Sunday, April 17, 2016

N is for noise - six tips for performance interruption

I’m participating in the A to Z Blog Challenge throughout April.
Monday - something light to start the week. A bit of self-care, creativity challenge or the like.
Tuesday - telling notes for a specific story or kind of story. Tips and tricks to help you think about what you're telling and how.
Wednesday - my usual #tellinglife post, looking at some of the more personal aspects of storytelling and its role in my life.
Thursday - a dip into some of the issues facing contemporary storytelling or a dive into some of the more unusual applications of storytelling.
Friday - my usual personal post about life following the death of my husband
Saturday - the storytelling coach offers a tip you can use right now. An example of the kinds of tools I encourage my students to use.

Okay, so I am a day late with this post. I'm sorry.

Every performer has to deal with interruptions sometimes. It just happens. Live performance is like that. I remind my students that it's their job to be prepared and have some strategies to deal with noise, babies, puppies, trains, etc. They need to be able to maintain their performance, their own comfort and the audience.

Please note, this post is NOT about hecklers. That's a whole different ball game that I will address another time.

Here are some tips that may help you, should you ever have to deal with noisy interruptions to your show.
  1. Prepare in advance. Talk with the venue manager about what you might expect and what you can do ahead of time to minimize the likelihood of interruptions. Be prepared. That's the most important thing; stop problems before they start.
  2. Know your material well. If you do get interrupted you want to be able to pick up where you left off without great difficulty. It will also make it easier for the audience to get back into the story.
  3. As you go into the gig, think about how you might respond to a noise. Will you incorporate it into the story? Will you wait until it stops? Will you acknowledge it happened, take a moment to chat with the audience, and then move on? What would be comfortable for you, so you have a plan?
  4. Know your audience. If you're telling at a family story hour you might expect more interruptions than if you're telling in a black box theater. When you have some sense of what kinds of noise may happen you can strategize appropriately.
  5. Remember that most of the time no one is making noise to sabotage you and acknowledging it give everyone a chance to get over it. People are people. Kids make noise. Trucks make funny sounds. Technical difficulties happen. By acknowledging that a noise has happened, demonstrating you're not upset about it and then moving on, you put your audience at greater ease.
    I saw the amazing Judith Black in performance with a very cute kitten underfoot. She was telling a fairly serious story, but the kitten kept wandering onto the stage, rubbing her legs and making adorable squeaks. Everyone was paying more attention to the cat than they were to the story. Judith looked down at the kitten, made the appropriate cooing noises, picked it up and held it while she continued her story. The audience was able to pay attention to her again, because they weren't all thinking about how much they wanted to pet the kitty. The cat felt attended to and, when it wanted to jump down, wandered away because it had received the attention it needed. Judith was able to continue her story with the attention she deserved. It was masterful.
  6. If you need to ask for help, do so politely so the audience remains on your side. Give the noise maker another option. I was telling at a festival once, in a fairly small tent. There were two young boys playing portable video games in the front row. The noise was distracting everyone. Their parents were nowhere in sight. I asked the boys if they could help me with my story. They were immediately engaged. I had them tell a couple of lines for me, then asked if they needed to keep playing their games, maybe they could do so at the back of the tent. They didn't feel brushed aside and the audience was able to concentrate.
Most of dealing with noisy interruptions is planning ahead, knowing what you might do should it happen, and making sure the audience feels cared for. I'd love to know how you deal with performance interruptions!

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. J here, of the #atozchallenge Arlee Bird's A to Z Ambassador Team.
    How has the challenge been going for you so far? Are you meeting your goals of posting and hopping to other blogs? M marked the halfway point!
    My blog's giveaway is still going! I'm encouraging everyone to visit more stops. Check out the post about how to better use the image alt code -- featured on the main A to Z blog as well as my own.
    It's great when a Stand-Up comedian "uses" an interruption to make a new joke. I've seen Jeff Dunham do that, and it was hilarious.

  2. If I get a sense that the audience is not one 'experienced as listeners' I usually tell folks I want to do the best job I possibly can. And to do that, I need their help. Turn off devises, take conversations out of the 'story space' so others can also enjoy what they came for - to listen to stories! Obviously I don't say it like that, but that is the message!
    I usually have duct tape with me for setting up and for fixing things and if there is a kid really out of control I ask for the parent and reach into my bag and offer the duct tape. This is done in humor and only if I feel I can get a giggle and the point across. If a kid or kids are running all over, and near my feet, I ask them to stop in case I am so in the story that I don't see them and trip and fall on them. I ask if they want a fat old man squashing them. This CAN backfire! Once I opened up a vest/waistcoat I was wearing and sighed relief admitting it was a little tight. A tween said he agreed and that I looked like Santa. I asked him if he wanted to sit on my lap and tell me what he wanted for Christmas. He did. And told me a pony! It was a wonderfully lighthearted and funny exchange and very off the cuff and all there had a good laugh.


True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at
Related Posts with Thumbnails