Pre and post performance preparation
Performance, (especially singing opera), is an unnatural act. While some people are predisposed to enjoy being the center of attention, dealing with the rigors of performance is something that is learned with time and lots of experience. Sometimes I wonder who is actually insane enough to want to do this long term!! (Ooops, it's us.)
Performance is dangerous! It evokes the fight or flight instinct, it raises all your senses, it can elate or overwhelm. It's all in, full on, electrifying, even seductive. You need someone who will stand with you as you engage in this process over and over again, or it will be too emotionally consuming over a long period. During our live chat we called this person an accountability partner, but you can call them what you like. The main criteria is that you trust them, and that they have your best interests as heart. Norman and I provide this for each other, but we also have some family members and friends we consult from time to time as well.
After falling into unhealthy patterns and wasting lots of precious time, we realized we needed to become much more proactive about our physical and mental wellbeing leading up to, and after performances. Here is a mock schedule we made for you, to give you an idea of how we structure our days when we perform. Yeah, it's pretty detailed...
Sample pre-show plan
* Wake up when your body wants to, no matter how early or late it is.
* Have breakfast! Even if you're nervous and don't feel hungry, it's important to energize your body! I like to make a smoothie with lots of vitamins and carbs for energy, especially with bananas - so good for your nervous system. (We have another smoothie for post performance, both recipes will be available in a separate post!) We have even traveled with our blender. I don't have it with me now, I miss it!
* Read something rather than watch something on your phone or computer. We always say: whatever you put into your mind comes out of your mouth and influences your actions. It's inevitable. On show days, when you are getting ready to pour yourself out for the audience, make sure you have read something of quality. (At least 30 minutes!)
* This is a very personal preference, but we then take time to pray and meditate. Sometimes it is related to what we have read, sometimes it is about something else completely. This action will give focus to your whole day and is great for reducing stress.
* After all this nourishment, now test out the voice for 5-10 minutes maximum, just to make sure it’s working well. Then leave it alone!
* As a rule, Norman and I both prefer having our main meal of the day at lunch. On show days, Norman likes to eat meat, I like carbs. Neither of us like singing on a full stomach, so we try to get most of our calories at lunch. I always eat a bit more on show days, avoiding sugar and excessive salt.
* After lunch, we like to rest and maybe watch something silly. We're big Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99 fans. Come one, we can't be serious ALL day!!
* Next, it's time to review the score. Go over staging, remind yourself of your breath markings, coloratura passages, cadenzas, whatever else.
* Start your physical warm up. Your goal is not to do a big workout, but to wake up tired muscles and get your body ready for performance. (We can do a separate video on what we do if that would be helpful for anyone.)
* Prepare all your snacks/water for the show. In lieu of having a full dinner before we sing, we often pack lots of snacks like fruit, chocolate, nuts, and maybe even a small sandwich if the opera is particularly long.
* Next, prepare your make up bag, make up remover etc. Pack any special clothing you may need if there is an after party, and bring a change of socks and underwear.
2 hours before the show:
* I like to get to the theater early depending on how large my role is. If you’re able, either walk to the theater or take a taxi/uber. I’ve found taking public transportation to be hard on my nerves before a show.
* Continue to warm up your body.
* eat a small snack (bananas, power bars, apples, almonds)
* Brush your teeth
*Get your make up done/hair done
1 hour before the show:
* Start to warm up the voice for real. Make it count, but don't exhaust yourself.
* Eat another snack
* Know and accept that lots of people are going to talk to you - director, conductor, people from the house, colleagues wishing good luck, maybe your agent etc. This is okay because you’ve already centered yourself mentally earlier in the day, and you are prepared for this disruption.
30 minutes before the show:
* Use the rest room, especially if you have a complicated costume
* put on your costume
* continue to warm up your voice and body
* call your accountability partner and let them know you’re about to go on stage
* This is when you’re likely going to feel most nervous. Remind yourself of all your preparation for this moment, and trust that you are completely ready.
