It’s the day of the show, y’all! You’ve rehearsed, made it through tech week, celebrated your opening night, and now you’ve entered your run. You have a show tonight at 8:00. What are some best practices regarding getting ready for curtain? What do your body, voice, and mind need in order to be in fighting shape by showtime? Today we’re going to explore pre-show routines.
First, a disclaimer: every actor is different. There is no “one-size-fits-all” methodology here. No two actors are the same and accordingly no two pre-show routines will be identical. I encourage trying different things until you settle on what works for you. Some actors might want to do a hundred push-ups before their show begins. If that floats your boat, go ahead! If that isn’t your jam, by all means please don’t strain yourself! Take the time to locate what you need to get yourself ready for your performance. Your pre-show routine might change as you get older, might vary depending on the show or type of character you’re playing, might alter depending on the size of the theater or the time of year. All this is valid. Stay adaptable and empathetic to your own needs. Listen to yourself.
All that said, here is a basic outline of what a healthy show day routine might look like.
During the Day
So, the curtain doesn’t rise until 8:00 but your preparation begins much, much earlier. Try to get a full night of sleep. During the day try to rest and conserve your energy as much as possible. Avoid yelling or talking on the phone. Try to center yourself on the task at hand. Most actors are balancing a million things during the day: jobs, auditions, commutes, family, life! This is all beautiful; full humans make better actors. The trick is finding a healthy balance. The show deserves your full self and your full attention. That might mean skipping out on optional social events during the day. Your friends will understand
Try to eat a healthy dinner, something that will fuel you up. Regarding specific food choices, there are a million schools of thought: some actors want something light (just a wee little salad), some actors want something hearty (steak, please!), some actors don’t want to eat anything because it makes them feel bloated. I would advise eating something, but exactly what is entirely up to you. Treat your body well. Give yourself the energy you need in order to deliver the best performance you can.
At the Theater
Now you’ve arrived at the theater! An important part of any pre-show routine is truly arriving at the theatrical space. This means grounding yourself in the building (or barn, or field, or whatever venue you’re lucky to call home!). I like to go out onto the stage before the house opens and just check in with that environment: reassess the view, go over some lines, mark through some blocking. And please greet your co-workers! Checking in with your theater family will center yourself and allow you to be truly alive to the energy of that specific evening. Say hi to your glorious fellow actors, the crew, the stage management team. And don’t forget the Front of House folks! Make yourself comfortable.
After any mandatory pre-show activities (fight call, etc.), it’s time for your personal physical warm up. Do whatever your body requires to be in its optimal shape for the performance: stretching, yoga, floor work – all are wonderful. I highly recommend investing in a foam roller and/or a tennis ball. These will help you work out any kinks in your back or muscle tension. Whatever you end up doing, be sure you do it with purpose. Shows can be marathons. An athlete would never launch into a game without extensive preparation. Find what you need to get ready then distil that to its easily repeatable essence.
Give yourself a nice vocal warm-up. If you’re in a musical, this might involve scales. But regardless of the play’s genre, it behooves you to activate the muscles of speech, to wake up the tongue, the lips, and most importantly your breath. Breath is life, my children. Without it, we are nothing. Your breath is your foundation; before you go out on stage make sure your foundation is strong.
Great! You’ve now warmed up your body and your voice. What of your spirit? I know I’m running the risk of sounding a little hippie-dippy, but I think it’s also important to warm up that intangible part of yourself that you utilize when you act. You can call it your spark, your talent, your essence, your energy, God, the spirit, the ancestors, your character, your soul – or give it no name at all. Go ahead and take a moment to root into that thing, whatever it is. You’ve checked in with the space and with your fellow artists; now it’s time to check in with yourself. Center yourself on the task at hand. Open yourself up to the possibilities of the moment. Insert any other positive affirmations you might like here. Now we’re reading to get cooking!
Now you’re in costume and makeup. Places is called. Right before curtain, don’t forget to breathe. Nerves are wonderful. The only people who never feel nervous are dead people. Don’t be a dead person. Allow your feelings to exist. Honor them. Tell yourself whatever you need to hear to get you in the zone: hook into character, setting, story – whatever feeds you. Go out there and have fun!
Now: rinse, wash, and repeat. You have a pre-show routine! Rituals are fabulous. I strongly urge you to find a pre-show practice and stick to it. This will enable you to create some regularity and cue your body into when it’s time to focus.
Also, a quick P.S. Another vital thing to add to your pre-show list: please brush your teeth. Your co-stars will thank you.