The zone! Every performer craves it. That flight of fancy in which everything seems effortless, innovative and just plain right onstage. You're not even trying, and yet, you're beyond present in each moment. Everything clicks, including cameras later because, guess what? You're famous! No, you're not actually. But you feel like it. You feel better than fan fiction published in a nationally-acclaimed magazine! In fact, before Britney Spears' life went slightly awry, she titled her chart-topping fourth album In the Zone. In other words, the zone = artistic nirvana, or something approaching it.
the zone is difficult to put into words, but easy to picture. some say it looks like a waterfall, others say a swan.
photo courtesy of Flickr and Editor B
The zone is hard to describe really. So I'm not going to try. It's not even what this post was supposed to be about. Get back on track, me! This post is about how performers hope to get in the zone...i.e., any pre-show rituals or exercises done to get the ball rolling and to prevent utter awkward pie (Unless that's your act! Heyo! I just called myself out.) Pre-show rituals never guarantee anything, but they at least put our minds in a comfy place where we can deny the jitters and/or dance them away.
[Hit the jump for my pre-show rituals, as well as some perspective from comedic rock stars! And then, if you're brave enough, add your own! We will judge you on them, but you knew that already.]
My own pre-show rituals slightly differ for stand up versus improv, but are rooted in the same channeling of creative focus. Yeah, I did just use the phrase 'channeling of creative focus.' I did also just draw attention to it.
My stand up rituals involve going to the bathroom, being more antisocial than usual, reviewing jokes, stretching, studying the room for potential off-the-cuff bits, trying to write new material in meager amounts of time and annihilating negative thoughts using mental sunshine daggers. I also do a few breathing exercises to prevent the panic attack that inevitably rises in my sternum before any open mic/show/gynecologist appointment (Am I right, ladies?!)
warm ups can be creative, and so can you! girl on far right ain't havin' it.
photo courtesy of Flickr and eric.surfdude
For improv shows, there's usually a group warm up with your co-players, which involves getting your energy going and clearing your head of daily dust accumulation. I like warm ups that involve jumping as much as using your noggin. I also try and think of a few characters, lines, voices or scenarios, which some might constitute as "cheating" but no, not really. It's just brainstorming to prevent shitstorming onstage. It's also just to get my clinker thinking. I don't need to justify myself to any of you!
get yer head in the game!
photo courtesy of Flickr and Jason Gulledge
It's important to note that sometimes, none of these things work. And performing feels weird. Really weird. As if someone just gave birth to you right before you got onstage, you came out covered in slime, and then a roomful of people (or also commonly, a room devoid of people) expected straight no-nonsense entertainment (paradox, son!) before you could even blink for the first time. However, that's all to be gained through experience, exposure and lots and lots of uncomfortable times to come. I can't wait.
Important Funny Peoples' Two (Million) Cents:
Richard Lewis - "Most comedians do about the same at every night, and before it’s ‘where can I get a lap dance’ and then on to do their show. Me, I stay in my hotel room, like ‘Papillon,’ and study my stuff."
Margaret Cho - "I don't really have any rituals; I'm not a ritual person.... I read a lot, and I'm usually reading before a show."
Jim Gaffigan - "I smoke crack."
Jim Breur - "Absolutely nothing. I’m one of those comics who sees it like going to war: I just show up, look at the battlefield and pick my weapons."
Louis CK (on any pre-show rituals before taping HBO's One Night Stand) - "I just sit around. I try to contain myself and stay in one place, 'cause otherwise I'd go walking all over the place. But that's burning energy. I hate waiting. I want to get onstage, badly, especially at this f**king place, on this stage."
BONUS: Discussion thread on the Chicago Improv Network about dealing with stage fright.