Developing a Pre-Performance Routine

by Catherine L. Tully

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With some thought your routine can help you get a handle on those pre-performance jitters.

You'll notice it backstage. One actor is off in a corner, muttering to himself. Another is on the stage behind closed curtains, stretching and making faces. A woman with headphones on runs through blocking. Every actor comes up with their own routine eventually, but with a little bit of thought on the front end, you can figure out what will work best for you and get a handle on those pre-performance jitters.

Routine is comforting, and in times of high-stress can help settle nerves. One girl I know is the sweetest thing on earth, but try to talk to her backstage before a show and she spits fire. Many performers prefer to retreat into their own personal space to get into character. Here are some ideas for blocking out the world before the curtain rises:

After getting into costume and makeup, take ten minutes out to go off somewhere and meditate. Try to clear your mind of any distracting thoughts and take deep, relaxing breaths. Clearing your head can help you get into a role by providing a sort of "blank slate" on which to paint your character.

Utilize Muscle Memory
Walking through blocking can get it "into your muscles," a concept referred to as muscle memory. Repeating movements over and over will enable your body to remember where to go without having to consciously think about it. This will help a character's movements appear more natural.

Earplugs or headphones can help block out distracting noises while you run lines in your head or practice tricky blocking. Headphones can also help insure that people will leave you alone before the show.

Get Rid of Physical Tension
If you tend to carry tension in your body it can affect the way you portray a character. Taking a few minutes to release that physical tension can pay off on stage. Do some jumping jacks, stretch out or run in place to relax muscles.

These are just some ideas--everyone does things a little differently. I know an actor who liked to play solitaire before going on stage because it kept him from thinking about the audience. Another friend of mine would read a book quietly until a few minutes before she went onstage.

The important thing isn't so much what you do to prepare for a performance, rather that you do something that works for you. If it helps you relax and get into character, make it a part of your preparation each time and get a routine down. You'll be glad you did.
Catherine L. Tully is a performing arts professional and educator with over 30 years of experience. She is currently serving as the Outside Europe Representative for the National Dance Teachers Association in the UK, and has performed, modeled, choreographed and managed productions both in the United States and in Japan. You can reach her at

Copyright © Catherine L. Tully. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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