There are times when two shows on a Wednesday can seem as difficult as scaling Mount Everest. When the thought of doing the same scene for the 1 millionth time is more than your soul can bear – and yet you must do it – how do you summon the strength to soldier on? Below are 26 titbits of well-earned wisdom which can help you give your best even on bad days.
Think about the people out there who have paid their money and have come to see you. They are looking to be entertained and your job is to send them home happy. Sometimes seeing the faces of the people in the front row, especially pensioners who have saved their pennies to come see you, is enough to find the will to do one more show.
Breath energises you; it also reminds us that we can only ever go from one breath to the next. This helps to keep you in the moment and break a huge task down into tiny mouthfuls. Make sure each new thought is ‘inspired' with a new breath. When we forget to breath, we feel stale and our performance gets stale. Breath makes it new.
Coffee or Chocolate
Sometimes the promise of a treat is enough to get you from one Act to the next.
Focus on your diction, hitting all of your consonants and using all of your available resonance for your vowel sounds. Energetic consonants can often energise a tired performance.
Keeping fit will help keep your energy reserves high. Vigorous exercise will also help you process any feelings of frustration and leave you on a natural high.
Use your friends, both within the cast and without, to laugh about things and help keep your perspective on life and acting in check.
Be grateful you have a job. Thinking of the 10,000 actors who would love to have your job is often enough to fuel the final mile.
Keep your body full of water. A dehydrated body is a tired and cranky body.
Active verbs are your best friend. The subtle shift from ‘I tease' to ‘I titillate' can make a sagging line feel new again
Don't judge yourself – everyone suffers from time to time. The more you judge yourself, the more you will become self-conscious, which is the last thing you want. Keep focussing outside of yourself in order to get over whatever you may be feeling.
Keep your life going Make sure your life outside of the theatre doesn't grind to a halt. Keep reading, learning, and challenging yourself every day. Take full advantage of your days off to see friends and loved ones and experience new things.
Really listen! After a length of time, we can hear without really listening; but if you actually listen to everything that is said on stage, not just the words but the inflections, then you will get out of yourself and have tonnes of fresh reactions.
Your motivation for a scene is allowed to change. Your objectives can shift and develop as your character tries to achieve their major objective. Try a different tack to reach your destination and see what happens.
Sometimes we add so many layers to what we are doing in a scene that we lose the forest for the trees. Sometimes, if we step back and do nothing, it re-energises the scene. Do nothing and see what comes out – you might surprise yourself by finding something new.
Even if you are in the background of a scene, you should have an opinion about everyone and everything. These opinions can change (as long as you stick to the shape of the scene) which allows it to be different every time.
All the techniques you learned in your training can be experimented with. Once you are comfortable and secure in what you're doing, there is no reason why you can't incorporate techniques like your Alexander Technique training into
your performance. Set goals for yourself: how about doing a whole show keeping your neck free/relaxed and your shoulders wide?
Or breathing freely and deeply with each thought? You can still do the scene, hit your marks and practice skills that will make you a
Question everything – instead of repeatedly thinking the same thoughts, ask yourself new questions every day. Why am I reacting this way? What do I think of this? It will keep your mind active and an active mind doesn't have a chance to be bored.
Acting is all about relationships between various characters. These relationships can always deepen and take on new layers. Invest more in your personal backstory; then dig deeper and flesh out your history with your scene
Every character can (and should) have secrets which only they know. It's amazing how energising having a secret can be. Perhaps your character is pregnant and no one knows? Or maybe you are sleeping with the next door neighbour? You can also know secrets about other characters – things they would be horrified if anyone else knew. It's all in the imagination.
Trust the people you're on stage with to help carry you along – you're a team. Sometimes when one person is tired, another person can help give them a boost. Also trust that each show is new and presents the possibility of discovery about yourself, the
character and the people you work with.
Occasionally thinking about how miserable you are when you aren't working is enough to get you through. Think about your worst day temping and use that to spark you into making the most of your chance to practise your craft.
A vocal warmup can wake you up and focus you on the task ahead. However, don't just do the same warmup everyday – try new exercises, work on new texts, challenge yourself. Take that vocal energy into your performance.
Really watch what is happening around you. Observe people, scenery, and props in detail. It will keep you grounded in the moment and give you new stimuli to react to.
You never know who is in the audience watching you. You wouldn't want the day that Trevor Nunn visits to be the day you ‘phone it in,' would you?
It all comes down to you. You are responsible to give your best every time – for yourself, for your colleagues, for the playwright, for the public, and for your art. Do whatever it takes to achieve this – that's what being a professional is all about.
Get plenty of sleep – it will make sure you are on top of your game. A nap between matinee and evening performances can do wonders. ●