The space which separates the performer or performance from the audience.
It took me years to understand what the heck it meant to break the fourth wall. It was a new concept to me when I reached professional status. I had never heard of “breaking through the fourth wall” before, but had been taught to perform for the back row. I didn’t understand why people had such a hard time with it.
I just naturally did it.
I had several teachers explain to me how it is done, and what it feels like to perform for that person in the very back row of the theater.
Imagine that the theater is completely empty except for one person in the very back row. Then perform for them. Make your movements larger and your facial expressions bigger.”
To me, that seemed like a lot of physical exertion to reach that one person that was too cheap to buy a seat up front. Haha! I kid. But really, what is it all about? There are some performers that dance “big” and some that dance very “small.” There are those that can just stand there and command an audience. There really has got to be more to the story than “dancing bigger.”
Here is how I see it, or rather, feel it:
I feel like it is about feeling the audience, rather than using physical action to connect. This may sound super woo-ey, and it is, but it’s the only way I can describe how it feels to truly break the fourth wall, or connect with that audience
For example, have you ever been in a situation (any situation in life, really) that you just felt like something good was going to happen? Like you had taken the Felix Felicis potion and nothing could go wrong? (Yes, it’s a Harry Potter reference, but I am truly talking about real magic here.)
That’s what it feels like to break through that fourth wall.
It is real magic. Even if your number is melancholy, you can still make this happen.
Let me explain what I mean. In a recent show, I had created a new creepy doll act with my partner, Professor Phelyx, and it truly is a love story. A silly one, but still—Love. I don’t dance en point very often anymore, but it fits the character, so I cram my poor toes in the shoes and make it happen.
On the debut night of our act, I was really struggling to execute a lame duck during our tech rehearsal. The old feelings of insecurity started to set in. Negative self talk about past experiences of falling off my shoe or falling out of turns started to creep in. But I pulled myself aside and gave myself a little pep talk. And I breathed. A lot. I realized that the audience won’t care whether I complete a perfect turn or not, they just want to be amazed. So I let go. I let go those old thoughts and remembered that I am a performer, not a technician. Time to amaze.
I went out there, embodying my creepy doll character and began the waltz sequence that led up to that scary lame duck. The stars aligned, rather, I aligned with them, and I executed a perfect double turn. As that second rotation happened, I felt the audience inhale with me. It swept all through the audience. That was the moment I broke the fourth wall. And from that moment on, they were captivated.
What really happened there? Real magic.
I became larger than life and my energy filled the room. All that space between our physical bodies and the enclosing walls was filled with the energy of love and fun and life! The audience came along with me on my journey and had fun every step of the way.
Executing the real magic consists of many steps to get there. And they are a little (ok, maybe a lot) of woo.
Are you ready to learn how to break through the fourth wall?
- Know your choreography and music. The less your mind has to think about what comes next, the more you can focus your energy on connecting with the audience.
- Spend some time with yourself on show day. Quieting all the chatter by meditating or just practicing deep breathing.
- Center yourself before taking the stage. This looks different for everyone, but try some things out to see what works best for you.
- Let go. Let go of control of how the audience responds to your act, or how others view or think of your performance. It doesn’t matter. Promise.
- Get out there and have fun! The audience will love you for it!
And that’s it! I guarantee if you do these steps before each show, you will feel that connection to the audience more and more. It absolutely takes practice too. You will start to feel it more and more and be amazed by the results. The results of how you feel after a show. How you move forward day to day. It will change you as a person and a performer.
If this resonates with you, or if you have any other tips to share about how you connect, comment below!
Athena, aka Gazella