Theatre Information

The Power of the Pre-Show Ritual

By • Jul 15th, 2009 • Category: An Actor's Advice

I have never yet met an actor who sacrifices a live chicken before a show. Thank heaven for that. Nonetheless I make it a point to ask fellow actors, with whom I am not familiar, if this, or anything else more realistic, is part of their opening night, or pre-curtain ritual. That way I know not to interrupt it by accident.

Because you see not all rituals are going to be obvious to you. A person kneeling in a corner with their head down makes what they are up to pretty clear. But what about the person that is merely standing in the doorway on tip-toe, trying to touch the top of the door frame? Or the person bouncing on the balls of their feet in the middle of the room? Or the man walking around with a single penny in his hand? (All three are examples from actual life, and the man with the penny is me.)

It is easy for those of us without such rituals, or for whom rituals are only small informal affairs, to pay little to no attention to those rites that others have developed over the course of a career. After all, which should they stand in a door way like that, or what’s it to us if we are blocking their view of the parking lot from where we are standing? Acting is acting, right? Well, yes and no.

The fact of the matter is, every single human being, no matter how cynical or secular, succumbs to ritual at some point in time. It just does not always pertain to performing. But whether it be for mental, spiritual or superstitious purposes, all of us have parts of our day and our lives wherein we are very particular about how we proceed; in ways that otherwise would not appear to affect the outcome of the action we are taking, but are, nonetheless, important to us as we do them. For some, acting is one of those activities before which a ritual must be conducted.

I do my best to not be inaccessible when I am in a pre-show routine. And in fact, the nature of the venue and the shows I have been in over the last few years has made some of my previous rituals a bit less practical. One should be able to adapt. Yet that will not be the case for everyone. Some people are just very particular about their rituals. As a cast mate, you need to respect them. And even if you do not care much for the actor, an overall sense of duty to the show should dictate that you stay out of the way of someone’s ceremonies.

Which is why it is always good idea to ask. It will prevent you from interrupting anything, (which I have done once, sadly), but it will also show the other person that you respect them enough as at least a performer to ask the question…even if they have no rituals they need to be allowed to perform. And that sense of respect will also go a long way towards unity and synergism within a cast.

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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 (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.