The Performance Simulator, Now With Realistic Backstage Ambiance!

WQXR’s Conducting Business podcast with host Naomi Lewin and producer Brian Wise published an episode on 3/26/2015 that examines the Performance Simulator, a facility located at The Royal College of Music that claims to create performance-like conditions in the confines of a regular practice room. The goal, according to the program’s guest, Dr. Aaron Williamon, a professor of performance science at the Royal College of Music who helped to develop the technology, is to “help performers learn to cope with the heightened pressures of a stage environment.”

Adaptistration People 030Here’s how Williamon described the Performance Simulator to WQXR:

“…a musician appears before a life-sized video projection of an audience, which can be appreciative (clapping, smiling) or downright hostile (coughing, sneezing and even booing). The room is fitted out like a concert hall, with spotlights, curtains, a back-stage area and stage furniture. The virtual audience’s response can be manipulated by a stage manager behind the scenes.”

Granted, anything technology based is going to catch my attention and score a few bonus points in and of the technology factor alone; but when I actually took a look at the promotional video, I felt like the victim of a bait and switch scam. I could go on (and on and on) about how many things are so very wrong with this project but the program’s other guest, Chattanooga Symphony & Opera concertmaster and Neo Classical author, Holly Mulcahy, does a fine job at justifiably picking apart the profound shortcomings albeit with the sort of poise she’s known for. So if you’re anticipating a shark attack style evisceration that would make reality television proud, you may want to adjust your expectations.

Carve a few moments out of your day and give the program a listen as it does touch on the very real problems faced by musicians on the audition circuit and those plagued by the sometimes overwhelming pressures of live performance. And for the sake of being entirely clear, I would say the Performance Simulator appears to be one of the least useful options available, especially from an ROI perspective, to address those issues.

In the meantime, don’t tell Dr. Williamon about Oculus.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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5 thoughts on “The Performance Simulator, Now With Realistic Backstage Ambiance!”

  1. I am unable to disagree with you, Drew (and Holly). The sheer physical energy of space and other humans is truly irreplaceable, and this product does not do them justice. So far, the only sound advice I’ve ever heard for overcoming the multitude of performance anxieties, is to perform more. (In smaller spaces, for fewer people, but get out there…)

  2. I remember as a kid and my teacher had his students meet in the auditorium at the conservatory on Saturdays to “practice the performance.” As we’d play our program, he would walk around the hall coughing, smacking chairs, opening and shutting windows, etc. We hated it, but it was effective.

  3. I would consider renting it for another reason…as a fantasy for professional performers. Select the audience to the coughing, sneezing and booing option and have the candidate yell insults back at them for being rude! Working through frustrations with obnoxious audience members could be quite therapeutic…all in the privacy of the performance simulator.

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