Last night, a friend and I went to see Criss Angel‘s BeLIEve, which was under the umbrella of Cirque du Soleil. (Side note: his site opens with pop-ups and auto-play. Erg. You’ve been warned.) Since I had received a press release through horror webzine FlamesRising.com, I thought I could review it for the site, but I can’t.
Until the show started, everything related to Criss Angel’s BeLIEve came across as dark, moody and Victorian. Steampunk rabbits adorned the stage. Strange smoke filled the air. The program book has costumes of crows, dolls and odd bunny rabbits. Criss, who normally has more of a casual persona, is dressed up more as a goth than a Californian in the press kits and on the website. So, I was expecting to attend a surreal performance that took my breath away. Instead, we were regaled with slapstick comedy and an extension of Criss’s online and television presence through video clips, audience interaction, personal stories and memorabilia. There was no mystery, other than the illusions, which forced me to focus on the beats of the show. I could “see” how the show was constructed and I felt as if I was staring backstage. Something that–as many of my fellow authors, musicians, artists and actors know–can be a death knell for any stage performance if not handled carefully.
Reviews online reflected the audience’s disappointment as well. (Note to self: always read reviews.) Words like “self-indulgent” were used and other various unpleasantries. I walked out of the theatre feeling bad for Criss, because on the surface it seemed as if his original show was too dark and too edgy. “Quite possibly,” I thought, “the stage audience might not understand something that unusual. With the economy being the way it is, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the show had to be “dumbed down” for public consumption.”
Afterward, I found myself thinking about how this show is an excellent example of what happens when an artist is constrained by his persona. Criss is very active with all the right tools; YouTube!, Facebook, etc. He’s has MINDFREAK, which is his own (for lack of a better description) syndicated magic reality TV show. All of these things add up to create a contemporary (magic) success story–especially online where it’s easy to “ooo” and “aaah” at someone walking on water or transferring scorpions into someone else’s mouth.
Take those same elements and allow people to seem them offline, and they don’t translate the same way. Those same anecdotes and videos come across as arrogant or selfish, regardless of how many platitudes we’re given. Why? Because the dynamic is different. The television and the internet are such unique, individual experiences that it’s difficult to recreate that extremely personalized touch in a room filled with hundreds of people.
Anyone who has performed on stage for an audience, speaking/singing/playing or otherwise, understands that the dynamic in a theater is no longer about the “I.” It’s about the “we.” The crowd mentality. It’s about fostering the crowd’s emotions in a natural way than holding back performances unless we cheer. It’s about drawing the audience into an experience rather than sharing the experiences of the performer.
What I just said is counter-intuitive to what many of us are taught about our online personas and writing platforms. We share online to get viewers and readers. We get personal by offering anecdotes to be able to relate to people. This doesn’t always work offline, which is why I wanted to talk about this particular show. Criss is obviously very talented and popular online, but right now I’m not sure he’ll be around for the long haul. I felt that BeLIEve was a chance for Criss to prove his versatility and recreate that Victorian-era feel with the help of Cirque du Soleil. The online thing Criss couldn’t escape, was his online persona.
The next time you’re thinking about your online persona or your writer’s platform, I hope that you consider how your online presence translates to your offline (analog) persona as well. At the end of the day, it’s a lot like dating. Give everything away, and you’ll have nothing left to give.