THE #1 advice regarding preparation for performing is that you need to be as relaxed as can be! The thing is that performing is very much a mental thing. There is a whole lot of prep that goes before to get the piece ready and don’t forget to do it, of course… but in the last day or so before performing, it should all be about being as relaxed as can be.
Pack your bag
If the performance is out of town, you will want to pack your costume, makeup, etc. Sometimes, even when it’s in town, it’s easier to pack things up. Here are things to include in your performance bag… some are optional:
- Costume – unless you already are wearing it; there usually will still be items from the costume that you will pack like your belt, for example
- Makeup – unless your whole makeup is applied… and even then you probably want some elements of your makeup “just in case” (for example, mascara, eyeliner, eyelash glue)
- Cover up – you can use a veil but, at one point, you want to invest in a cover up that actually covers you up (for example, a kimono, kaftan)
- Hair brush, hair spray, and hair accessories – remember that, even if you did your hair up before the performance, you may want to remove the whole thing before heading home or want to tweak your hairdo
- A personal mirror – you never know what the room in which you’ll be able to change will look like… and even when there are full length mirrors available, there might be a strong competition for a portion of the mirror
- Tampon or pad – you never know…
- Makeup remover towelettes – I have found those especially useful in toning down makeup, especially if I did a crazy-ish makeup first and don’t want to travel with it on my face; and some people can’t stand makeup for long periods of time
- Dance shoes – This is optional and will totally depend on the flooring of where you’ll be performing. I have my infamous Fluevogs that I often wear to get to shows… it’s not just to be stylish… I can dance in them if I need to. ;) So if you don’t know the flooring, make sure to have something to dance in and/or ask.
- Bindi – I often end up putting those on at the venue
- Change of clothes – unless you’re going home straight afterwards but even then we can’t wait to get out of our costumes sometimes after having performed
Another tip for packing your bag: if you will be wearing multiple costumes or if you are packing your whole costume to be put on at the venue, pack the items in reverse order of how will put them on. What I mean is that you want to put at the bottom of your luggage your topmost layers (example, overskirt, coin bra) and put at the top of your luggage your first layers (example, pantaloons, choli). If you have to put your costume on while being in a tight space like a small bathroom stall, you’ll be happy you did that as opposed to having to move stuff around in your luggage.
Oh and consider investing in a small rolling luggage to transport your costumes and other items (you can get some dirt cheap ones at Walmart or Target). The advantage of a rolling luggage (besides the whole rolling part) is that it will generally offer an amount of protection from crushing for your items… I’m thinking specifically here of accessories.
Drink plenty! Plenty of water!
You’ll want to drink plenty of water. Sounds corny but, seriously, it’s true. Drinking enough water will hydrate you enough and invigorate you. That being said, you want to monitor your drinking intake (of any fluid) when you get close to show start time… because, well, what goes in must come out. ;)
I generally do one last bathroom run right before putting on my costume (or right before putting on my belt if I’m mostly dressed up already). And I do this whether I feel that I need to or not… think of it like when you were a kid and mom told you to go before you were heading on a car trip. :p And if you do feel the need to go while you’re all dressed up, just know that it could be the nerves… ;)
Another corny and self-evident one but the better you sleep, the less nervous you’ll be. Now, of course, first reaction you’re thinking is that you’re too nervous to sleep the night before. What about those other nights that same week? Try to get enough sleep during that whole week. It will be beneficial.
Don’t finish your costume at the last minute!
We’ve all done that every now and then but try to minimize how often that happens. Strive to have all your pieces ready 1 week before the performance. That way, you’ll be able to practice with the full costume at least once but, mostly, you won’t be sewing your fingers off when you should be relaxing.
Hair and makeup practice
Along the lines of practicing with your whole costume, you may want to try your hand at your hair and makeup for the performance, especially if it’s a technique that you have never used before or seldom used. Of course, if you don’t do that, the day of the event, you’ll be scrambling trying to make it do what you want when you are pressed for time.
For this, I will typically pick a weekend day when I have all the time in the world and practice doing all of that. That way, even if I mess up and need to redo or it takes forever, it’s no big deal. You will also get a sense for how intensive and how long it will potentially take you to do that the day of.
To eat or not to eat?
Some performers absolutely cannot dance with something in their stomach so they won’t eat. Others need sustenance to be able to do anything. Generally speaking, you want to ensure that you have eaten enough the day of the performance. Consider bringing snacks for before and/or after if you are in the category who absolutely cannot eat. Just know, too, that it could be your nerves telling you not to eat: you want to have eaten during the day because no one wants to see you faint on stage. Just know your personal limits and don’t let anyone sway you on that: we each have our own metabolism.
To practice one last time or not?
That is another one that is totally a personal thing. I’m one of those who gets more nervous if I practice one last time before hitting the stage. I can listen to the music but I can’t do the moves because that makes me extra nervous. I dare say that the answer to this one is probably the same as what was your answer in school as to whether you should review the material the day of the exam or no. In my case, it was the same thing: if I reviewed the material ‘one last time’, it messed me up more.
Also, if it’s a matter of practicing one last time and getting ready/packing in a crazy fashion because you are running out of time vs. calmly getting ready but not practicing, go for the calm. ;)
Your performance mindset
It will be important for you to figure out what your performance mindset is. What I mean by that is what conditions give you optimal performance potential. And, again, I’m talking mostly mental here... the physical aspects (food, water/fluids, and sleep intake) should have been take care of upfront. From a mental point of view, what gets you ready to perform? Is it peace and quiet? Is it a certain attitude?
You may want to develop some sort of ritual that works in helping you out with this. One caveat to that, though: you don’t want said ritual to be dependent on too many things. Like if you absolutely need green M&Ms with Diet Coke with 3 ice cubes and Nag Champa incense burning, you may be out of luck if you didn’t have time to grab some M&Ms and Diet Coke, there’s no ice machine, and someone is allergic to incense… I’m exaggerating here but you get the point.
In my case, I need to be in a ‘goth club/party’ mindset. As I’m applying my makeup and doing my hair, I put my iPod on random on some specific playlists or artists that get me in that mindset and make me want to burst out and dance. I also need to withdraw myself from the group a few minutes before I actually go on stage. And I will do some breathing techniques as I’m waiting backstage (whatever that may be) for my turn. And then it’s showtime.
I found out what works (and what doesn’t) for me over the years. I encourage you to find your own way doing things. And don’t worry about being ‘antisocial.’ Most other performers will understand the need for you to do your own thing to get into the proper mindset.
What if the conditions are not optimal?
So you didn’t sleep enough, you’re running on caffeine, haven’t eaten since breakfast, and your hair decided to have a mind of its own… or some version of that. Well, you still gotta make do and, in good Tim Gunn fashion, “Make it work!” You can still put yourself into that performance mindset although it will be a tad harder. Mostly, what it means is relaxing as much as you can. When you feel these things happening and a surge of panic, take deep breaths, maybe walk a few steps while just relaxing (maybe grab a glass of water). You can also call and/or text a husband, friend, moral support and vent your frustration for a bit. Works wonders! Again, you want to seek a calm state of mind.