Inside the Head of a Performer – Part 1

Inside the Head of a Performer – Part 1

(Ed note: If you haven’t read “Inside the Head of a Writer,” you should do that now. Well, far be it for me to tell you how you should be spending your time, but this will make much more sense if you do.)

I had only really finished writing this piece the day before I was to go on stage. And not only was there a lot of new stuff in it, but also a lot of acting on my part. This was not a normal part of my act. The Sucker for Love performance, awesome as it was, was still just me telling a story. I had to emphasize words and gesture at points, but I wasn’t inventing a different character the way I was with this Dominoes Pizza Story. And not on a day’s notice either.

When I perform, there are two things I break my preparation down into. Memorization and stage presence. If I have everything memorized, but don’t have character behind it – it can lose sometimes as much as half or more of the desired effect. This is why I like to break things down into bullet points rather than fully-composed sentences when writing for the stage. Again, this is just my style. The theory is that I’ll be thinking less about the exact phrasing and more about what words I feel at the moment to get my bullet point across. It enables me to be more in the moment with the audience. That’s the theory. It usually helps me strike a decent balance, but it can backfire to the point of botching jokes and forgetting my place in the act or story. And that is a singly terrifying thing, especially in the very linear form of story-telling. It’s not like stand-up where I can just grab at another bit from my arsenal if I get lost. I’m stuck with this story. And I’m up on stage alone. No team to help if I miss a tackle. It’s more like running up to a hurdle in a track meet and forgetting how to jump over it.

This specific story was going to require a lot of memorization in order to play out my character. There were two specific points in which I needed to come across as irritated to get the act to work. I had planned rants in there that veered intentionally off-topic. If I stumbled on them, I felt like the desired effect would be lost. So I concentrated on those two parts before I went on stage, practicing in the bathroom, which I had never done before. I go over material before every performance, but mostly just to make sure I have all the bullets in chronological order. I leave the rest up to future Dustin to figure out when he’s on stage. This time, I wanted to be on point. I didn’t even have my 3 beers as usual.

See, I have a 3-beer rule when performing. No more, no less. Any less and I get nervous and don’t feel as in the moment. Any more and I forget shit. I decided to forgo alcohol after the first one last Wednesday. I was willing to use my confidence from the Sucker for Love show to try to calm my nerves. Besides, I had killer material. This should be easy. As long as I don’t fuck up the lines or the delivery.

I was scheduled to go up 4th, batting cleanup. I liked that position. Earlier and I don’t know that Jen would even be there yet and later would probably weigh on my nerves and also undo all the bathroom cramming before the show (Ed note: the “bathroom cramming” he’s referring to is likely not the same bathroom cramming that will appear in the google image search if the SafeSearch feature is turned off). Jennifer Howe and Katie Kelly went up first and second and I wanted to see their sets (Ed note: their “sets” is probably exactly what google image search thinks it is). Because I was mentally preparing though, I didn’t get to see much of Julie Kraut’s, but I heard lots of laughter, which is good. See in comedy, unlike rhythm gymnastics, it’s good to follow somebody who just got the crowd laughing. Laughter is contagious and once people have been put into that mindset, it’s easier to get them laughing again, whereas in rhythm gymnastics, all you can do is cry about never making it as a real gymnast.

…to be continued

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