DJ Lessons Learned from the Theatre By: Geoff Short

May 23, 2012 by CHAUVET DJ
As I’ve written about before, I’m a life-long singer and performer and I just had the amazing experience of performing in a 3-week run of the theatrical musical production of “Ragtime” at Near West Theatre here in Cleveland.  I’ve been involved in theatre for years, but since we began the rehearsal process back in March, I’ve been looking at this particular experience through different eyes. The eyes of a DJ.  And I’ve learned some great lessons that I think will be a great help in my DJ career.

Part of the amazing set of "Ragtime" at Near West Theatre, Cleveland.

Don’t “act” like a great DJ, “be” a great DJ
In order to be an effective actor, a person must constantly strive to create characterizations that are based in reality.  The skillful actor mentally puts herself in the situation of a scene and reacts realistically to what’s happening around her.  Our director would constantly say to us, “Don’t act like you’re angry…be angry!” Much of what we do as DJs and MCs is acting too.  We have to act like we’re happy, act like we’re having fun, act like we like this song, etc.  If we’re bad actors, our audience – the guests – will see right through us.  So even though your back may hurt from hauling and setting up gear or even if you’re in a bad mood, it’s important to actually become a happy, positive and professional DJ.  How?  Use your imagination.  What would a happy entertainer be doing right now?  How would he feel right now?  Visualize those behaviors and embody them.

Rehearsal is vital
We spent over 8 weeks rehearsing for “Ragtime” – a musical with 787 pages of musical score!  Over that time, we became so familiar with the piece that by the time opening night arrived, performing it seemed almost second nature.  We should be approaching our DJ events the same way.  Not for 8 weeks, of course.  But we should regularly rehearse grand entrances, mixing and programming, making announcements, etc. so that our MC presentation looks as smooth and polished as any Broadway production.

Make a dramatic visual impression
The production artists at Near West Theatre are some of the most creative, skilled artists I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.  With lighting, projections and an amazing set, they literally transformed an empty ballroom space into a multi-layered and platformed colorful world where our story unfolded every night. Every night audience members gasped in delight upon entering the theatre.  This is the same reaction I strive for with my DJ clients and reception guests.  This doesn’t mean your rig has to be big and gaudy.  Most contemporary bridal clients don’t want that and you certainly need to compliment the room, not detract from it.  But with some tastefully placed lighting, facades, skirting, etc. you can get creative and make a positive visual impact the guests will remember.  It’s OK to think beyond a table and a black skirt.

Share the stage
One of the mantras of Near West Theatre is “you’re here and you matter”.  It’s vital to notice the people you work with.  See and appreciate the things that make them uniquely them.  When you do that without judgement or prejudice, you can begin to trust the people you work with and know that they will be there for you in creative ways on stage.  They support your work and you support theirs.  The result is a cohesive, unified production. Everyone involved has something to offer to the story being told.  As DJs we have to share the stage a lot.  Our task is to keep the spotlight on the clients and their guests.  If you’re paying attention, all these people – guests, vendors, wedding party – bring unique things to a party that can help you create great entertainment. Creative requests, insights into preferences of clients, timeline suggestions can come from all these people.  They’re here and they matter.

Geoff in his "Model T" playing "Coalhouse Walker" in "Ragtime" at Near West Theatre, Cleveland.

Take risks
Some of the very best art on stage comes from feeling safe enough to experiment with movement, acting choices or other performance choices. Of course you’re not going to “take chances” with vital elements of a client’s reception.  But why not rehearse the way you make announcements in a different way?  Experimental choices aren’t limited to performance either.  What about making different creative choices in the way you market your business or structure client meetings in new and creative ways.

See the gift in your problem
What is the silver lining of whatever challenge you may be facing as a DJ? Look for it.  Not enough money for new gear? Clients don’t care about brands as long as things sound good and people are on the dance floor.  Focus on being a better MC.

My creative spirit was definitely filled up by my experience with “Ragtime” and I’m feeling inspired to be more creative and do a better job for my clients. I view every event as a dramatic, entertaining  production.  I would always recommend getting involved in an acting class or even audition for a full-scale production. But even if you’re not theatrically inclined, try something different.  Step out of your comfort zone.  Then watch how your perception changes, your performance improves and your business grows.

Break a leg.
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