The Performance Genre
Sue: Hello, and welcome to the Mommy’s Pen podcast. I am your host, Sue Campbell, a writer and children’s book author, and I’m here with two daughters today.
Nora: It’s mostly me.
Sue: Nora, age 11, who is my regular cohost, and because it is a special night where daddy is working, and the podcast has to go up tomorrow, we have a very special toddler guest named Alma Bea. Alma, can you say hello?
Sue: So we’re gonna be talking about another genre today, we’re gonna take a closer look at the performance genre.
Nora: And I know that sounds super boring, but it’s really not.
Sue: Performance stories are great. They are so fun. It’s such a fun experience to watch a character really strive to perform something. Adults, you will think of movies like ‘Rocky.’ I’m trying to think of a good kids’ movie that everyone has seen that’s a performance story. There’s a moth, get it.
Nora: I’m not hurting a moth.
Sue: So we’re gonna be using, again, Spirit: Riding Free. Great show, many of the episodes are in different genres, and the episode that we’re gonna be looking at this time is from season two, and it’s episode seven, and it’s called… Nora.
Nora: Lucky and the Price of Freedom.
Sue: Okay. So why don’t you talk a little bit about what happens in the episode as a whole, and then we can dive into how it meets the scenes and conventions of a performance story.
Nora: Well, Lucky, Pru and Abigail, the main characters, as we’ve explained previously, find out there’s a horse race. Except then, they find out it’s only for men, which is totally messed up. But then, Lucky decides she’s gonna pretend to be a boy to get into the competition.
Sue: Because she and Spirit are super fast.
Nora: Yeah, and she wants to prove this. So she does this, and then she wins the race, and one of the evil guys who’s against her-
Sue: Yes, his name is Grayson and he’s like a recurring villain throughout the series.
Nora: He’s terrible.
Sue: He’s really terrible. He is just so super creepy.
Nora: Even his voice is just like “heh.”
Sue: Uugh, I’m Grayson.
Nora: It’s not like that.
Sue: Ugh, I hate him so much. He’s such a good villain, because you just want to throttle him immediately.
Nora: Also, you once called him a bad word. Well, more than once, but I’m not gonna mention that. And then he asked, and she revealed that she’s a girl and that she won the race. Then he gets the prize, because girls weren’t allowed to compete, so typically he gets the prize, because he came in second. But he’s not even satisfied with that, and he wants to buy her horse. Then she’s like no. And then he’s like, “Here’s more money. Here’s more money.” And she’s like, “No, Spirit’s a free horse, and that’s how he’s gonna stay.” And he’s like, oh, loophole.
Sue: Very bad idea to tell him that.
Nora: Yeah, very bad idea, you can explain what happens next.
Sue: Yeah, then that is a setup for Grayson basically stealing Spirit and then kicks off an arc that’s several episodes long, and is really, really sad and scary, and I don’t like that part.
Nora: It also goes to the next season.
Sue: Yeah, it bridges the season, it’s a total cliffhanger. But the performance part of the story is basically the first half of the episode, where Lucky wants to win this race.
Sue: Yes, Alma?
Alma: I’m gonna go get a glass of water for myself.
Sue: Okay, that’s a great idea. So, why do we call it a performance story?
Nora: Because it’s a performance story.
Sue: Because it’s a performance story, because Lucky’s gonna perform in a race. But, again, going back to the gurus on genre, the Story Grid, and the Story Grid editors round table podcast. When we look at performance stories, you’re basically looking at a story of honor and shame, or respect and shame. So, it kind of runs the spectrum. So when we start this story, we have sort of the shame of not being allowed to be in a race because of your gender, and then we move to respect, because Lucky is able to win the race, even though she is a girl, a twelve year old girl, and beats a bunch of men at their own game, so to speak.
