in childhood, around the same time we outgrew our tap shoes or ruined our magician’s hat. Though many of us still regularly perform for others — be it on Twitter, in front of the water cooler or on a first date — there’s still no substitute for the bright lights. If only someone would provide us a stage (and a bit of a prod).
Enter stage left: Lucy Baker, compere extraordinaire, the leading lady of London-based amateur cabaret The Little Show Off. Baker is a woman of many talents — performer, clown, self-proclaimed fool — and better (or worse) yet, she can persuade and coach first-time performers to do outrageous things. She knows how incredibly illuminating and nerve-racking a stage can be, amplifying everything about you and exposing it to the world.
But that sort of vulnerability can make magic. One night, Baker recounts, a first-time performer took the stage, bearing a sheet of paper on which she’d written a poem. As she read the poem, she very slowly lifted the paper higher and higher until it completely covered her face. The innocent, unconscious act added to her performance a richness and innocence no one could have planned.
When Lucy asked me to perform in The Little Show Off, I was intrigued. It seemed the perfect opportunity for what I call a “life experiment,” a challenge to my normal patterns. But I’ve never liked speaking in public — let alone being on show. A disguise would be essential.
I outfitted myself with a white dustproof body suit, gloves and plastic safety goggles, as well as an old microwave I found on eBay, and a bar of soap. The concept was simple: I walked onto the stage very slowly to dramatic music, carrying the soap as though it were a sacrament. I microwaved the soap for one minute. And, ta-da! I presented my soap-sculpture masterpiece to the audience.
It was perfectly mad — and I loved every minute of it. The audience seemed to, too. They heralded my performance with ecstatic applause and hoots and hollers. How weird is that?
Baker says that she uses The Little Show Off simply to create a frame, but the performers make the pictures, choosing to present themselves however they desire. She has a lot of faith in humankind’s capacity to entertain: When I asked her what she thought of hit TV shows like American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent, she told me she believes everyone does indeed have talent. And they want to be seen, too — if not always in the way big media thinks they do.
Maybe the point is not about being famous or rating ourselves against one another, as those shows suggest. Rather, it’s something deeper: being confident in who we are, taking the risk to put ourselves out there. Not for any prize, but for life itself. After all, life is the real stage.
So go on — be fabulous and show off a little!