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An Actor’s Pre-Show Music

By • Nov 18th, 2009 • Category: An Actor's Advice

My fellow actors have asked me about music enough lately that I thought the subject warranted a closer look. Specifically, what sort of music should (or shouldn’t) an actor listen to before starting a show.

Portable music has been part of the pre-curtain ritual for years. It is just the devices that have changed. Regardless of what plays the music however, I do think there are some guidelines for their usage.

To begin with, I am not in favor of people playing their music, regardless of genre, without headphones. Certainly not in dressing rooms or common areas. This actually happens in almost every show I am in, sadly. If an entire cast can come to agreement about a play list, fine. But such universal permission is rarely secured, and thus I am subjected to what the person with either no sense or courtesy to bring headphones decides is the right kind of music for the dressing room. Please, do everyone a service and only listen to music if you have headphones. Even the smallest of casts are likely to have divergent pre-show rituals and varied musical tastes.

What sort of music one should be listening to privately with headphones is to a great degree subjective, naturally. Different music does different things for each person. So while I cannot recommend or discourage specific songs, I do offer some results that music should have, so one can choose their own music appropriately.

The simple view is this…listen to a mix of music that is skewed towards upbeat, (that is to say anything that peps you up) during anytime before the 30 minutes until curtain mark. This is the time to get pumped, so use what works.

At around 30 minutes until curtain, start slowing your selections down a bit, skewing the list more towards the tunes that relax you and help you focus. With less then 10 before curtain, if you are listening to anything at all, (which I usually do not) make it the music that most easily makes you calm, helps you collect your thoughts, and puts you in a receptive frame of mind. Energy is good, but don’t be head banging this late in the game. Be pepped but centered. Of course, don’t put yourself to sleep with lullabies either.

Music of course is very personal, and there are exceptions to every rule. Yet we all have certain songs that affect us certain ways. If nothing else, be aware of how any given song or band makes you feel, ask yourself if that is the way an actor should be feeling right before a show, and listen accordingly.

Just don’t miss “places.”

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and tooxyz.blogspot.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

2 Responses »

  1. Personally Ty, I as a director of several shows, discourage the listening of music before a performance. Unless it is “pre-show” music selected that sets the play to begin with. let me explain. I directed the musical “Return to the Forbidden Planet” which has a lot of Rock and Roll music. So, I had the cast listening to Rock and Roll before the show, after warm ups. It really set the stage for them. It set them thinking and feeling the show. When performance time came their mind set was, Rock and Roll. I think it made for an outstanding production and the cast really got into it. I’ve used the same technique for other shows, non musicals, and it seems to work. My actors have seemed to enjoy it, and it does get their energy up. I can only imagine what frame of mind any actor would have say playing Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, if before show time they had been listening to Rap, Heavy Metal, or Grunge. Just my take on pre-show music listening by the cast.

  2. Thanks for the comments.

    I do agree in concept, and I personally would not be able to be as focused as I would like to be for a dramatic role, if I had been listening to blaring music before hand. But if I have learned one thing, it’s that sometimes very strange things help people either get pumped or calmed down. (I think of that Iron Eagle movie.) If listening to whale sounds help any of my fellow actors turn in their best performance, that’s what I want them to do. (Just don’t make me listen to it…yikes.)

    I personally prefer to listen to nothing for at least 10 or 15 minutes before I go on, for this very reason.