2 Dirty Little Secrets About Performers

IMG_4141A few weeks ago I had the chance to step back on a theatrical stage for the first time in a year. I was just playing a minuscule background role, but it was a special performance for a couple of reasons.

For one thing I got be on stage with my wife. It was also my very first – and probably very last – time performing in an opera.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to sing. My only real role in the show was to throw a punch at a guy who was trying to steal my girlfriend away (a punch I never could get the timing right on).

As I sat in the background of the show waiting for my moment to come around, I noticed a few things about my fellow performers.

Now, if you’ve ever performed on stage before as an actor or musician,  you probably already know these secrets. But if you’ve only sat in the audience, I’m going to pull back the curtain and let you in on some juicy behind-the-scenes dirt.

I’m not doing this just to stir up gossip. Instead I think these are 2 secret tricks about performers that can help you be more successful on any stage in life:

1) Performers Practice Their Bow: I only went to rehearsal a few times for my small role in the show. But at the end of every rehearsal the director made sure we took time to practice our curtain call.

This may sound strange to a non-performer. The idea is this: after putting so much work into the actual performance, you don’t want to make a fool out of yourself when you step out to take your bow.

So to avoid this there is a very specific order set for each performer to bow, as well as rues for how many times we will bow, where we’ll stand, how far we’ll bend down, etc.

As perfectionist performers we want the last memory in the audience’s mind to be that of a flawless final bow.

All this practicing for the final moment made me think about the planning we put into our lives.

You see a lot of us are good at pre-planning. We come up with bold beginnings for epic stories. But we don’t always finish strong.

Instead we get discouraged by the lack of progress, or distracted by something else that catches our eye. Our lives become littered with performances we started but never got to take a final bow on.

Maybe we should start practicing our bow in real life. Maybe we should start planning out how we want our stories to end just as much as we do their beginnings.

One of the essential steps of Donald Miller’s Storyline life planning system is planning out the ending of the story. Miller adds this step into his system because he believes visualizing the end of the story is just as important as any other step. It’s important for us to have a celebratory goal in mind that we can work toward.

If you want your story to succeed all the way to the end, you need to plan out how you’d like it to end.

Figure out how your story will have a fantastic finale. Think about who you will celebrate the end of your story with. Consider how the end of your story will flow into the sequel. What are you building towards? What type of impression do you want to leave your audience with?

Now, for all the practicing performers put into the most minute of details like their bow, there’s still the matter of dirty little secret #2:

2) Performers Make Mistakes: I can’t believe I’m admitting this to you. But here’s the truth: there’s no such thing as a perfect live performance.

Lines get dropped. Actors get out of place. Notes are missed. Every single time.

As performers we notice every single one of them. The audience, however, overlooks 90% of these mistakes.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone tell me I did a great job in a play only to have me say, “Really? But we screwed up this part and this part and this part.”

Inevitably the audience member almost always says they had no idea the scene was messed up.

To most people in the audience any on-stage screw up often looks like it was just supposed to happen that way.

Vince McMahon – legendary promoter of World Wrestling Entertainment –  is a master at putting on live television every week. He’s been known to say he loves putting on live shows because there are no mistakes when it’s live. He tells his performers that if a mistake happens, then that’s just what was meant to happen. You just go with it.

That’s one of the most beautiful things about being a performer: you have the power to make your mistakes part of the show.

You don’t have to be the victim of your mistakes when you’re on stage. Instead you have the freedom to can take any screw-up and roll with it, incorporating it into the story and sometimes making the story better for it.

The great thing is this ability isn’t exclusive to performers. Your mistakes in life don’t have to rule over you either. You too can have the power to own your mistakes, learn from them and grow your story from them.

The next time you make a mistake in your life’s performance, remember: you don’t have to call off the whole show. Most people won’t even be able to tell you messed something up if you don’t make a big deal about it.

So there you go. I hope I don’t get banned from the actors guild for letting out these tricks of the trade.

I just think it’s only fair for everyone to know these 2 dirty little secrets about performers that can help you perform better in life:

Hold strong to your plan in life. Put as much thought into the end of your story as you do the beginning.

And when things go wrong, don’t get overwhelmed. Stick with it until the curtain falls. Then take the bow you practiced for a story well told.

Did you know about these 2 dirty little secrets? Do you know of any other secrets about performers that can be applied to real life?


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