Focusing Through It

Sometimes you find yourself in a role that is hard.

Whether it's emotionally draining, physically tough, or just a plain hard show, you get to that point that you ask yourself 'How am I able to keep doing this, week after week'?

It's been that kind of week for me.

My divorce (finally) went through this past Friday. And boy, it's been a long time coming. I definitely had some mixed feelings about that. My car was also broken into on Friday night. So was my ex-husband's. Call it car-ma. Clean slate. Whatever, it still sucked.

I'm also in the middle of the run of a show. Mauritius, by Theresa Rebeck. It's a great script, and the character I portray, Jackie, is so full of juicy stuff. The kind of thing every actor loves to dig into. Only an actor would think 'I get to go through emotional family trauma and get the sh*t beaten out of me every night? Yippee!'

All of this combined to make it a very difficult weekend to perform. Not to mention that my back was injured last weekend in a fight sequence, so physically I'm also not 100%. But the show doesn't care if I'm not 100%, and neither does the audience.

So, how do you go about putting all the outside things aside and get down to the task ahead? Well, I'm still working on it, but here's some of the things I've found helped me over the past few days.

Music. I usually incorporate music into my pre-show routine, but I really upped the time I spent just listening to some music I picked out for my character. I've found that it really helps get me into the zone, and it's one of the things I try to figure out as I'm starting to work on the script. What kind of music does this person listen to? Regularly, and when she's upset or sad? And where am I on that spectrum when the play starts?

Routine. I don't trust anyone with my stuff in the show. I'm obsessive about checking my props, costumes, and set pieces before every performance, and it's saved my bacon countless times. But the pre-show walk through is also such a zen moment for me. Those fifteen minutes where I can walk the set, check and set my props, and spend some time on stage just breathing and focusing on the task ahead has become a real boon to me. It's really in these moments that I can feel the day dropping off me and I can set all that drama behind me. You know, so I can get to the drama I actually like.

Rehearsal. I know, I know, I did all that work already so why am I mentioning it? Because I've found when you've really put the time and effort into getting to know your character to the point that they become a part of you, you can really lean on that when you run into trouble. When I got dropped last weekend I hit the stage so hard I saw stars, and yet the words were still coming out of my mouth. Whew. Thanks God for that kind of muscle memory!

Listening. This is really the big one. I've found when you're up there listening, REALLY listening to the person opposite you, you don't think about yourself. You're so focused on what they're saying, and how it affects you, that you can't be thinking about what's been going on in your day. I'm super lucky right now, because the actors that I'm working with are really great listeners and responders and are very present. Sometimes actual performance becomes a chore, because the actors think they've done all the work in rehearsal and go on automatic pilot for the actual show. Not the case with this one. I think I'm still discovering things every time I get up there, which is awesome-sauce.

I think that I've been pretty successful getting my head in the game lately, but I'm still looking to improve. In fact, I think that is really every actor's main task, to keep improving. Complacency is death. On stage, anyway.

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