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130 CHAPTER 5 Performance Think of the last time you attended a musical performance. It doesn’t matter whether you were listening to a punk band or a country singer or attending the symphony or the opera. How were people in the audience dressed? Was there an abundance of black clothing? Cowboy hats? Did the lead singer introduce the other band members? Did the crowd sit quietly or stand and sing along? Did any of the performers say “you’re a great audience,” and did the audience cheer? Maybe you took part in a tradition associated with this kind of event or a particular performer—held up a match, lighter, or cell phone to bring on an encore, wore evening clothes on opening night of an opera run. Was it a good show or not, and how did you know? The point is that you (as a part of the audience) and the performers created a kind of event together in which you all became part of the others’ experience. Wearing a cowboy hat that matched the lead singer’s could have encouraged a connection between the performers and audience that added to the performers’ desire to put on a good show.Wearing your best clothes to the opera on opening night showed that you were part of the group and understood its rules, and it also may have implied a certain social status. These features of the show you attended have little to do with the songs the singers or bands performed, but everything to do with your experience. There are many performances going on in our example: the performers on the stage, in their official role as performers, and the many activities you and your fellow audience members engaged in that allowed you to express the traditions , values, and beliefs of the fan group you belonged to. It is this experience of performance and what it means to performers and audiences that matters, beyond what we might think of as entertainment value. In essence, the notion 131 Performance of explicit and implicit relationships between performers and audiences and the complex dynamics that lead to or stem from these relationships are at the heart of contemporary folklorists’ approach to performance. In the following discussions of performance, we will illustrate how folklorists consider performance in context and think about the relationships among audiences,texts,and means of expression. What is Performance? So far, we’ve been talking about people, texts, behavior, and the many ways that folklore communicates, and now we want to consider in depth the moments in which all these pieces come together, enacted through performance . Some performances are easy to spot. Many rituals, for example, begin at a predetermined time and place, and an announcement or other signal opens and closes the performance (think of the processional music at the beginning of a formal wedding and the “I now pronounce you . . .” proclamation at the end of the ceremony). Frequently, performances have clear settings and recognizable structures that indicate to participants that the performance is taking place. Barre Toelken (1996) writes of Native American storytelling sessions, for instance, which take place at specified times (some tales can only be told at certain times of the year) and for defined purposes. A group gathers to hear the tales, and the storyteller takes center stage, so to speak, and narrates story after story, sometimes in a set order. Most often, though, performances of folklore happen naturally within daily conversations and situations. That may make them less readily apparent, but all expressions of folklore are performances, nonetheless. Suppose, for example, two friends are talking about their classes on the first day of the semester and one brags to the other,“I just know I’m going to get all As this term.” The other shakes her head and says in a teasing tone,“Be careful—don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.” The first speaker chuckles and agrees to be a little more realistic. These two have just taken part in the performance of a proverb. Performance is an expressive activity that requires participation, heightens our enjoyment of an experience, and invites response. In order for a performance to happen, a recognized setting must exist (participants have to know a performance is taking place) and participants (performers and audience) must be present. The details of the setting and relationships between participants can bequitecomplexandfluid,butallparticipantsunderstandthattheyareengaged in some kind of performance activity. Each of us interprets the performances LIVING FOLKLORE 132...


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