When the Lights Come On
WHEN THE LIGHTS GO ON, ARE YOU ON?
Mobile entertainers are show business performers. Like comedians, actors, singers, musicians, hypnotists, public speakers, improvisation players, and more, mobile entertainers are on stage—albeit a fluid, ever-evolving, not always ideal performance platform. It may not usually be a stage with curtain and footlights, but it’s show business nonetheless.
LIVING IN THE LIMELIGHT
So how do you prepare for the moment when the “curtain” rises and the lights illuminate? How do you prepare during “the half”—the sacrosanct 30 minutes just before a performance when the actor is in the dressing room, preparing to go on stage?
As Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey explains, “It can be 30 minutes of quiet contemplation or utter fear, depending on how the performance has been going.” How has your “half” been lately?
A TALE OF TWO ACTORS
Last the spring, I appeared in a local production of Couple Dating, an engaging comedy about a New York couple with a young child seeking to connect with other couples in similar circumstances—with unexpected results, insights gained and generous hilarity for the audience
Eight actors comprised the cast—the primary story couple (Bobby and Tess) and the three couples they “date.” I played the husband in the couple in the second to last scene of the play. Thus, we did not appear on stage until about 90 minutes into the production for what turned out to be a memorable 12-minute scenes.
I was paired with a very talented actress, Jenny MacKenzie, with whom I connected well during auditions. Our call time was generally 30 minutes before the proverbial lights went on, so Jenny and I had about two hours to wait before our scene.
The backstage machinations of many theatrical productions organically develop their own preparation rhythm. Jenny and I developed ours with each other and the other actors during our 16-show run.
We rarely said two words to each other for the two hours backstage before we did our scene. Jenny often read, texted, did her makeup, dressed for the scene and, occasionally, quietly chatted with the other actors. I usually completed work on a laptop, reviewed my lines, blocking and cues, read, changed clothes and helped do the dishes at intermission (it’s community theater—actors are often the crew, too!) Just before we entered the stage together, we each made our final preparations.
Jenny would check her purse for the items needed in the scene, review her clothes and ensure that she had a finger ready to ring the doorbell on cue. Typically, I engage in some physical movement to get into character. So, just before Jenny rang the doorbell, I would round out my shoulders, cock my head slightly back and stand as erect as possible to become the confident persona of Scott.
And, after we completed our scene? We were often as chatty as two long-lost friends on a chance meeting.
Far from the result of deliberate planning, the rhythm evolved during rehearsals and the show’s run, becoming a comfort zone of preparation for Jenny, myself and the rest of the cast.
How do you prepare for your entrance on the mobile “stage,” the moment when you are in the “spotlight” of the party guests’ attention at your event? What is your rhythm in preparing for a gig? What do you do during your version of the half?
A significant part of your preparation may be tied to the primary role you are playing that evening. Are you an emcee? A music programmer? A director? Gamemaster? Dancer?
For the last six years, I’ve been a member of Triage, a local improvisational troupe. When we are in the half, we do a variety of exercises and short games to get the blood flowing, elevate the energy and sharpen our minds for the performance. Our final activity before heading out on stage? We form a circle, put our hands together in the center and look each other in the eye as we declare, “Got your back!”
Our preparation is a combination of best practices in the art and organically developed activities that work for our group. What works for you?
CATCH THE RHYTHM
Some entertainers may meditate, seek quiet time, exercise, or eat a small meal before a performance. In my twenty-plus years as a mobile entertainer, I’ve developed a pre-event rhythm of setting up 30 to 60 minutes before the scheduled start of the event or, at least, well in advance of guest arrival. Then, I walk the entire entertainment space checking not only sound, but perspective and feel.
After making any necessary tweaks in the sound, I review my notes, agenda and any other information about the event to refresh the energy I need to portray. Then, I visit the facilities to freshen up and just before I depart, look in the mirror, make sure my smile is keen, flash a Hawaiian shake hand sign to the mirror, and give a chuckle. Now, I am ready to entertain.
FIND YOUR SPACE
There is no single correct method to prepare for an event, to work the half. But, like Jenny and me, if you do not have yours yet, look for the right formula to put yourself in the best frame of mind to offer your clients a memorable event!
Filed Under: Issues from 2010, Music, Performing
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