As performers, we find ourselves in the dreaded “off-season” far more than we probably want to. Either work is hard to find, or we move cities, or life throws us curve balls that force us to take breaks. This time of year, college students are returning home for two weeks or more, which I recall seemed like an eternity after a semester of nonstop work.
At 30 weeks pregnant, I’m entering a pretty long off-season myself. So, I’ve been pondering how my time can be best spent while I’m not performing. As the new year approaches and everyone closes their productions of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life or whatever show has closed out 2016, it’s a good time for everyone to take a few weeks to simply be. And while we rest, what can we do to continue growing as performers? Here is my personal list of to-do’s when I find myself in an off-season.
Obviously, if your break is due to a lack of work, the best thing you can do is keep auditioning. Don’t let the pain of rejection convince you to quit. Tweak your strategy and try again. Polish a new song or a new monologue and get back out there. Every audition is a chance to perform, learn, and network. Auditions are never a wasted effort. If your audition technique needs improved but you aren’t sure how, read Auditioning for the Musical Theatre by Fred Silver if you haven’t already. Which leads perfectly into my second recommendation:
Read. Read everything. Read every play you can get your hands on. Get a stack of books from the library and get familiar with different playwrights. Study new acting techniques and new vocal techniques, even if you love the technique you’re using. If you only know Stanislavsky, read about Meisner and see if you can’t find something to take away from both teachers. If you only use Meisner, try studying Uta Hagen for a change. There are always new techniques to learn and plays to read, and it can only make you better to spend time educating yourself.
Write what you know. Journal or blog about your past productions and your personal goals for the future. Having specific goals to work towards and a time period in which to achieve them is what separates the successful from all the rest. Make your goals specific and realistic. For example, don’t just think, “I really want to do a Shakespeare play…” Instead, write down the goal of doing at least one Shakespeare production in the coming year. Or maybe your goal is to play one lead role before you graduate. Whatever it is, write it down. See it in ink (or type). And play with the wording until it is attainable. Just like when we write down our character objectives, we should have our own personal objectives as well. What do you want out of the coming year? Out of the next four years? Out of grad school? What do you want out of your next production?
Practice writing reviews, even if you don’t publish them. It’s easy to spout off about a bad production you saw, but can you put into intelligent wording what would have made it better? Can you sit down and pinpoint what worked and what didn’t and why? When you do this, you gain a unique perspective on the art of theater as a whole. And if you can respectfully articulate your opinions, that will ultimately make them more valuable. Practice turning your opinions into intelligent reviews. You won’t regret it.
As a side note: Facebook statuses do NOT count as writing. Take that time and instead spend it on articulating full sentences without emojis or hashtags. Anyone can spit out a Facebook status. Not everyone can write.
Take a deep breath with me. In… and out… When was the last time you intentionally rested? Your body, your mind, your voice - all need rest. Not an hour of rest, not one yoga class’s worth of rest, but a season of rest. Perhaps you’re not getting work because you look and sound exhausted at your audition. Your voice could be weak or even damaged from overuse. Your posture could be suffering from stress and tension which will also weaken your voice. It’s nearly impossible to deliver a powerful monologue from beneath tight, forward-rolled shoulders. Stress doesn’t go away overnight. It goes away with a period of rest and rejuvenation. Take this time to eat right, go to bed early, moderately exercise and hydrate until you can hydrate no more. Maybe you’ve been thinking about trying to quit smoking or cutting back on alcohol or caffeine - do it now! Think of it as tuning your instrument. Your body, mind, and spirit are all part of your performance. So why not take the time to make all three healthy before jumping back into a production?
Above all, be intentional about resting - don’t just NOT work. Not working is not resting. Resting is resting.
This goes along with many of the other points here, but taking time to reflect on your year and learn from your mistakes is so vital. Look back as much as you look forward. What specifically did you learn from each production and each experience. What can you take away from each audition, whether you were cast or not? What areas do you need to work on and how are you going to improve where you’re lacking? A successful performer doesn’t just close a production and move on without at least briefly reflecting on it. We can learn so much from every experience if we consciously do so.
If you’re entering an “off-season” as a performer (whether intentionally or not), use the time constructively. Don’t be afraid of not working. It’s okay to slow your life’s momentum and make the conscious choice be still. You need it. You’ve earned it. And when you return to work rejuvenated, you’ll be so glad you did.