The few minutes before performing are a little window of anxiety, excitement, and adrenaline. Over the years I’ve found myself doing 3 things that help me channel all that energy in a way that supports my work.
1. I give myself a little pep talk
2018-2020 I traveled with a solo show I wrote to colleges and communities of people recovering from substance use disorders. At first, going into those spaces with my story was incredibly intimidating. I was so worried that something in my show was going to make someone in the audience upset or my show wasn’t good enough to share in those spaces. Before these performances I often found myself in the bathroom because I was so nervous and it was a space I could be by myself where nobody would see.
One day before a show I was washing my hands looking in the mirror, all these negative thoughts swirling around my head, and I cut through all the negativity saying out loud to myself, “It’s not about you.”
Repeating this simple phrase to myself gave me such a sense of relief. It was a simple reminder to let go of this idea that people care about whether I’m perfect. I think actors, myself included, can get so in their head about all this pressure that’s on them. We think, “Well I’m the one up there on stage and everybody’s watching me so it’s 100% up to me to make this a good time for everybody.” Because we’re putting all of this pressure on ourselves, we forget that when we’re up there, each audience member is having their own experience and they’re not nearly as concerned about me being “good” as I am.
Telling myself, “It’s not about you,” before a performance is a helpful reminder that I’m not showing up to impress anybody but that my performance adds to a larger picture. The script, the person working lights and sound, my fellow actors, the director, and the audience listening combine to tell the story. I’m not in charge of it. I’m a puzzle piece in a big, collaborative puzzle.
2. I take a minute to connect to my body
Right before I perform, it’s useful to take stock of how my body is feeling. I take a minute to shrug my shoulders, roll out my neck, drop down my spine. These movements are less about fixing something and more so about giving myself a chance to connect with where my body is at.
When I shrug and release my shoulders, do I still notice some tension lingering? Maybe with that awareness I let go of something I’m holding onto somewhere in my body. In letting go of that physical tension, I’m opening myself up to the possibility of being more present in my performance.
If you’ve ever taken one of my acting classes here at Green Shirt, you know that I’m a big proponent of a simple physical warm up before classes. A little secret for you – this physical warm up is for me just as much as it is for my students. It helps me get centered before I teach. I learned a ton about my body and gained more awareness around how it’s feeling through taking yoga classes. Highly recommend checking some out if you’ve never tried it before!
3. I take a minute to connect to my breath
It’s really easy to forget about how important my breath is. Especially when I’m performing. So before I perform I close my eyes and pay attention to it. Take a few deep ones. Then run through a little breathing exercise I learned in a yoga class.
Breathing in I think, “In”
Breathing out I think, “Out”
Breathing in I think “Deep”
Breathing out I think “Slow”
And I do a few rounds of that to calm me down and help direct all the energy I have bubbling inside me to support the story I’m about to help tell.
What rituals have you found to help you get ready to perform? Feel free to leave them below in the comments!