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Preparing for Competition: Part Three

This post is the third of three posts about preparing for the typical high school competition. Part One looked at the most important question when choosing your competition piece. Part Two looked at the most common performance issues and how to fix them in rehearsal. In Part Three we’re going to look at important pre-performance considerations on the day of competition.

I have watched many schools set up before their performance. In one example, there were 22 pre-sets. In this particular competition, every school was given the same amount of time do a walkthrough of the performance area (5 minutes). Every school was given the same amount of time to pre-set immediately preceding their performance (2 minutes). Every school had to carry their set the same distance from the “green room” to the stage. And every school had the same amount of performance time (45 minutes) in which some, none, or a lot of time can be eaten up by moving their set on to the stage.

It’s fascinating to watch how differently schools approach their pre-performance time. Some barely use the walkthrough time given to them. Some frantically try to mash in a multitude of exercises. Some had to bound off the stage as their allotted time counted down. It was clear which schools had rehearsed moving their set and which had not – I was amazed to see how many schools struggled with moving their set, to the point of struggling to fit it through the doorway from one room to another.

It was not my job to judge anything that happened in the pre-set. But from a nerves standpoint, I can’t but think that schools who struggled in the pre-set were extra nervous when they started to perform.

Day of Pre-Performance To Do’s

Know your time rules.

Make sure every performer knows exactly how long they have in each section: walkthrough, pre-set, performance. Make sure each performer knows the job they have to do, and how much time it takes in the pre-set. And if you have to set up your set during your performance time, every performer should know how long that eats into the show time. No one should ever utter the phrase “I didn’t know!” Further to that, encourage performers to help each other in times of struggle. Create a community among your actors, encourage them to work together and that will ease any panic that may occur due to unforeseen time problems.

Know your space.

Measure twice cut once” is the old adage. Know how big your set is, how narrow an area it needs to fit through, and any unusual elements, such as walking a riser down an aisle that may have people on either side. Know how many steps lead up to the stage. Know if there is a upstage cross. Know where actors have to stand so they won’t be seen by the audience. Know everything, and again, don’t hold back on that information. Be a community. Your stage manager should know, your actors should know, everyone needs to know the information which will help you, as a community of performers, get the best out your limitations.

Rehearse your set up.

Make the set up part of your show. If you have a walkthrough, mark out where everyone goes in the pre set. Think of the set up like a choreographed section before your play, and not a frenzied dash out of character. Go through it over and over again so that you present yourself as professional and efficient. People notice when you’re professional and also when you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Always strive for the former.

Have a warm up routine in place.

There is nothing more nerve wracking than waiting to perform. When I was an actor it was never the onstage time that rattled me, it was always the moments before! Make warm ups a habit, create a routine that you do before every rehearsal. And then instead of letting nerves get the better of you as you wait to get on stage, go through your routine. Sometimes, all you need to do is warm up your body, and run through a few breathing exercises to cure those vocal issues I talked about on Thursday.

And some other things to think about

Don’t look at the judges. 

Really. Don’t try to make eye contact during the show, don’t address monologues to the judges, tell your parents not to turn around and stare at the judges afterwards. Your job is to perform the play to the best of your ability. Do that and not get involved with anything else. Which brings me to….

Don’t read into what the judges are doing. 

You are only in the performance space for a short time. A judge has been there all day. I judged from 8 o’clock in the morning till 6:45 at night. That means, judges need some release. That means they may be drinking a coffee. They may be laughing with each other. They may be chomping on candy. And after the show, they may look like they loved your show, or they may not. They may stand up and start pacing. They may yawn. You have no idea what that means toward your score. You just don’t. So don’t guess by their action, as their actions may have nothing to do with your show. Again, focus on your job and don’t get involved with figuring out what it means if a judge scratches his head four times during your show.

Don’t believe everything the judges say.

Remember it’s only one person’s opinion. Theatre is subjective and yes it’s a judge’s job to be objective but what if one judge felt actor A was great and another thought actor A was overdoing it? Who’s right? It’s subjective. Now having said that if you have three judges and every single one wrote “Watch your diction” on their form, then it’s a pretty good guess that your diction needs work. The rule of three is always a good rule of thumb – if three people say such and such needs work, you can’t be pig headed about it.

Remember to have fun.

Oh, I know it’s hard to have fun during a competition. And some people think winning and striving to win trumps everything, even having fun. But if you’re not having fun with your performance, what’s it all for? What’s the point? When you’re having fun, you’re more relaxed and that is always going to benefit your performance.

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