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Performer Versus Artist

By Rob Winch

In many shows that are centred around physical performance such as dance, circus and concerts, the people performing will be referred to as “Performers”. I hadn’t really heard the cast being referred to as “Artists” until I worked for Cirque du Soleil.

And perhaps rightly so. Cirque, when they started out, probably had many people in their shows that could be considered artists. These people were developing and expressing their craft onstage. This term “artist” has been carried on in many other productions I have been involved with and this could do with some clarification. The performer versus artist debate should be explored.

The definition of a performer will contain phrases like: to carry out, to execute, to act, to render, to accomplish, to complete, to fulfill, to perform, to go through, to yield, etc. This means they will do what is expected and agreed upon with a producer, usually by means of a contract. A performer may want to be on stage, but generally, will bring no more (or less) to the stage than what has been deemed acceptable.

The definition of an artist will contain phrases like: to create, to produce or to practice aesthetic works, to require knowledge of design, to exhibit exceptional skill, to be an expert at trickery or deceit. The last one was a surprise to me when I researched the definition on dictionary.com but is easily classified – magician, illusion, etc.

I would love to consider myself as an artist and do consider myself fortunate enough to be given small windows and opportunities to represent creatively in that world but as a retired performer with a career spanning around 18 years, my resume reads more like a performer. When you go into this business you want continued employment and the constant “when are you going to get a proper job” statements only make you more determined to take jobs that sit in the industry. It’s a matter of survival over choice.

I have seen many self-proclaimed “artists” that perform “work” like a 10-minute act of slapping large, raw pieces of meat across their almost fully naked body and calling it “the way the corporation treats us – like a piece of meat!”

A performer works for the love of being on stage and the desire to entertain. The artist works out of a need to share their creative expression with the world without care or compromise.

Me, I’d like to bring another title; entertainer – a bit of both. One can sit in both camps.

Ultimately the industry needs both. In this business, we need the artists to create the product and the performers to carry out the roles within that creation.

Which one are you?

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