"The Swil Kanim Foundation's mission is to inspire Self-Expression for the Honor of All... 'Fine Arts' includes music, poetry, story telling, and other artistic expressions that bring the elements of self-respect, honor, enjoyment, and self-confidence to target audiences." - Swil Kanim Foundation flyer.
The opportunity for self-expression is one of the benefits that attract many variety artists. However, not all self-expression is positive. I recently attended a performance by Swil Kanim, who is a Native American violinist/ storyteller/ inspirational speaker. He said that when he realized that some self-expression is not honorable, he decided to concentrate on expressing himself in ways that would bring honor to others.
Your appearance is one way to honor others. When my wife and I go out for dinner, I dress a little nicer than I do when I am working in my office because I want to honor her. When I spoke at the general session at the 2010 South East Clown Association Convention, I wore a dress shirt and tie because I wanted to honor those attending the convention to continue their education by demonstrating that I took the lecture seriously. As a variety artist you honor your audience when you look your best for a performance.
Another way to honor your audience is by doing your best possible performance. That means practice and proper preparation for each show. If I get lazy and don't spend as much time as usual preparing for a performance I am not honoring that particular audience.
Another way I try to honor an audience is by doing something they will recognize as being prepared just for them. For example, when I do a birthday party I magically produce a greeting for the guest of honor that has their name and age printed on it. If I am performing for an organization I try to incorporate their logo into one of my routines. You can read many ways that I do this in Creativity for Entertainers Volume Three.
When I have somebody from the audience join me on stage, I try to honor them by treating them with respect. I escort them onto the stage. I lead the audience in applauding them when they succeed in the task that I give them. I escort them off the stage when they are through.
I think it is interesting that Swil Kanim just doesn't stop with honor and respect. He says there are three other elements you should bring to your audience. One of those is enjoyment. Often that is missing in variety arts acts. Some performers do something because they can or they enjoy it themselves. If they have worked hard to develop a skill they are going to use it regardless of audience response. Swil Kanim refers to a target audience. I have some routines that I perform mainly at clown and magic conventions because I know that members of that special audience will enjoy them. Often this is a routine that starts off like they would expect, and then I add an unexpected twist. I don't use those routines with a lay audience who wouldn't have the same frame of reference. There are some things that I know go over great with a lay audience that don't work well with an audience of entertainers so I shorten or eliminate those routines.
The other two elements, audience self-respect and audience self-confidence, are ones that many performers overlook. I have heard many people say they don't like magicians because they are afraid the performer will pick them as a volunteer and make them look foolish. Clowns do a better job of presenting magic to create self-respect and self-confidence because often their character has trouble making something work and then an audience volunteer succeeds. One way that I meet this goal is to start a plate spinning and then transfer the plate to a volunteer's finger so they are balancing it.
What are your target audiences? How can you honor your audience? How can you increase your audience's enjoyment of your act? How can you build up the self-respect of your target audience? How can you increase their self-confidence?