There’s less music.
There’s a subtle avoidance of extraneous conversations.
Clothing colors become more monotone.
In the days before a performance, ordinary life transforms into something else, something protected and separate, muted and focused. It’s a process that happens inexorably, almost autonomically. It’s a process that seems to impose itself as if the upcoming performance itself were reaching back in time to help insure its own positive outcome.
The higher the wire, the more of a transformation I undergo to get ready. The higher the stakes, the more I turn inward to an almost hermetic degree. I monitor what and when I eat. I cut back on carbohydrates during rehearsals so I won't feel sluggish. I find myself pushing harder at the gym, a machine getting a tuneup, scrubbing off any lurking rust. The transformation helps frame an increasingly focused state about the upcoming event, whether on stage of behind the scenes. It’s as if I’m heading into a surgical suite, and depending on the operation I’ll be performing, I want to minimize the potential for chance or bad habits to play any unwelcome role. I seek to control the forces of the universe, and while the universe isn’t usually interested in my megalomania, I compartmentalize my upcoming tasks as if it were the only thing in the universe that matters. In the immediate days ahead of a performance I pay strict attention to my schedule, minimizing moments that could lead to unexpected detours and distractions. I suspend the creative artist in place of the performative artist. The closer I get to show time, the more I disconnect from outside influences.
I try to sit in quiet spaces.
Quirky? Maybe, but I think it’s all a matter of degree. It’s not that I’m obsessed about changing my daily routines. Instead, the gravity of an upcoming performance has its own pull on daily life. The mass of an impending show imposes itself, forcing changes. A performance automatically asserts that you’re not in your daily life, that something is out of the ordinary, that this moment matters more than others.
Performances require a disassociation from what’s ordinary. Performances ask us to function at heightened levels, at higher tempos relative to our steady-state. Reaching those relative peaks requires separation from the ordinary rhythms of our days. That usually means preparation and rehearsal for whatever it is that you’re doing, but it also means something else.
Beware the trap of complacency. It’s not enough to expect that you can turn on your focus like an electrical device. Certainly the more a person performs, in sports, in public speaking, in the arts—anything—the easier it gets to dial in heightened levels of execution. But if you’re aiming at something that counts, something that requires you to be great, there’s more than simply showing up with a puffed-up chest and a confident bravado in your own wonderfulness. You must be somehow different from the person you are normally, making coffee at home on an ordinary Thursday morning. That’s not a pretension for playing an inauthentic role, but it is to say that other factors in your life need to be compartmentalized. Time only runs in one direction. If you want to be your best at certain singular moments, you’ve got to get your game on, and you’ve got to be intentional about the process, whatever that means for you.