Tonight I will be playing piano with a troupe of comedians who will be improvising an entire, complete with story, characters, and musical numbers. The only thing we will know ahead of time is the title, which the audience will choose the moment before we start the show.
It is only the second time I have ever done a show like this (the first time was last month), so needless to say, it’s still a learning experience! Last month was really fun, and I’m looking forward to tonight as well.
For me there is nothing casual about this experience. In fact, there is never anything casual about performing. Performance is a sort of vibrational elevation, uncommon to the daily experience. The energy of being up in front of people is personal, visceral, and intense. I often explain to my piano students that performing is like handling electricity: it can power your house… or it can light your house on fire. There’s no middle ground of calmness, the way there is when one is at home reading a book or watching a movie. Performing is inherently “stressful,” not necessarily in a bad way, but in the sense that it puts us physiologically in a position of stress, as if we were in battle, or running in the jungle from lions… or triumphing in the hunt. Either way, the instincts are on red-alert. The emotions are necessarily elevated.
The potential pay off is huge, but the pitfalls are many. Especially the pitfalls when dealing with one’s own psychology. I generally love performing and show up at my best. Yet I do not take it for granted, because the few bad experiences I have had have been downright awful. I understand the wild animal I am dealing with, and I have respect for it. That’s why I always work to clear my mind before a performance. I always get my head on straight, and visualize myself happy and calm after the show. This visualization helps me to keep my “eyes on the prize.” It also helps me check my expectations or clear up any mood or attitude distractions that might otherwise interfere with a smooth experience. I have done this head-clearing process hundreds of times, perhaps over a thousand times over the last 10 years or so, with the result that I go into my performances knowing that I am open, clear-minded, and ready for action.
It’s a funny thing. For me, the day of a performance is essentially entirely about the performance. Even if it is late that evening, it’s like the cells in my body are completely focused on preparing for the upcoming event. Today I have been especially hungry, and I think it might have something to do with my body storing up extra energy before the show. I feel a bit like a fighter about to go into the fight… although minus the risk of broken bones 🙂 Performing is a sort of all-encompassing personal action of the mind, body, and spirit. You know that moment is coming, and it’s so much more intense than “normal life.”
I wouldn’t have it any other way. From a very early age, I longed to be a performer. Therefore, I have spent years honing my abilities and gaining experience. With experience comes inner resources and confidence. This is essential in any challenging craft. I go up on stage and truly feel that I was made for this stuff. As with being creative, I’m most at home when I’m performing. That never means it is a piece of cake, it always remains a force to be reckoned with.
And yet it is a very worthy force.