One of the most important parts of craft is preparation. Any knowledgable actor or acting coach will tell you that solid preparation makes the difference between a successful, believable, authentic performance, and one that simply falls flat. It’s so important that Konstantin Stanislavski, famous acting coach and author of An Actor Prepares, created an entire methodology around it.
Of course, all of the work you do in the days, weeks, and months prior to stepping onto a set or stage is critical, but no less important is what you do the day of, in those crucial hours and minutes before you get onstage. There are all sorts of things to think about, from your body to your mind to your voice to your luck - if you’re the superstitious type, which many actors are.
In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the preshow rituals that can help you get ready before a performance. Whether you decide to try them exactly as listed or simply take inspiration, these ceremonious actions can make a major difference in the performance you’re able to give.
Unless you’re playing in a silent film, which is rare these days, your voice will be one of your most important tools as an actor. That’s why it’s so important to take care of it and warm up it properly before you step onstage.
To begin with, you may want to be careful about what you eat and drink because of the potential effect on your vocal chords. Most actors avoid dairy to protect their voices. Others make it a habit to drink throat-coating liquids like water, tea, and honey. It can also be a good idea not to overuse your voice before a show, especially if you will be singing or yelling onstage.
In the hours before your curtains go up, you’ll want to do a vocal warm-up. The exact contents of that warm-up will vary from actor to actor but generally involve a combination of sighing, humming, trilling, yawning, singing scales, stretching the tongue, practicing tongue twisters, and massaging the lips, teeth, and gums. All of these things will make your voice sound better and minimize any damage that may be done to it.
In addition to the voice, the actor’s second most important tool is their body. Preparing physically has many facets, also starting with what you consume the day of the show. If you get stage fright, it may be a good idea to eat foods that are gentle on the stomach, like bread and ginger. You’ll also probably want to avoid anything too greasy or heavy that can potentially make you feel lifeless or lethargic.
Then there is the matter of a physical warm-up, which is critical to getting yourself properly ready to perform. It’s a good idea to start with simply some moving around, walking in the space you have, to get your blood flowing and establish a mind-body connection. You can then move on to dynamic stretching and potentially some jumping jacks and push-ups to get yourself energized and warm-up.
Naturally, if your show will have a lot of movement or dancing in it, your physical warm-up will have to be longer and more involved, including more stretching and strengthening.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of mental preparation, which can make all the difference in your ability to play a character. Getting yourself into the right headspace is incredibly personal for each actor, and it may take some trial and error to find exactly what works for you.
Some potential mental pre-show rituals that you can use to get your head in “performance mode” might include:
In addition to the voice, the actor’s second most important tool is their body Preparing physically has many facets, also starting with what you consume the day of the show. If you get stage fright, it may be a good idea to eat foods that are gentle on the stomach, like bread and ginger. You’ll also probably want to avoid anything too greasy or heavy that can potentially make you feel lifeless or lethargic.
Listening to music
Chanting a mantra or saying affirmations
Going over your lines
Replaying a particular memory that allows you to connect to your character
Saying a prayer
There are also some more superstitious preshow rituals that people develop over time for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few examples of preferred preshow rituals from some famous actors.
Kit Harington - Known for playing Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, Kit Harington prefers everything to come in threes before he performs. He kisses a crucifix three times, eats three candies, and takes three sips of water.
Andrew Garfield - Having played such memorable roles as Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, Spiderman in The Amazing Spider-Man, and Biff in Death of a Salesman, Andrew Garfield likes to spit on the stage before a show.
Ethan Slater - All about the warm-up and cool-down, Ethan Slater, Broadways’ SpongeBob Squarepants himself, drinks ThroatCoat tea and steams his vocal chords on the day of a show.
Hailey Kilgore - Best known for playing Ti Moune in Once on This Island, Hailey Kilgore also has a thing for threes. She’ll do three spritzes of Singer’s throat spray, and drink cola and tea.
LaChanze - Also a fan of steaming, LaChanze swears by getting as much sleep as possible before performing in a show like The Color Purple. She’s also a big fan of drinking pineapple juice, a natural anti-inflammatory.
Carey Mulligan - A renowned actor of stage and screen known for playing in films such as Never Let Me Go, An Education, and The Great Gatsby, Carey Mulligan requires an extensive two-and-a-half hour preparation period before a stage show during which she eats, naps, showers, and warms up.
Kristin Chenoweth - In addition to praying, Kristin Chenoweth of Wicked fame, likes to put Vicks VapoRub up both nostrils before going onstage.
Elisabeth Moss - Known most for The Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Men, Elisabeth Moss liked to practice a dance move before her stage call before every performance of The Heidi Chronicles as a small form of superstition.
Whether you have your own superstitions and rituals or just want to keep it simple with the basic warm-up necessities, establishing a pre-show preparation routine that works for you is a major help to aspiring and experienced actors alike.