Paid to clap? Paid to wait at a stage door and clamor for autographs? Paid to laugh, gasp and otherwise do the right thing in the audience? Yes. It’s a job. At the Moscow Bolshoi ballet, you may find yourself sitting among those who show up to admire, in exchange for free tickets and other goodies.
It’s choreography you don’t expect, because it’s not on the stage with the dancers. It’s near the stage in the audience, sitting among regular ballet goers, who apparently need to be led into the appropriate high culture mob behavior. These professional fans are called “claqueurs,” part of an old tradition of seeding an audience with shills, found in most theatrical productions up through the first half of the twentieth century. Still alive in Russia.
If you’ve ever mistakenly clapped during the silence between movements in a philharmonic composition, you might welcome the leadership. “Claqueurs” are like a preemptive strike against a mondegreen, which often reveals itself when you are singing the wrong words to a familiar song at the top of your lungs. I was once treated to a lusty version of “One Ton Tomato,” by a client in Dallas, which led to an argument with his colleague, who insisted it was “Juan Tanamera.” Actually, it’s “Guantanamera,” a patriotic Cuban song made famous in the US by Pete Seeger and a group called the Sandpipers.
Of mondegreens and other embarrassments, I was in cheerleading camp a long, long, long time ago, when the cheer coach stopped in front of my waving arms as I implored the imaginary football team to: “Annihilate, amonphon, grind them in the dirt, kill!” With that mean girl’s smirk on her face, Mrs. Cheer said, “Hold it,” sounding like John Wayne arriving at a dusty main street filled with cowboys drunkenly shooting off Colt .44s. “What are you saying?”
I weakly repeated my entreaty, which as I freshman (freshperson?) I assumed contained one of many words that I could not yet define. “No,” she admonished me in front of 99 other girls who now were doing that staring, mock horrified, you’re not going to make the squad, which is so good for me wiggle. “It’s stomp on them.’ Not amonphon.”
I have lived with this mistake for many years and as a paid public speaker, I wish it were the worst and last mistake I ever made in front of people. It’s not. It’s far exceeded by my asking Lee Iaccoca if both his daughters were girls, on a live broadcast when I hosted International Business on public radio. In fact, I have made so many mistakes out loud, I consider
them part of my personal brand. They are part of the humorous condition called being human, live and unedited.
So, the idea of having someone who knows what to do at the right time, or what to say when it’s called for? It appeals to me. Perhaps you have this person in your life. Maybe it’s a parent. An older sibling. A senior colleague at work. Your boss. A friend who is a few steps ahead of you on the path.
Or, maybe it’s a teacher. Yes, a teacher is in many ways a claqueur. Which is to reveal the other part of the claqueur’s job: to discourage poor performance, to withhold applause or regard when the performance falls short.
In this recent era where self-esteem has been more treasured and encouraged than hard work and developing talent, it goes against the grain to discourage poor performers. We are inundated with pundits pushing the no-hard-work agenda, like how no one needs college just go out and be an entrepreneur! Anything that should be done, can be done in four hours a week! All the wisdom you need: you were born with! Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion!
If you hear nothing but applause, laughter and bravo? You are getting half the feedback you need, even if that’s feedback you don’t want hear. All personal brands have two types of characteristics. Those that are your strengths, and those throwing a shadow on your brand. If you don’t invite us to comment or correct what’s not working, your career may be short-lived and the world will be short changed of what could be your big contribution.
Want more on your shadow traits? Email me at [email protected]. Subject line: Shadow.