Sue: So it’s a great, positive, feel good kind of story, usually, performance stories. And again, this episode takes a turn in the second half that is not so positive and fun. But, it is very compelling and dramatic. So, the conventions in a performance story, you have to have a training period. So your protagonist, your hero, has to kind of practice the skills that are necessary to perform, and what’s interesting about the way they handled this convention in the episode; Is it’s not Lucky training to win the race. Because she already knows how to ride Spirit so fast, she’s come so far since she’s learned how to ride a horse, that she actually needs training to pretend to be a boy. So all of her focus is trained on pretending how to walk like a boy, talk like a boy, and it’s pretty hilarious, and she’s actually not very good at it.
Nora: At all, whatsoever.
Sue: So they just take part of a horse’s tail and pin it to her face as a mustache.
Nora: It looks ridiculous, because it’s a totally different color than her hair.
Sue: So that’s the first convention. Another convention is that there has to be an all is lost moment, and at one point during the performance story, during the race, Lucky is actually thrown off of Spirit. I feel like that’s probably the all is lost moment for the performance part of the story.
Sue: There’s definitely a different all is lost moment for the other genre in this episode. And then there’s a mentor who helps recover the moral compass. Or, alternatively, you can have somebody who betrays the protagonist.
Sue: So the mentor recovers moral compass is one of the conventions, or you can have the mentor betrays the protagonist to act out perceived victim-hood. And in this episode, it is actually the latter. When Lucky talks to her aunt Cora, Cora is basically trying to just get lucky to accept the sexism and the way that things are. So that’s interesting that they would choose to portray that. Then later in the episode, Cora comes around and actually figures out that Lucky is in the race, and puts a big, fat bet on her, so that’s kind of awesome.
Sue: Another convention is the power divide between the antagonist and the protagonist is wide and deep. Again, this is gender specific in this episode. There’s a power divide between men and women, and there’s also a power divide between adults and children. Which is very common in children’s literature, the power divide between adults and kids. Then you have an ironic win but lose, lose but win ending, which is very, very clear in this episode. Lucky wins the race by crossing the finish line first, but then loses the race on a technicality, because it’s discovered that she is a girl, so Grayson ends up winning. But Lucky still feels vindicated, because she proved her point that girls can win a race that they’re not even supposed to be allowed into, because they’re too delicate, etc.
Sue: So then, moving into obligatory scenes for the performance story. You have an inciting performance opportunity. So in this case, it’s very clear when the girls, Pru, Abigail, and Lucky see the poster that the race is going to be happening. They’re very, very excited because Lucky wants to enter immediately, and only then finds out that she can’t. So the next scene is the protagonist side steps responsibility to perform. In a way, it’s kind of side stepped for her, she’s very, very keen on doing it, but she’s not able to, because of the rules of the game, so to speak.
Sue: Alright, third scene, forced to perform, they protagonist lashes out. Again, I’m not quite-
Nora: I think this is where she reveals she’s a girl to Butterhead.
Sue: To Butterhead? The guy who looks like he has butter for a head?
Nora: No, his head looks normal, it just looks like someone cut butter into little pieces and stuck it on his head, his hair.
Alma: Mom, are you ready for me?
Sue: Almost, not quite, honey. Then we have protagonist discovers and understands the antagonist’s object of desire.
Nora: Which is that Grayson is the antagonist and he wants to win the race.
Sue: Right, that one’s pretty obvious. Protagonist’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the antagonist fails.
Nora: That’s just like going as fast as she can.
Sue: Yeah, just her racing, but she’s really on the up and up and trying to race really clean, and she realizes that all of these guys are being super cutthroat about it.
Nora: Yeah. Also, she’s behind at the start of the race.
Sue: Yeah, she definitely starts out at the rear of the pack, because she’s trying not to be noticed and seen, because she’s a girl, in a horse mustache. Then you have the protagonist realizes that they must change their approach in order to salvage some form of honor, and reaches an all is lost moment. So she gets, basically, thrown off of Spirit.
Nora: By Butterhead.
