Performers: unwilling players of mind games Photo:

Performers: unwilling players of mind games

Jenna Simeonov
Performing in public is about imaginary stats: there are sayings that go something like how it’s 10% preparation, 89% inspiration, and the final 1% a combination of panic and validation seeking. Whatever the proportions, the above factors are all in the artistic mix, balancing in a way that’s at best symbiotic, and at worst a mental food chain. In the spirit of airing out neuroses, we’ve identified four of the meanest games to which a performer’s mind can subject him. Feel free to add yours in the comments below!

Peaking too soon

There’s some sense to this superstition-like fear of putting your best foot forward, but at the wrong time. There can be such build-up for opening night of a show that the second performance can feel a little bit like work, lacking the adrenaline of the first night. Whether or not the difference between shows 1 and 2 is discernable from an audience’s perspective is another conversation entirely; it’s mind-gamey enough that performers are aware of the potential energy-dive (and effectively, dip in quality) before the show’s run is finished.

It’s something that the gentlemen of Overthought, A Podcast brought up in a recent episode, pointing to the curse of same-day dress rehearsals as fertile grounds for peak-too-soon syndrome. During what’s usually a late morning or early afternoon dress rehearsal, singers will try and save the good stuff for that night’s real-deal show; the question is, how little do they give? Shouldn’t they be really testing out the waters (it may actually be their only chance to do so), and offering up a true representation to the director and conductor of the show they’ve masterminded? If they opt for the take-it-easy method of dress rehearsing, does a low-energy, vague run-through, full of vocal and physical marking, really get your adrenaline pumping enough to put on a good show for opening night? Where on earth is the sweet spot?

Thinking your way to sick

The perfect storm: an upcoming gig that’s important for your career development or your bank account or your general enjoyment of life, plus the constant nagging inside your head about how crappy it would be to get debilitatingly sick for this gig, plus some real-life risk factors surrounding said gig, like sitting on a plane and arriving in a new climate with new sheets and new allergens. Add to that the excitement of knowing that stress can lead to illness, and singers are on a slippery slope from psychology to sick.

So, the solution is to just not be stressed, right? Worst game ever.

Distrusting your memory

Onstage, there’s a fine line between auto-pilot and rapidly firing brain synapses. Keeping one’s brain on is important, of course, but second-guessing is just the worst. Before you can even stop it, you can think too hard about your next word, your next musical phrase; in the split-second of second-guessing, your brain can seem to go from almost-full to entirely empty. Blank. Devoid of any idea of what is happening in this second that seems to last for an eon. Prompters may whisper a word in the spirit of helpfulness, that one word that’s suppose to spark the ignition of your very honed performer’s brain; but all you can think is “Mia figlia WHAT??

Trying to decode the audience’s facial expressions

This is not a good idea, but that’s never stopped anyone from trying. Sometimes, you’re not blessed with the glaring darkness that obscures the sea of faces watching you work onstage. Sometimes, you can see them very clearly. There’s a funny thing that happens with audiences, or any crowd, really; the people in them think that they’re invisible, even when they seem to make eye contact with the artists.

So, performer, the audience’s facial expressions won’t be the same as if you were having a normal conversation, where both parties are aware that they’re visible and being listened to. That means that all rules are out the window when it comes to gauging faces, and based on their expressions, deciding what the audience thinks of your performance. Rapt attention can look like vacant boredom, and engagement with characters can look like harsh judgement. It’s much easier said than done, but since the thoughts of others can’t be controlled anyway, performers are best left assuming the best. For their own sanity.

Perhaps a good deflection move would be to try and spark a specific reaction on a listener’s face. Does he look like he’s falling asleep? Aim that next high note in his general direction. Does she look like she’s sucking your teeth at your Don Giovanni? See if you can find time to send her a ballsy wink.


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