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Aretha franklin
Rebecca Ryan, APF
Rebecca Ryan, APF

You’re creative, you know it in your bones. But sometimes you get stuck. I do, too. And when that happens, a need a creative snack. Here are seven go-to performances I use to rev my creative engine.

1. Aretha Franklin’s performance of “Natural Woman”

When we’re at our best — as speakers or writers or actors or musicians or artists or what-have-you — the audience is with us. In this performance, everyone in that hall was with The Queen. They knew they were part of something special.

[And that purse! Ms. Franklin’s purse was an important symbol. Yasss, Queen.]

2. P!nk’s performance of “Glitter"

This was a holy shit performance for millions of us because it broke some unwritten rules of the Grammys, e.g. don’t be naked. We tend to put people in boxes, i.e. “P!nk is a singer”, so when she undressed, slowly wrapped herself in trapeze silks, was raised hundreds of feet into the air, disappeared into a tank of water, and sang upside-down soaking wet, she broke the box…and broke us open.

I think of this song when I want to push myself as a speaker, what journey can the audience and I go on that will break through in a new and emotive way? This is what happened with the WomanUP audience when I shared my cancer scare. I got naked in front of that audience and we took a journey together.

[If you’re a P!nk fan, it’s worth watching her play-by-play with Oprah, e.g. “I wanted to get all the famous people wet.”]

3. Heart’s performance of “Stairway to Heaven”

I looooooove the slow build of this song. It’s simple but powerful at the start and remains restrained even as the choir joins at the 3 minute mark, and then it just builds — the trumpets, the guitars, the choir. This is everything a performance should be: evocative, wholehearted, and triumphant. I can almost see Robert Plant thinking, “Damnit, I wish we’d done this arrangement.”

4. Melissa McCarthy’s “Pizza Business” sketch on Saturday Night Live

McCarthy is a tornado of talent and I LOVE IT when an actor breaks another actor, like she broke Jason Sudeikis in this sketch. I laugh out loud just thinking about this sketch.

Laughter is such an important part of being human. Norman Lear told Oprah that an audience laughing together is a spiritual experience. I remember this when I’m building a talk. How can I get this audience to breathe together, to laugh together?

5. Stefon on Saturday Night Live

I admit, this is not a go-to; it’s more of a bonus. Thinking of “Pizza Business” above reminds me of my favorite SNLs. I loved Bill Hader’s “Stefon” in which he broke himself all the time. Here’s a best of:

6. Aretha Franklin’s tribute to Whitney Houston

It’s a cruel joke that Aretha Franklin outlived Whitney Houston. Seeing Ms. Franklin sit down at the piano like it’s nothing, and play a completely different arrangement of a Houston hit reminds me that even when we “master” our craft, we’re never done. We can always dig deeper, train harder, and find something new. And the greatest performers make it look easy.

7. Mavis Staples rehearsing backstage

Former Mayor Mike Coleman (Columbus, OH) introduced me to Ms. Staples and I never miss a chance to see her in concert. Seeing her backstage warming up with Nick Lowe and Wilco makes my heart glad, reminding me of the importance of practice, and doing it with a spirit of generosity and joy. Ms. Staples is coaching the Wilco dudes to come in on-key and on time, she’s celebrating Nick Lowe, and she’s leading the entire crew with her singular energy and experience.

What about you? What do you turn to when you need some creative nutrition?

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Rebecca Ryan, APF
Rebecca Ryan, APF

Rebecca Ryan captains the ship. Trained as a futurist and an economist, Rebecca helps clients see what's coming - as a keynote speaker, a Futures Lab facilitator, an author of books, blogs and articles, a client advisor, and the founder of Futurist Camp. Check out her blog or contact Lisa Loniello for more information.

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