Singing & Performance: The Power of Stillness - Missy Wise


August 4, 2014


Boy, was our trip to NATS National Conference in Boston a great time! It’s been about a month and I am still processing all of the information I took in.  I’ve been thinking over what sort of blog to post about my experience at the conference. This is difficult, because I have much to say.  With that in mind, I’ve decided to break up some of these ideas in several posts rather than run on in just one.  There is much to think about and even more to say, so let’s get started!

While at the conference, we had the privilege of witnessing many performances from students, teachers, & working professionals.  Of course, I paid special attention to musical theater performances so that I could take notes and learn as much as I can for myself and my students who are in this field. What I have to say was the noticeable difference between a more seasoned talent and an amateur was the underestimated power of STILLNESS

A less experienced performer is more likely to rely on “movements” or “staging” to help them “get in to character.”  I find this to be true with many of my students. I’ve had some want to have a specific gesture for every specific beat (or word) planned out.  They felt more comfortable with a graph to sort of chart a character into.  The problem here is that movement doesn’t necessarily make a believable performance or an honest character.  The honesty has to come from within yourself.  You have to know how you relate to the character, the context of the character’s world, the character’s goals & dreams, I could go on.  It is only from there that movement or “motions” can make sense.  I once had a teacher tell me to get in front of the mirror and act from my shoulders up. Just my face.  What was I truly saying? Am I being honest?  The fabulous actress Meryl Streep says “Acting is not about being someone different.  It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.” What excellent advice!  Where do I truly connect with this piece of theater? This song? This person?  How can I bring that to the table?

We had the privilege of attending a concert of Sondheim music performed by THE Andrew Lippa & the incredible Kate Baldwin.  What did I notice about Kate’s performance?  Stillness.  She didn’t need bells and whistles.  She didn’t need to march around the stage to make a point. There was a deep connection to the heart and soul of the music and character.  That’s all.

Stillness is scary for many new performers.  Here are some things to remember that stillness is most often NOT: 

boring, lazy, uninteresting, lackadaisical. emotionless, tiring, laborious, lackluster…

Stillness CAN be:

honest, gripping, heartwrenching, deep, meaningful, true, connected, alive…

Here are video links to two of my favorite performers (Ruthie Henshall & Bernadette Peters) giving us all a lesson in STILLNESS. These are some of the most powerful performances I have ever witnessed, they bring me to tears every single time.  Watch and learn:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kMlQgyz834

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-p6OH7FoWoQ

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