Bathroom. Drinks. A snack (out of costume, of course). And if you are foolish enough to do so, smoke. There are many obvious things for which intermission can be used. There are however, unwise ways to spend an intermission during a show in which you appear.
The intermission is different for the audience than it is for the actor. For the former, it is a break. For the actor, it is more of a respite. The difference being that an actor should never be on break, as it were, from the job they are doing until either the end of the show, or until their character has made their final appearance on stage. Great is the temptation to zone out of “acting mode” during intermission, but resist it. Even if it does not seem like a big deal, and it is only for ten minutes, don’t succumb.
Actors need brief pauses. I am no exception. But consider that not only do you have further work to do in the show, the second act is of course where the climax is. As well as the final impression that the audience will be left with when the show is concluded. A weak starting point for a second act can very quickly nullify even the best of first acts, if actors are not careful. Many a badly spent intermission leads to a lackluster second half.
How to avoid the act two slide? By being wise during intermission.
Don’t load up on food. I have worked with actors who have whole dinners waiting for them to bolt down in the brief time during intermission. Not only is this not healthy, but it takes up time actors should be using to check on props and costumes. (This should be done by every actor first thing during intermission right after a bathroom visit, if needed.) Plus, all the food on the stomach so quickly is bound to make one sluggish, if not sick. Have a light, very clean snack if you must eat. Peanuts, or a carrot, or something along those lines.
Avoid laying down. This is a big one to me. Everyone does it, but unless you have at least 20 or 30 minutes before you return to the stage in act 2, intermission is not the time to lounge. Your body as well as your mind will start to shut down, no matter how much you plan otherwise. Getting back up into gear for act 2 becomes twice as hard when you find yourself loafing about during the intermission. I will permit myself to sit, but rarely to lay down, unless it is a particularly trying first act, or if for some reason I am not feeling well. Even then, I limit my time in such a position.
Don’t complain about your performance from act one, should you find a mistake in it, or find that you are below par. If you made a mistake that affected someone in particular, graciously apologize to them, but then leave it there. Spending all of intermission brooding about what act one should have been will only weaken the start of the second half for you.
On the other side of that concept, no resting on laurels. Ever. You may have had the greatest act one in your career tonight, but that means nothing for act 2. As I said, things can change quickly after an intermission, especially one where alcohol and other refreshments are served to the audience. It is your job as an actor to kick-start the audience at the start of the second curtain. If you do not, you will lose them, and your ability to successfully avoid this lies in spending intermission well.
(This piece originally appeared on showbizradio.net on July 1, 2009 )