I careen through the mountainous slopes of the U.S. Route 23, on my way to Louisa, KY, for my stint with Mountain Movers Theatre Company. I’ve managed to pass through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and the greater part of Kentucky with ease.
I’m excited, albeit anxious, as I close in on my final destination. As my distance grows shorter, I evaluate the last few days of travel. Did I pack everything I need? I wonder what the weather is going to be like? (It’s unexpectedly cold, to my chagrin.) Do I have everything prepared/memorized? Will there be wifi? Etc. etc….The questions can overwhelm you. I manage to stabilize my mind, in all its unhelpful questioning, with the notion that, “I’ve done this before. Yeah. We’re gonna figure it out.” I lead myself through my own mental checklist. I will say, I haven’t traveled as much for work since before COVID. My pre-COVID travel expenditures were vast, chaotic and at times, pleasantly overwhelming (See Welcome to the gig life!). All in all, the heart of any nomadic singer’s modus operandi or proverbial process- aside from the years of training and steadfast cultivation of talent- is in the…..wait for it…preparation. And the details…but mostly preparation.
Preparation. The golden rule with which I live by. The sweet music to seamless, unhindered performance. As an actor and opera singer, I thrive on the very notion of preparation as a litmus for how any season or performance contract will ultimately go. Preparation makes you a good colleague. An informed communicator. A dedicated expert, versus the unequipped amateur. I am an artist for many reasons, due in part because of how I prepare. It’s 90% of my “process,” so to speak, that leads me to the 10% of joy received when everything performance-related successfully falls into place . It’s efficiency at its core. The most important takeaway from my time in higher education in developing my craft is preparation. You will get rehired if you come to any and every gig prepared. The end.
It’s not really the end…not yet…with so much to do! So, what does all this prep entail? Well, of course I’m “prepared” to tell you. My preparation rears itself in many forms, though I’ve categorized it into three distinct tiers: physical preparation, mental preparation and emotional preparation.
Let’s begin with physical preparation. What do I physically need to bring, plan, do, say send and so on, in order to be prepared for the gig. I’ll use my Mountain Movers Theatre contract as my prime example. First, communication is key. With the onset of an accepted offer from a company, a few things need to happen. For MOMO, I sent them my pristine bio, detailing everything on my resume in short format. Upon further correspondence, I sent them food preferences, sleeping preferences, etc. Once I establish my needs with the company, my personal work begins. For this gig, I really had to plan out my travel. I wanted to bring my car for a bit of exploration and freedom. MOMO gives us compensation for travel. In any case, I had to plan my route. I split it up into two, eight hour days, in order to cover enough ground and give myself adequate rest. I also packed accordingly. Physical preparation can be the most overwhelming, but the least time consuming. The most rewarding aspect is traveling. I saw plenty 🙂 Check out my travel pics!
After the physical preparation, comes the mental preparation, meaning-Learn your stuff! Whether it be music or music and text, arrive as “off-book” or memorized as you can to the gig. It usually takes me about a month to get off-book for plays and about two months to learn an entire opera, from translation to musical review. For MOMO, I’ve been hired to play M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias and I started the learning process in early March.
I start by speaking the text an hour or two everyday, to get my mouth used to forming the words and the proper accent (in this case, a northern Louisiana dialect). I also research the context of the play, the time period, the social/political environment, etc. This helps with memorization. I may also have a friend “line read” with me, to test my memorization further. I double down by writing out the text, over and over. After all this, the text becomes a reflex, freeing me up to add (and play with) blocking in the future.
Finally, I prepare emotionally. I will be in a different place, with a different routine, for over a month. I’m away from my family, from my home. I’ll be around people from all different parts of the country, with all different ideologies and perspectives. How do I emotionally prepare to be vulnerable with people I just met? I think this can be a tricky undertaking. I usually air on the side of self-care for this. I’ll pack workout gear or a yoga mat, to find comfort in this new environment. I’ll pack a certain soap or tea to keep me centered. Anything that will put me in an emotionally calm, focused place. I prepare for the uncertainty of the environment, as well. I prepare to go with the flow. In addition, I usually hyper-prepare physically and mentally, which can overcompensate for the lack of emotional stability in the situation at hand. This aspect of my triumvirate experience remains the biggest variable and one that I continue to work on with every performance contract.
Overall, an exemplary performer is defined by their preparation. From my own experience, physical, mental and emotional preparation are integral to my own professional process. I’m sure I will ultimately dive deeper into my specific study process, but for now, I wanted to give an overview of how this all works….for me.