Monday, September 15, 2014

Question Everything: Perception

I caught a new show last week called "Penn and Teller: Fool Us".  It's a British show about legendary magician duo Penn and Teller watching magic acts and trying to guess how they were done.  The episode I saw had a pair of illusionists, someone who did suggestions sealed in envelopes, and a card trick act.

While it was fun to watch the acts themselves, I found that I was way more interested in how Penn and Teller analyzed the performances.  They were impressed by the illusionists and not sure how it was done, although Teller did make a correct guess (that was kept between him and the performers).  They were stumped by the guy who had sealed envelopes with audience guesses.  They were able to figure out how the card trick was done, but they admitted it was because of the angles that they were made to sit at for the purposes of the TV cameras.

What really stood out was how they mentioned "to the layman" a few times in talking about what they saw.  The audience was seeing the performance in a totally different way from what Penn and Teller were seeing.  I'm sure some people in the audience (like me) were watching to try and figure out how the tricks were done, rather than just enjoying the show.  What we were seeing, however, was the act the performers wanted us to see.  We see the overall, the highlights, the misdirection.  We're not able to see the subtleties, the things that are strategically hidden, even sometimes the underlying skill that enables a person to do what they do.

Someone highly skilled in the art will be able to see things you and I cannot, maybe even sometimes when those things are pointed out!  I know that from all of our concerts, I am much more aware of how a performance is staged, how people and drums are spaced, the effect that lighting has, etc.  There are people much more proficient in that area than myself who see far more than I do.

Sometimes we make mistakes and think, "it's ok, the audience didn't notice."  But you know, some of them might have noticed quite well - just like perhaps you would notice something in a taiko performance that the layperson might not.  It's not an idea meant to freak you out, just to make you realize that you should always try to do your best and not just use that as an excuse.

Also, it's good when planning something to think of how it might appear to people who aren't aware of the details as well as those who are.  What will people who have never seen taiko think of your solo, song, or show?  What will experienced audiences think?  What about experienced players?  It also can be useful to think of angles and how they affect how things will be perceived, even if just to use as a way to critique your work in a different light.

Sometimes it's great to just sit back and enjoy a show, but what are you looking at?  If you care to look closer, what's there to see?  And when you see what you're looking for, what's left to be discovered?

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