Tips on Stage Performance from Spoken-Word Poet Sarah Kay


The more comfortable I get as a performer
over years and years and years of practicing and performing over and over again for lots
of different audiences, the more present I am able to be in the room. So instead of losing
myself in performance I actually find my exact location in a very visceral way. So I become
increasingly aware of everybody in the audience and what they’re doing. I know who is falling
asleep. I know who is checking their phone. I know who is picking their nose. I know who
is wearing a red sweater in the front row. Because when I’m nervous I can’t do that,
right. When you’re in your head and oh I’m performing and oh no I hope this goes well.
It’s very difficult to be physically present with all those people because it’s too much
coming at you. But when I’m in the zone and I’m excited and I’m tuned into this
performance I’m able to be very much aware of who’s here which I think is helpful because
it allows me to be performing specifically for this room. The way that I perform for
a classroom of fifth graders is very different from the way that I perform at a dive bar
or the way that I perform for a stadium of 3,000 people. And it should be. You should
feel a difference in my performance if you’re in the audience for one of those shows. So
I think when I’m on stage if I’m having a great show and I’m really tuned in you
can tell because I’m able to be very much aware and present with the people in the room
and create a show that is meant for them. I try to look for opportunities to communicate
that I am in the same room that they’re in. So if I can make a joke about something
that’s happening here or if I have a reference to what city we’re in or if someone’s
wearing a tee shirt that I recognize and can associate with. Anything like that is a way
of communicating I am in the same space you are and we’re participating in something
together which also allows some part of an audience’s brain to go oh, I really had
to be here which is a nice feeling to have as an audience member. It’s a way of acknowledging
that they’ve taken the time to be in this space with you and you want them to know that
you’re aware of that. Something that I think I will never get over
is the fact that it is a genuine gift when people are willing to sit in an audience and
give you their time and attention and breath. That’s something that they could have spent
anywhere else but they chose to give it to you here. And it’s something that I’m
very cognizant of when I’m on stage. And a big part of what I want to do when I’m
on stage is find a way to acknowledge those people that have come and are here in this
space and create an environment that acknowledges that and also rewards them for that. How can
we attune ourselves to what’s happening in this room so that later everyone leaves
feeling like oh I really had to be – I really had to be here for that. I’m glad I was
a part of what happened tonight. I had a teacher in college who used to say
that when you’re watching a play on a stage if somebody spills a glass of water. That’s
the most important thing that happened in that scene because that wasn’t fake. Nothing
about water spilling is fake. You see the water and everyone in the room goes that’s
water and it just spilled and that’s the only thing you can focus on because that’s
the most authentic piece of what’s happening in the room right now. Or if someone, if there’s
an accident and someone gets hurt. That’s the only thing you can focus on because it’s
the most authentic real thing that’s happening in the room. So I think when people are delivering
content and they’re focused only on themselves, their delivery, what they’ve practiced,
what they’ve rehearsed, what they’ve done to the mirror and they’re not aware of the
room oftentimes they’re performing in a vacuum and other people can tell. People in
the audience are like this isn’t for me, this is for themselves. This is in their own
brains. I think the most powerful thing people can do is to spill the glass of water, not
literally but to find a moment that is real, to find a moment that is actually happening
here in the room with the people here and to let them know I’m with you here, not
in my own vacuum practicing to the mirror somewhere. That what’s happening here is
a real moment and you can create that by acknowledging something in the room, by referencing something
that happened earlier that you were all witness to.

25 thoughts on “Tips on Stage Performance from Spoken-Word Poet Sarah Kay

  1. I think this is a really good idea and realize that natural speakers like Gary Vaynerchuck do it often throughout their delivery. However, it's not foolproof because I've also watched many TED talks where the speakers use this same trick at the beginning of their talk and then immediately pivot to the vacuum and it's palpable

  2. This is really good advice. Practice, practice, practice!!! Hey BigThink, can you guys get swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson to do a talk about deliberate practice?

  3. For a channel who thinks so big, how nobody saw yet that the thumbnail text is always under the timestamp?

  4. The title of this video is VERY misleading. If you're going to perform in front of an audience, whether its spoken word, singing, acting – private rehearsal (LOTS OF IT) is essential to honing your craft, instilling confidence and giving you a sense of self.

    Now, what she says about "real moments" is true, BUT the reason on actor on that stage panics when the glass is knocked over is BECAUSE they are so well rehearsed. Her basic premise is – make mistakes in your presentation because that lends credibility to the performance. While that is true, it shouldn't be a goal.

    Preparation and spontaneity go hand in hand. Prepare enough so you know your material but leave room for improvisation. This way is if your improve goes off the rails, you have what you prepared well to fall back on.

  5. Thanks for this!! I'm a performer/entertainer. This means much to me.

  6. Love her spoken word poetry, but man… her hands are so mesmerizing!

  7. Love this. Everyone come see Henry V at The American Theatre of Actors this weekend. It's as real as it gets.

  8. Connecting with the audience is the difference between a show and a great show

  9. From what I heard, it seemed like to show that we’re present and aware of the environment were performing in, we have to freestyle our poem.

  10. Brilliant reminders for being present! Thank you Sarah

  11. Boring…if her peice is so exciting..she should have done that…your still reciting something..its not a back a d forth with the peopke….bad video…SUCKS.

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