*Take in the audience, allow yourself to be nervous and excited
* Now make the choice to concentrate on your work. It is a privilege to be asked to sing!
Before your aria:
* Review text and breath markings one more time
* Enjoy yourself!
Then just do the show! There will always be things you didn't prepare for or expect during the course of a performance, but that is part of the thrill! Stay flexible and have FUN!
* Remove all make up and if possible, have a shower. It’s refreshing, and centering.
* Take your time getting ready again. You’ve worked hard and it’s okay to take this time for you.
* Keep small talk to a minimum at the party. Be polite and courteous. I personally avoid alcohol, especially wine after I sing, but that's just me.
* Excuse yourself as soon as you can so you can do your *post performance routine*
Any person who engages in performance, from sports, to public speaking, to singing, will tell you that it is difficult to come down off that high from adrenaline and all the attention! In fact, it can be so addictive that it will create depression in individuals who gain their self worth from such experiences.
When you engage in performance, all your gifts are stirred up and brought to a boil!! Your voice, your personality, your acting skills, your ability to network, (sorry not sorry!!), your ability to think quickly, your ability to manage different personalities, the list goes on. It is a shock to the entire system, and over time, it can wear your nervous system down, especially as you get older.
Knowing this, we have created systems for managing the rigors of performance, partly out of a desire to create normalcy in our lives, and partly out of necessity when Norman went through intense performance anxiety for three long years.
Post performance routine
* As soon as you get home, make yourself some tea and change into the most comfortable thing you own
*You will likely be hungry, so make yourself something. We like to have another smoothie, this time with protein for muscle recovery.
* Write down all the things you did well in the performance. Write down everything you’d like to do better next time. Some singers prefer to do this the following day, but I like to do it right afterwards and put the whole experience behind me before I go to bed. Then, when I'm refreshed, I can revisit my impressions of the night and see if they were accurate...
* Call your accountability partner and tell them your assessment (again, so you can look your work objectively)
* Do some light stretching to get rid of adrenaline. I'm a big fan of Child's Pose (kneeling with your head on the ground)
* Read something. It can be the same thing you read earlier, or something else of quality.
* Go to sleep and get up when your body tells you to, even if it's early...
* If you have trouble going to sleep, keep reading. It works!
* As soon as you wake up, drink a large glass of water
* Prepare a decent breakfast with some protein. We like to have omelettes and toast...and bacon...
* Stay off social media for at least an hour. This is your time and you don't need to be stimulated again. Enjoy your quiet.
* Get at least 20-30 minutes of light cardio in. It will flush out the rest of the adrenaline and invigorate you. Do some stretching afterwards.
* Do something simple you love to do. Whatever it is! (For me, it would be taking Norman out for a nice coffee, picking up some lovely ingredients to make a home cooked dinner, maybe some shopping...)
Performing for a living is demanding. Full-throttle operatic performance requires the singer to be fully engaged and vulnerable to thousands of people for several hours. When a singer opens themselves up this way, there must be a system for shutting those open places off again so they can have a normal life and experience peace in their private life.
It is our hope that by giving you a system by which to tackle performance, you will avoid certain traps we fell into, or saw colleagues fall into over time, avoiding various coping mechanisms like: excessive shopping, strange social behavior, lashing out, paranoia, malicious gossiping about colleagues, sex addiction, food addiction, alcohol addiction, drug use, sleeping problems, weight gain, weight loss, clinical depression, anxiety, financial hardship, extramarital affairs etc.
Without an integrated support system and a plan for handling the pressures of performance, you will find yourself falling into some area of these behaviors. We know, because we've struggled with some of these things ourselves. There is hope however, and the first step is to talk about it! We hope our little contribution gives you the courage to break out of unmanageable cycles and create a sustainable, exciting life for yourself, and your family. True peace is possible, even amidst the chaos of this business, but it takes real people making real choices to be healthy and fulfilled. And who knows, as you heal, you might help someone else along the way!