Deliver Unexpected Messages, Like Calvin & Hobbes

Not So Different

For the duration of its decade atop the funny pages, Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes entertained fans with a stunning mix of satire, intellectualism, sight gags, story arcs and intrigue. The strip may have been most impactful, though, when it put the laughs aside and took a surprisingly profound look at serious philosophical issues from the perspective of a very bright child.

Consider the strip reproduced above in which a boy over-intellectualizes the game of war, only to discover moments later that the game, like the real-life pursuit, is more likely to result in both sides losing (and in short order) than any sort of meaningful victory for anyone involved.

Calvin & Hobbes quite arguably represents the last great comic strip to appear in newsprint, before a wave of web comics became more popularly received. There was a time when folks turned to the funny pages for a relief from the hard news and thought presented in the rest of the paper; in instances like the war strip, Watterson challenged this convention, forcing his audience to continue processing, reflecting, and reading between the lines.

Similar to the old comics section of a newspaper, a general audience attends a cappella shows for quirky, lightweight musical entertainment. And though that they may be what the audience members consciously expects, it’s not necessarily what they most want, or what they will most benefit from. Consider a weightier song selection—putting aside the latest Lady Gaga romp in favor of Tori Amos’s “Me and a Gun.” Consider hitting the audience from an unexpected angles—rather than singing in the traditional arc with the soloist up front, scattering the group around the auditorium to make the group feel all the more a part of the music. Think about striking through your plans for step-touch choreography in favor of truly telling a visual story that matches the music.

Too often, a cappella groups allow themselves to get trapped in a box of convention. There’s nothing wrong with deriving from what’s already out there, and carrying on tradition. At the same time, your group shouldn’t be afraid to push boundaries, and push your audience and perhaps even your membership outside its comfort zone, in the interest of exploring more challenging, interesting ideas.