Focusing on the Right Things
You know how here are moments in your life that are frozen in time – that no matter how many years pass, the movie in your mind keeps the memory in full color, with every detail preserved, to be replayed in an instant? There was a moment…a lifetime ago, that I will never forget.
So let me take you back… Back to my days of summer theatre… I’m…19 or 20 years old.. to the Bigfork Summer Playhouse. Now, having grown up in NW Montana, getting to work at Bigfork was a huge deal. I had been seeing plays there since I was little. To those of us who lived in the community, the actors who traveled in from colleges across the country were like famous people. To us, going to see a show at Bigfork was the equivalent of catching a show on Broadway. So when I got cast as Adelaide in Guys an Dolls, I took my job very seriously.
Before every performance I would get to the theatre two hours early. I liked being the first one there, so it was quiet and I could focus. I’d go through all my lines, mapping out the blocking in my head. Then run through the dance numbers. And after doing my vocal warm-up and singing all my songs in the shower I’d go back to running through lines while meticulously applying my stage make-up. Focus was big for me (and still is).
So we’re halfway through the run (which in summer repertoire theatre, means we’d probably done the show 20 times for an audience), I exit stage left (the actor’s left), scurry behind the backdrop to run upstairs and do a costume change. I know I’ve got a pretty good chunk of time – there are several scenes that take place before I go on again. I change, come back down, and take a peek at the gangster scene unfolding on stage from the wings off of stage right (the actor’s right). I hear the audience laughing. I smile. Great crowd. I know I still have to run behind the backdrop for a stage left entrance, but since I changed quickly I’ve got plenty of time. So what do I do? I start running lines in my head for the upcoming scene. I focus. I’m really focused…
Then, in what feels like a blink of an eye, I get jolted out of my focus-bubble when I hear singing on stage…
“For he’s a jolly good fellow! For he’s a jolly good fellow! For he’s a jolly good f-eh-eh-low…”
Crap. My cue!
During the song, I’m supposed to be entering on the other side of the stage! I panic. I hear the guys on stage pause…(when I don’t enter)…and then someone says, “One more time!” and they burst back into song, “For he’s a jolly good…” (you gotta love live theatre).
All this while, I’m calculating in my head… How much time would it take for me to run behind the backdrop to get to the other side? Too much time. Oh…NO! And so, with no other choice appearing before me, I thrust myself into the scene, in front of a sold-out crowd, from the wrong side of the stage. The show must go on!
Now of course the audience had no clue what was happening. But my fellow actors? Let’s just say they made sure my humiliation was kept alive and well for the rest of the summer. Oh the shame!
How could I have let this happen??! I had worked so hard! I took my job so seriously! I was so focused!
So focused. On the wrong things.
Is preparation important? Sure. But I had already prepared that night – for two hours before the show! Heck, I had already done the show 20 times for an audience! I knew my lines – I didn’t need to focus on my lines. I was just so caught up in trying to be perfect. I didn’t trust myself.
I think we all do this from time to time. We get so focused on the wrong things that we miss our cue. Life is happening all around us all the time and we’re off in the wings trying to be perfect before jumping into the scene. But the thing is, we’re never going to be perfect. And focusing on perfection just takes our eye off what’s happening in real-time.
So prepare. A lot. Then let it go and focus on what’s in front of you. So when it’s time to make your entrance you don’t miss your cue. Because, unlike the theatre, life may not let you replay the scene.
©OnStage Leadership, 2013
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