Getting in the Zone: My Pre-Show Ritual

Before I head out on stage for any show, I have a few rituals that get me in the zone.

It’s nothing like poppin’ my hoodie, jamming to Eminem on my headphones, and heading out to the Olympics Michael Phelps style… but in a way, it is!

Get those Z’s

This is the most important ritual before every show.

I need to get a lot of sleep, so I sleep in and wake up late—around 11am or noon. I know it’s crazy, but the height of my day happens at show time: 7:30 or 8pm. So that’s when my energy needs to be at its peak.

If I worked a 9 to 5 job, the height of my day would be much earlier. However, since I’m using my body to perform at a very high level, I can’t just wake up at 7am in the morning and expect to have the energy and stamina to start a show 12 hours later (even if I get a siesta while singing in Spain!).

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Warm Ups

I need to slowly wake up my voice as I wake up my body.

First, I get into a rhythm of moving my body around with day to day activities while talking with my normal speaking voice. After a few hours of this, I do my first serious round of warm-ups. Where else, but in a nice, hot, steaming shower? I start with lip trills and some light falsetto exercises.

I do a second round of warm-ups after a few more hours and try to tap into my higher register. The range of my warm-ups depends largely on the tessitura and length of the role I’m singing that night. For a lower baritone role such as Don Giovanni, I just need to hit one high A before the show and concentrate on not warming up too much. My voice gets brighter and higher the more I sing so I have to be careful. For a role like The Barber, I need to warm up my coloratura, high notes, and be ready to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders for the famous “Largo al factotum”.

Then, I warm up a little more (my third session) in my dressing room right before I head out on stage. At this point it is mostly a voice assessment. If I’m feeling 100% that day then I don’t do much. If I’m a little off, I’ll do more. That simple!

Your voice is just like a muscle. It needs warming up. At the same time, it’s important to not overdo it or else your voice will tire out too soon. After a few trials, a perfect balance can be achieved. Just listen to your body and know what’s in store for the night.

Chill Time

I spend a lot of my show day just watching TV or reading.

It may sound lazy but I’m telling you, I need that mindless entertainment so I don’t psyche myself out.

Once I am into a run of shows I have had weeks of preparation: there is nothing more that I can do for the character, diction, or musical phrasing that I haven’t already done. Especially the day of a show. That line of thinking will only stress you out.

Eating

I can eat just about any food the night before or the day of a show. Food rarely interferes with my actual singing. The only major things I avoid the night before are alcohol and spicy/acidic food.

I know some colleagues of mine have other ideas about the types of food to eat before a show. My advice is: try eating and drinking different things when the stakes aren’t very high and see how you personally react. You never know if something will affect you unless you try.

The day of a show, I drink lots of tea—specifically Traditional Medicinal’s Lemon Echinacea Throat Coat Tea, and water until I pee clear (sorry, TMI). I eat a big meal around 1pm (most likely carbs), and then a smaller meal around 5pm. I also like to bring bananas and other fruit to my shows as snacks.

After a show, I’ll have a beer or a whiskey without a problem. Just not the night before!:)

Dealing with Nerves

I’m weird because I never get nervous (and I never have).

I know this is unusual for a performer, but I can’t remember a single instance where my leg started shaking, I began to imagine the worst, or that I doubted myself as a performer. Especially before a performance.

I’m frankly too invested in my character to waste my mental space on that unnecessary thinking. And I believe in myself.

So before a show, I just focus on what I want to achieve rather than any negativity or insecurities. To those of you who do suffer from performance anxiety, stay tuned for my upcoming blog post on tips and tricks to help combat it!

Look Over the Score

To do this, I quickly run through the score and remind myself of any words I tend to trip over or challenging vocal lines. I sing them to myself 2 or 3 times to know what to expect.

Also, I have a list of props and entrances that I invent for every show. Just things that are easy for me to forget like “Enter Stage Left”, or “Don’t forget to put money in your breast pocket”. I quickly skim over that list backstage before I jet out.

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My Weird Fear

Ok, one thing I try to avoid at all costs is… arriving early!!

I am so susceptible to boredom that if I find myself becoming idle, I lose my momentum, and my energy begins to dwindle. I can’t just wait around doing nothing, I have to keep myself busy before a show.

This can entail chatting with my dresser, playing with Teemo, or getting into an intense game of ping pong in the basement until the second I head out to sing.

Mindless entertainment is what I need before an intense performance where I focus all of my physical energy into creating moments. All I need is the walk to the wings to get into character, and think about my motivation. That’s all the time I need to walk on stage in character.

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Chilling with Teemo at the Chicago Lyric Opera | 2016

The Aftermath

I don’t think back on my performances too much. There’s always something that doesn’t go right and I simply can’t live in the past.

Also, it’s not the end of the world if I didn’t catch the coin toss or drop my razor blades. I have to take whatever happened with a grain of salt and march forward. I don’t have time to spend thinking about the past and there’s always something more to come.

However, I make a mental note of the moments I had trouble with, either vocal or acting-wise. I will practice it backstage at the next show by showing up a minute or two early for my entrance and just do it 10 times. Then, I get onstage knowing that I’ve already succeeded at the troublesome moment many times before.

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Backstage at the Opera de Toulouse | 2016

Did I miss anything? Tell me your favorite pre-show rituals in the comments below!

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