In her wonderful book, Presence, author Amy Cuddy asks actor Julianne Moore what presence is for an actor. Moore answers: “The key to presence — and this is one thing they tell you in school — is relaxation.”
When I first starting out taking improv classes, I cannot tell you how frustrated I was that I could be loose and funny when I was hanging out with my friends, but as soon as I got into class or on stage I would become scared and stiff. It took me awhile to figure out what was wrong. The reason was simple: In social situations with my friends I was relaxed. I wasn’t tense or putting pressure on myself. I could just be myself.
Among my friends, I had a built-in trust and support that didn’t translate to the group of strangers in my improv classes. It took me years to act as comfortable on stage as I was in my real life. Today, the more relaxed I can be for a show, for an interview for the podcast, or for an audition, the better I seem to do. When I’m relaxed, I’m able to have more fun, which always leads to a better outcome.
Unfortunately, being relaxed isn’t something most improvisers even consider. They are too busy running around from their day job to a show, to a rehearsal, to class and back to another show. They tell themselves, “I am so busy that I don’t have time to relax.” Then they wonder why they are not farther along in their careers.
Being relaxed is not just a state of mind — it takes work to be relaxed. You cannot show up two minutes before your group is going to go on stage and expect to be relaxed. It doesn’t work that way. We are not machines; we are artists with very sensitive wiring.
To help you be as relaxed as possible for your shows, classes, rehearsals and auditions, I’ve come up with a few tips I’d like to share with you:
- Show up on time or even early
This is so simple, I keep forgetting to do it myself. Show up for your next class or audition or show 10 minutes before you are supposed to be there and see how much of a different experience you have.
- Create a little ritual before the show
I have seen people pray or stretch or meditate or listen to music on their iPhone to get in the right head space to go out and perform.
- Get a good night’s sleep
If you are tired, you will never be relaxed.
- Drink plenty of water
I said water. Not Red Bull, not draft beer, not Diet Coke. Water.
- Eat healthy
Grabbing McDonald’s before a show will leave you sluggish on stage. There is a difference between being relaxed and being in a food coma.
- Take care of yourself the day of the show
Don’t be running around doing too much the day of the show. If you have day job, pace yourself and figure out a time when you can decompress after work. Take yourself out to a quiet dinner. Meditate. Go to the health club. Taking a nap, shower, or bath seems obvious, but those are also great ways to increase relaxation before a show, class or audition.
If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to add to the list by adding to the comments below!
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