Pre-Performance Rituals – what are yours?

Susan Eichhorn Young wrote a blog entry today about protecting your performance, which at its core was all about centering and finding stillness before a performance. It was an excellent blog and it got me thinking about the way I have found to work best for me in getting ready to perform.

I’ve read about performance preparation for years, and often, it was best summarized as “Shut up and contemplate your navel. Focus. Center.” I’ve always felt joyful before a show and wanted to jump up and down, talk to people, and be somewhat giddy about the upcoming performance. But this behavior often seems to make people think that I’m less than serious about my craft and somewhat frivolous.

I once threw an opening night party in the afternoon of the day the show opened. We invited about 50 people, most of whom were coming to the show that night. I had a great time – at about 5:30pm, I decided that I’d had enough and I needed to go in the house and be alone for a bit before I left for the theater. We had a great opening night. I gave one of my best performances ever.

But I’ve been told that this isn’t the right way to prepare for a show for me, that I should, again, contemplate my navel, not talk to anyone, and reserve my energies for the performance.  So back in April 2001, when I was preparing for the Kilpinen competition, I decided to try that. After all, I have had bouts of performance anxiety in the past, and maybe this was what it would take to finally conquer it.

I had heard about a monastery in Madison that rented rooms to the public, for people seeking solitude and quiet. And the rent was $33 per night. So I reserved a room/cell and went to Madison. There was no TV or radio in my room, of course. All the better to settle my mind and focus my energies. The next morning I went to the chapel and took part in a centering service and then walked the grounds. I think there was a labyrinth. Then I went back to my cell and read some meditative literature. I couldn’t practice there, obviously, but I felt like I’d have enough time to vocalize before the performance.

So I went to the theater, found a practice room and vocalized for awhile, got dressed for the show, and thought, “I’m calm, I’m centered, I am prepared,” and I walked into the performance space.

I have never been so freaked out in my entire life. I was shaking, I couldn’t get my breath low, and I was dry. So dry that I went for my high note on the word “fly” at the end of “Paper wings” and my upper lip stuck to my teeth as I hit the note and then came off in the middle of the vowel, so that the note sounded like … it’s impossible to describe in writing. Trust me, it was weird.

The whole experience put me off singing for awhile. I felt like I had regressed to my undergrad days and that the 20 years of professional experience I’d had up to that point were all for nothing.

But I’ve come to realize that my way of preparing involves letting the crazies out before I hit the stage, and if that means hopping around and being goofy, that’s my way of centering. I will give room to those people who need to sit in a corner and contemplate their navels but for me, that simply doesn’t work. “I hop, therefore I am.”

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