My fellow actors have asked me about music enough lately that I thought the subject warranted a closer look. Specifically, what sort of music should (or shouldn’t) an actor listen to before starting a show.
Portable music has been part of the pre-curtain ritual for years. It is just the devices that have changed. Regardless of what plays the music however, I do think there are some guidelines for their usage.
To begin with, I am not in favor of people playing their music, regardless of genre, without headphones. Certainly not in dressing rooms or common areas. This actually happens in almost every show I am in, sadly. If an entire cast can come to agreement about a play list, fine. But such universal permission is rarely secured, and thus I am subjected to what the person with either no sense or courtesy to bring headphones decides is the right kind of music for the dressing room. Please, do everyone a service and only listen to music if you have headphones. Even the smallest of casts are likely to have divergent pre-show rituals and varied musical tastes.
What sort of music one should be listening to privately with headphones is to a great degree subjective, naturally. Different music does different things for each person. So while I cannot recommend or discourage specific songs, I do offer some results that music should have, so one can choose their own music appropriately.
The simple view is this…listen to a mix of music that is skewed towards upbeat, (that is to say anything that peps you up) during anytime before the 30 minutes until curtain mark. This is the time to get pumped, so use what works.
At around 30 minutes until curtain, start slowing your selections down a bit, skewing the list more towards the tunes that relax you and help you focus. With less then 10 before curtain, if you are listening to anything at all, (which I usually do not) make it the music that most easily makes you calm, helps you collect your thoughts, and puts you in a receptive frame of mind. Energy is good, but don’t be head banging this late in the game. Be pepped but centered. Of course, don’t put yourself to sleep with lullabies either.
Music of course is very personal, and there are exceptions to every rule. Yet we all have certain songs that affect us certain ways. If nothing else, be aware of how any given song or band makes you feel, ask yourself if that is the way an actor should be feeling right before a show, and listen accordingly.
Just don’t miss “places.”
(This piece originally appeared on Showbizradio.net on November 18, 2009)