Theatre folk tend to be labeled superstitious, I’ve noticed. Whether it’s wearing the same audition outfit or using just one vocal warm-up or swearing by a certain tea after a performance, most actors (and singers and dancers) have their own processes or, at the very least, ingrained habits.
Part of it is human. Just as children like rules (I could write a whole blog post about that!), adults like routine. It’s comforting, for one; most morning coffee and tea drinkers like the ritual more than the drink itself. It’s reliable, unlike life itself. And it gives you the feeling of control and order.
Another part of this is encouraged in school. In college, I took an entire class devoted to defining “my acting process” and another class that emphasized developing a toolbox of personalized-to-me physical warm-ups before going onstage. Half of my voice lesson each week focused on which exercises I should do before singing each day. And of course, dance classes were particularly repetitive – think of the standardized ballet barre, by which most dancers swear. While it’s helpful to know (now) that any of these personal processes can change over time as the performer does, I remember thinking sometimes, “Why does it matter?”
Certainly for some actors, it is plain old superstition. The insistence on calling a certain Shakespearean classic “The Scottish Play” rather than its title is a great example, as is the well-wishing, “Break a leg!” instead of “Good luck.” I think, too, there is a possible delight for some in believing in something as old-fashioned and mystical as superstition in today’s heavily scientific world. Performers do tend to be an eccentric lot.
I definitely have my own rituals. Perhaps my most important one is my stage makeup. Every step (from primer to lipstick) must be done in order, slowly and in a relaxed atmosphere, preferably with no one else around. Each show has different hairstyle requirements, but over a month into my contract, I’ve noticed that each one now has its own rhythmic ritual – a far cry from that first show night when I had a hair catastrophe.
“But Emily,” you might be saying. “Wouldn’t it be more fun to play around with different hairstyles and makeup? Don’t you get bored?”
To which I reply, “No.” You see, if I expended all that creative energy in trying to find something fun and different to do with my hair or makeup, I wouldn’t have any left with which to play around onstage. That’s my real job, after all – finding new and fresh moments night after night, despite the fact that the material never changes. And that’s where boredom is a real danger.
You see, discovering new connections and being fully present in each moment and relationship onstage is no easy task! Sure, we do it naturally in real life, but it’s harder when it’s your job. Can you imagine a mechanical engineer sitting down with the same pieces of equipment and having to come up with a brand new design for the same project – every day? That’s essentially what the job description is for performers: provide us two hours of honest, original emotion and entertainment, but you may only use these specific words/notes/moves. Anyone can connect with someone once in a moment, but to do it over and over again is significantly more challenging.
So, the less I can “create” in preparing for a show, the more of that creativity I can channel into my performance itself. Ritual and routine therefore become very necessary bookends to a show. Yes, they’re comforting; yes, they’re an illusion of control; but more importantly, they’re a blank canvas on which I can paint my performance in between.
I’m glad life is reaching the point of ritual here on the ship. The cruise director seems to have found his preferred order for the shows each week. We’re all settled into the routine of port days and sea days. And each of us has our specific warm-ups and timing before shows. It makes life quite peaceful and enjoyable for a type-a girl like me!
It won’t last, of course. Come September, we’ll be leaving Alaska for warmer waters and a whole bunch of different itineraries. We’re learning and adding a new full production show in October. And then, just when we’ve gotten used to the new schedule of Mexico/Hawaii/California, we’ll all go home.
As they say, the only thing constant…is change.
Though I am an employee of Princess Cruises, all opinions are mine only and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.