“And now for our next poet, who I’ve never met before…”
Suggestions for Hosting a Show
by Doris Daley
If you are a cowboy poet or singer, you are likely–whether you want to be or not–also an emcee. For some (like me) this is an assignment that makes your heart sing. For others, it makes your heart drop like a bag of hammers. If you dislike being a host and have a foolproof plan for avoiding it, read no further. But for the rest of us, I offer a few tips that I’ve gleaned and observed along the way.
An emcee is like a picture frame: whether it’s ornate or simple, elegant or spare, the frame’s function is to show off and complement the picture within it. Your job as emcee is to do the same for your crew of performers. Do it with style. Think ahead. Prepare. A good framer measures twice and cuts once; give the same attention to your job as emcee. This is great in theory, however we all know that sometimes we arrive Friday at 12 noon for the start of a festival, only to find out that we are hosting the 1 o’clock show, we don’t have a clue who any of the entertainers are and their names are all spelled with consonants and no vowels. In that case, panic is a great motivator. Try to think up a joke, look happy, and press on. Maybe some of the following will help.
In random order, I offer what I think does and doesn’t work:
· Don’t just read the bio in the program. You can safely assume that 99 percent of your audience is literate and except for the ones with cataracts, they have already read the same paragraph.
· Don’t (Never! Never! Never!) start or end with this comment, “Well, I don’t know what I’m doing up here. I’ll bore you with a little poem of mine to get things started and then get off the stage so the real talent can get on.” Stop it! This is false humility at its worst. The festival producer hired you and thinks you have talent. You yourself must think you have something to offer otherwise why are you accepting gigs at festivals? Your job as emcee is to set the tone for the whole show….and the whole show (including you) is going to be great.
· “Hi. How are you all doing tonight? Are we having a good time yet?” I’m not a big fan of an emcee using this old line. Chances are some of your performers will deploy it (and we all know the result: it’s an automatic way to get you a meaningless round of applause). Can you think up something that isn’t so overdone? I often open a show by saying (and I mean it) that there’s nowhere I’d rather be in the universe tonight than in this hall, on this stage, with this audience, and with this group of performers. People can clap or not, but I’ve said something positive and sincere and set an uplifting tone.
· Don’t just wing it or make up stuff. I have been introduced as an accomplished horsewoman (this is a total falsehood and I would never, ever say this about myself and most of you can recite "Man from Snowy River" and then sing all 88 verses of "Little Joe the Wrangler" in the time it takes me to saddle up); a fisherman (I am married to one but that’s not the same thing as being one); as a poet from British Columbia (if you can’t remember my home town—a city of a million people and home of the richest rodeo in the world—at least get the province right); and as Dorothy Daley. This kind of intro puts the performer in a bad spot: Does he make the emcee lose face by publicly correcting your misinformation? Does he let it slide? It also makes you look bad, because you’ve just lost credibility with the folks in the crowd who now know you didn’t do your homework.
· Stick to stories related to cowboy poetry or cowboy music. I once emailed a brief bio for the host to use at a corporate party in Calgary. He ignored everything and said, “Daley, Daley…I bought a vintage Camaro from a guy named Daley in Lethbridge. Any relation? (No.) Okay, ha ha, so much for that…well here’s Doris and she can tell you about herself and her poetry.”
· Don’t make the biggest point of your intro the fact that “I’ve never met this poet before but I’m sure she has some fine material, so I’ll let her introduce herself.” It takes five minutes to meet your crew before the show starts. Make a phonetic note on how to pronounce names. “I sure hope I didn’t mangle her name too badly, ha ha,” only calls attention to your own lack of preparedness. Ask a few questions (First time at this show? Have you been writing long? Are you from Punkydoodle Corners? Where is that from here? Do you have an agricultural background?)
· Your intro doesn’t have to be long. Brief is good. In fact, brief is wonderful. Say one or two details about the performer followed by something positive and inviting so that your hero wants to stride up to the microphone and do his best.
· Thank the technical and sound people.
· Blank recipe cards are very handy for big feature shows. I usually travel with a stack of them. I can write one or two notes on a card to use as the show progresses (saves going out on stage with a big sheaf of papers or a clip board).
· Think up an interesting way to cover the housekeeping basics (turn cell phones off, check out the book and CD table, etc.) You’re a writer: a refreshing anecdote or little rhyme would be welcome right about now.
· Acknowledge the last poet ("Thanks, Bill, great job") and then segue into your intro for the next guest (I am thrilled that I finally get to work with Ray Bovine and the Hornstoppers, and so on). Snap it along. Watch the mood. You might need to pep things up or settle things down depending on the tempo and material of the last performer and in fairness to the next one. Build a bridge from one entertainer to the next and take the audience with you across that bridge.
· When I’m the emcee of any show, but especially a night show, I try to pay attention to the whole show. Now is not the time to goof off, day dream, regale the back stage crew with your witty stories, graze on cheese and crackers in the Green Room, and so on. (Do all that stuff tomorrow night when you’re not working.) You never know when a performer is going to say, recite, or sing something for which the audience is hoping you have a witty comeback. If I’m back stage and someone makes a pointed, funny remark about Canada, I want to be able to follow up with some good natured banter. Conversely, I look pretty stupid if I walk out on stage and thank the sound man if the last poet just did that.
· Learn some jokes. Memorize a couple of four-line poems. Look up a quote or two. (When I hosted a big gala for the Saskatchewan Opera…and I know nothing about opera…I typed out a few funny, provocative, interesting quotes about opera. I was ready if I needed them.) You’ll need fillers when the crew is changing the set, when a performer forgets her lines, when you get tongue-tied or draw a blank, when someone’s cell phone goes off. Be ready if you have to fill a couple of minutes on stage. I recently watched a host go absolutely blank during a day show when she couldn’t remember the next performer’s name. She smoothly told a little joke, motioned the poet up to the microphone, surreptitiously glanced at his nametag, and no one ever suspected a thing.
· Don’t use “filler” time with stories about yourself. Tonight isn’t about your projects, your CD, your book, your credentials, your scholarly research or the lady you met during intermission who went to school with your Aunt Hilda back in Manitoba. If nothing else, now is a good time to acknowledge the volunteers and committee.
· If you know in advance that you’re going to emcee a show, you can find out little tidbits on most performers’ websites.
· In-jokes are funny to a very small number of people.
You are on the roster at any show because someone thinks highly of your talent. Your job as emcee is to take the audience on a fun, professional and colorful journey. What a relief for performers and audience alike to know that the journey is in good hands. I look forward to the next time we work together; no matter which one of us is hosting, I’ll try to give you a dandy intro and hope you do the same for me.
© 2007, Doris Daley, All rights reserved
This article may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
See our separate feature about Doris Daley here, which includes some of her poetry.
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