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Pace Yourself

By • Dec 7th, 2011 • Category: An Actor's Advice

Remember in school how you and many around you would have “all nighters” before an exam? You may have called them “cram sessions.” Whatever you call them, they are idiotic. The human mind is simply not designed to take on that much complicated information at once. Nor is it designed to run at anywhere near efficient capacity after nine coffee filled hours on no sleep. It just doesn’t work. It is psychologically as well as biologically unsound behavior.

But students do it anyway. No matter how much evidence shows up to suggest how deleterious it is to “cram,” students of all ages do it all the time. Everywhere.

I didn’t however. I’d review a little bit each day for a week or so leading into an exam, I’d highlight in my textbook if I could, and took helpful notes when possible. I’d do some studying the night before. And then, after an hour or two, I’d go eat, or sleep, and screw around with friends. Something. Point being, I allowed my mind to go elsewhere when an exam was approaching. Because I knew that rest and distance were key to my mind properly processing everything.

I graduated with a 3.4 in college, so I suppose something about my method worked.

Does this make me smarter than other people? No. Wiser. Yeah.

Which is why I also apply these lessons to being in a show. I don’t cram for those either. I don’t spend all night the night before going over the whole script over and over. I don’t try to pound lines into my head ten days before opening. I pace myself, do my best, and then once opening night arrives, accept that I have done all I can do leading up to curtain.

There is only so much preparing you can do for a show. You rehearse. You pay attention. You research and contemplate your character. Have conversations with your director about things you’d like to change and things with which you need help. You get as much rest during tech week as you can. And then…you cease fretting over the show. All the better if you have time before the show to do something totally unrelated to same. Have faith in the notion that your mind and spirit have absorbed the role, and that you will be turning in the best possible performance given your situation, whatever it may be.

I am not suggesting you never run lines for a troublesome scene while waiting in the green room before curtain. (Though I think this too can be overdone.) Nor would I ever suggest that one not read their script backstage. I do it all the time before I go on. I mean only to suggest that the quality of your performance is not at all directly proportional to how much frenzied preparation you put into it in the final few days. An actor must pace himself if he hopes to achieve excellence.

People in the arts can sometimes get a little desperate. We can let our art drown us. Choke us. Browbeat us into submission. We desire so much to produce a memorable product, (or in the very least, not look stupid in front of a house full of paying patrons) that we micro-manage ourselves. We try to constantly sharpen every edge. Shine every surface. In short, we cram and over study. Yet if you love your art, don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by it. Nobody comes out looking good for long when you do that.

Olivier said that it wasn’t how long you have rehearsed a role, but how long it has been in your heart. You can’t staple-gun a role into your heart at last-minute. Just like you can’t over water a rose. But if you remain temperate, patient, and well-paced, your performance, like a well cared for rose, will bloom.

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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.

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