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Engage Your Audience - Stimulate the Senses
by Lori Mortimore

"All the world's indeed a stage, And we are merely players, Performers and portrayers, Each another's audience outside the gilded cage." Neil Peart-1981 "Limelight." Rush's 1981 hit "Limelight" demonstrates the first rule of engaging your audience. It is a paraphrase of Shakespeare's quote from his comedy "As You Like It" written in 1599.

The act of incorporating established ideas into your original pieces is called transformativeness; it is a great way for an audience to relate to your original work. Transformativeness is legal under the US copyright law as long the original material is created or integrated into a new work that has a different meaning from the original. In the example above, Shakespeare wrote his "All the World's a Stage" speech to identify the seven ages of a man's life. Neil Peart paraphrased this quote to level the playing field as a private person when he is not performing. In this case, "All the world's a stage" has two very different but valuable meanings, the first is a litany of a man's life and the second a plea for privacy.

The second rule of engaging your audience, as Peart and Shakespeare make light of, is to realize that they are as much a part of the performance as the band or the actors on the stage. Even though a set list may be the same every night, the audience makes every show unique through their interaction with the band. Shakespeare was the first to make this note and Rush reiterated it some 382 years later. I remember running sound for "As You Like It" as a theater credit for college in 1994. The director thought that it would be interesting to present it as a fifties musical. Directors often change the time periods of Shakespeare plays as a way to put a unique twist on the material and modernize it to a more relatable time period. In this way, the audience can better identify with the play.

In the same vein, bands will often learn the local dialect or about local sports teams to better relate to a specific audience. When attending a Rush concert in Pittsburgh, I remember Geddy Lee asking, "How are yinz guys doing tonight?" which is local Pittsburghese. The audience laughed and appreciated the local knowledge that these international performers had acquired.

The other ways that Rush has engaged its audiences over the years, have been both surprising and exhilarating. I remember on the Counterparts tour in 1994, a sequence of cartoons involving two bunnies in a slap stick comedy. A brown bunny was chasing the white bunny through old fashioned clothes ringers and other household objects. The audience was engaged in laughter. At the end of the cartoon, a gun shot went off and the focus changed to the stage where a large inflatable brown bunny wearing a gangster hat had just shot and deflated his white bunny counterpart. The audience let out a mass gasp. Then the bunny angels took the white bunny to bunny heaven and the audience was elated. Then the opening notes of "Tom Sawyer" were played. This quick change of emotions can be equivalent to the rush that one feels when riding on an exciting roller coaster. It goes beyond visual and auditory stimulation into the very core of our emotions.

Rush is a band that is not only seen and heard but also physically felt. I remember the first time that I saw Rush in 1987 on the Hold Your Fire tour. I was standing four rows up from the floor at an arena show. When Neil Peart performed his drum solo, the awesome power was so incredible that it reverberated through the floor into my entire body and my heart beat had to sync up with his drums. It was an all encompassing experience that kept me entirely in the moment. After all, that is what engaging an audience is about, overloading as many senses as possible to ensure the audience's attention is focused strictly on the band.

My final example is the chicken rotisserie ovens that stood at Geddy's side during the "Snakes and Arrows" tour. Rush used the strong sense of smell to entice our senses. Throughout the show, a roadie would come out and baste the chickens. The tasty scent of barbecued chicken wafted through the audience. If they had thrown the chickens in the audience, they would not have only have stimulated our sense of sight, sound, feel, smell but taste as well. However, four senses is fairly comprehensive considering most bands only stimulate sight and sound. Bake some brownies for your next gig and see how many people return to see your shows.

Stimulating the senses of your audience is something to be considered when rehearsing. Your songs should be a tight and animated interaction between band members is always a plus. If you can, add a visual element; such as a light show, this will draw the eyes of your audience to the stage. Talking directly to your audience, by name if possible, can also personalize your connection with the audience members, and finally, the senses of smell and taste can be a novel addition to your show as well.

Lori Mortimore

Lori at

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