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KEEPING IT FRESH: Tips on how to keep your performances exciting on a long run

When I was asked to write about this topic, I thought, “Why hasn’t even one person ever talked about this before?” I scoured the web for musical theater actors talking about how they kept their performances fresh in a long run. But there was nothing to be found.

So, let’s talk about it.

Congrats! You booked a gig. AND you’re a principal, epic! You’re the right type, and your look and sound lock into place. Rock on.
Rehearsals were creative and your director pushed you hard to create a compelling character the audience will love.

Opening night was a success and you had a tearful goodbye party with the creatives and now it’s just you, your cast mates, and the tech crew.

The 1st week goes fine, with your jokes landing and having the house rock with laughter. You’re emotionally available with the entire cast and you even run offstage sobbing after the final number.

But now it’s the 4th week, and things are stale. Like flaky, moldy, and gross. Jokes die after the third row, you’re thinking about how drunk you’re going to get in two hours, and some of your other cast mates are developing a zombie like glaze over their eyes. The show isn’t fun anymore.

This happened to me when I was in HAIR this summer. My contract spanned from May 13th-August 27th. I’m not complaining that my entire summer was rolling around on carpets barefoot pretending to be high on meth, but you get the picture.
Let me acknowledge that every show and part are different. HAIR is crazy, and Berger is 100 times more. The original Berger was high on shrooms when the creatives wrote down the lines he made up on the spot in the rehearsal room.

Hopefully your character is a little more straight forward and I hope the tips below can guide you to having more exciting performances.

-Keeping a secret
Let your character have a secret. It can vary from night to night. This can be from “I have a pebble in my shoe” to “I’m in a lesbian relationship with sister.” The more creative, the better.

-Become more playful with scenes- find new things in the text, in your imagination of the scene
Re look at the text. Is there something that is missing? If you use imagination to prepare for a scene/song, intensify that more. See where it goes. Use the performances as rehearsal to see where things go.

-Find moments that you're still confused with or don’t have a 100% grasp on and see if you can work them out.
This helped me with Berger. When we went up, I still wasn’t sure about a lot of things that I said (sorry NYU education), but I made it seem like I did. Go back to your script and highlight lines, stage directions (if any) or notes you made in rehearsal and find what causes confusion. Questions to ask yourself-Why do I say this line? Is there another way that gets the fire going inside me more? In what way can I deliver the line that makes more sense?

-Knowing that the audience paid for a ticket, and that denying a good performance to them wouldn’t be fair.
This is harsh but true. You’re an actor and at the end of the day your job is to replicate the performance every night. People could be spending over $100 a ticket and you wouldn’t want to deny them what you gave on opening weekend.

-Knowing that there are many performers back in NYC who would want to be in your position.
Take this in and own it. Be booked and #blessed.

-Know that some weeks will be  more “off”, and some will be more “on”
Don’t kill yourself over a few semi stale performances. A good amount of the time, audiences won’t know whether you’re having an “on” or “off” night. Don’t beat yourself up, but don’t get lazy.

-Push through
This is the most important tip. Push through. Know you’ll make it out alive. Don’t let drama offstage wander on stage. That is the worst thing you can do. If you’re having offstage drama with another cast member, techie, or management- contact your agent and proceed from there.

Special thanks for my agents Margaret and Sue for giving me the idea to write this blog! Hope this was helpful!

Michael Hajjar is an singer/actor living in New York City. Some of his favorite credits include Berger in HAIR (Midtown Arts Center) and Stephen Schwartz’s BORN TO DANCE (Princess Cruises). More info at Follow him on Instagram @michael_hajjar or Twitter @michaelhajjar.

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