How to Own the Room by Viv Groskop

How to Own the Room by Viv Groskop

Author:Viv Groskop
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Transworld
Published: 2018-10-31T16:00:00+00:00

Do whatever it takes, even if it means ‘cheating’

Even more inspiring and useful for anyone wanting to find their own voice, Joan Rivers had to learn how to ‘cheat’ and fake it, as many performers do. This didn’t make her any less professional. I saw her perform several times at the Royal Albert Hall in the years before she died, and even in the cheapest seats you could see the giant cue cards carefully taped across the front of the stage. Did anyone care or notice? Of course not. Did anyone who had paid top dollar for a ticket mind or complain? Of course not. It wasn’t even that they forgave her, or thought, Oh, she needs the cue cards – she is seventy-nine years old, after all. Her performance was on such a level and she was so relaxed with her own needs on stage that very few in the audience would even have registered it. That is a fantastic lesson to learn. She would rather take the help than not perform.

This illustrates a piece of advice from Jennifer Palmieri, who was Hillary Clinton’s director of communications during her election campaign. She also worked in the White House for Barack Obama. In her book Dear Madam President, she writes about the tip she received from Bill Clinton’s press secretary, Evelyn Lieberman: ‘People take their cue from you. That’s it. If you act like you belong in the room, people will believe you do. If you act like your opinion matters, others will too.’ However you behave on stage, however you enter a room, whatever expectations you give to people, they will take that at face value. Joan Rivers did not make a big deal of using cue cards and didn’t seem to be remotely irritated that she needed them. She accepted them as a necessity and concentrated on the performance. That is extremely gutsy.

The same goes for the index cards and that enormous filing cabinet. (Seriously. Watch the documentary. It fills an entire wall of an office. That is decades’ worth of work.) Some people might think of that as a formulaic way to approach material or even see it as a bit disappointing that a woman with an extraordinarily wild and free manner on stage required that academic level of organization to be able to deliver. To me, this is in itself extremely liberating: to know that you can find a system that works for you and stick to it. And to know that electric, jaw-dropping performances do not come out of nowhere. They can be broken down into dozens of index cards, memorized many times over, worked up and corrected until they are filed away, only to come back years later to be worked on and remembered again. This is the great myth of performance that so many of us have swallowed: that it comes effortlessly and you need to be born Joan Rivers to be Joan Rivers. You do a bit, of course. But you also need to do the work.


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