Sue: By Butterhead. So then she has to kind of dust herself off and figure out if she’s gonna keep going, and if she is, she’s gonna have to be even tougher and grittier.
Nora: Which she does.
Sue: Which she does, and there’s a very beautiful animated rendering of her determined look on her face, and then she just sticks her hand out, and Spirit runs past her, and she just grabs onto him and throws herself up on the horse, and it’s very inspiring.
Sue: Very dramatic.
Alma: Are you ready for me yet?
Sue: Almost ready for you, Alma Bea, we have two more scenes, and then it’s your big moment.
Sue: Then we have the big event scene. So normally a performance story is stretched out over this whole training period, and then the culmination is the big event scene. Because the performance story in this episode is so condensed, a lot of these are actually happening during the big event scene.
Nora: I mean it only takes about twelve minutes, about half the episode.
Sue: Yeah, and it’s very condensed and well done. So I would say the big event scene within the big event scene is sort of the home stretch of the race. Where it’s just Lucky versus Grayson.
Nora: Yeah, because Butterhead fell behind.
Nora: No, honestly he looks like that.
Sue: I know. I didn’t notice that the first time I saw the episode, but now that you say that, you’re right, he totally has butter for a head.
Nora: No, hair.
Sue: For hair.
Alma: Are you ready for me yet?
Sue: Almost, Alma, one more. And then finally, protagonist is rewarded at one or more levels of satisfaction. External, interpersonal, or internal.
Nora: I think she gets all of those.
Sue: I think she gets all three. Because external is like hooray, she won the race, oh my God, she’s a girl, maybe we should rethink all of our social constructs.
Nora: Or not, just because we’re creeps.
Sue: And then interpersonal, she has a little exchange with her aunt beforehand, and then her aunt actually begins betting on her, because she realizes it’s Lucky. So by the end, they’re both sort of stronger in their bond and their feminism. There are really actually a lot of wonderful messages for girls…
Nora: Also, stop breathing on me, it’s disgusting.
Sue: …In this series as a whole.
Alma: Are you ready for me yet?
Sue: Almost. And then internal, because Lucky feels very triumphant.
Nora: And also, she’s met Grayson before, and he’s a total evilness.
Sue: Evil puke. Oh, I hate him so much. Alma!
Nora: Now she won’t come.
Sue: Alma, hurry quick.
Alma: I came right through.
Sue: Okay, so Alma, what do you like about ‘Spirit: Riding Free?’ What’s your favorite thing about it?
Alma: Let me think. The birthday cake one, where Pru needs a birthday cake for her birthday, and Lucky and Abigail are making a birthday, and dad makes a cake. And everyone starts singing and singing, and then everything is crashing, it’s crazy. That’s my favorite part.
Sue: That’s your favorite part? I love that.
Nora: Correct me if I’m wrong, but in that episode, doesn’t Snips steal all of Aunt Cora’s hats for Senior Carrots for the fashion show?
Alma: Yeah, that’s my favorite.
Sue: That’s a really good one. You might be a natural at this, Alma. Thanks for being on our podcast.
Alma: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sue: Well that’s it for today’s episode, thank you so much for listening. If you want more information about what we talked about today, you can visit mommyspen.com and read the show notes and the transcript, Alma’s gonna go check it out. You can also sign up for our mailing list, because there are actual, tangible, true rewards now.
Nora: I can’t believe you actually did that, mom.
Sue: I know. So go and check it out. Mommyspen.com, sign up for the mailing list, and you will get a great, big bonus, and we will-
Nora: Which isn’t ice cream, though it should be.
Sue: It’s not ice cream, that would be a little hard to deliver digitally. And we will be here next week. Say goodbye, girls.
Sue: Can you say goodbye, Alma?
Alma: I want to go again.
Sue: Go where again?
Alma: To the podcast.
Sue: To the podcast.
Sue: Okay, say goodbye for now. You’re not gonna say it, are you?
Nora: She’s just gonna fall down on the bed.
Sue: Goodbye, everyone.
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