To get the most fun out of a performance, you need your instrument to be working at its optimum—tuned up and ready to go. But what is your instrument?
We understand that musicians have instruments: trumpets, violins, guitars. Those are the tools of their trade. They make music and their living through the ability to manipulate these instruments to their wishes. It only makes sense, then, that for musicians to be able to perform at their best, they are going to take great care of their instruments: cleaning, polishing, oiling, and loving them. So that’s what they do—they treat them as part of their family. Some even go so far as to name their instruments. The late B. B. King’s guitar was Lucille. Willie Nelson plays Trigger. Yo-Yo Ma’s cello of choice is his Petunia.
Many professions—theatre, sports, and teaching, just to mention a few—recognize that the human body is their instrument—head to toe, arms, legs, torso, inside and out, mind, matter, and voice. All those elements need to be working at tiptop efficiency for someone to be successful in their chosen fields.
To give your best performance and even to get the most out of your preparation, you need to have your instrument working in the best condition possible—both physically and mentally. You can’t (or shouldn’t) just wake up one morning and say, “Today, I think I’ll compete in the Ironman competition” (a “sport” that covers a total distance of 140.6 miles amassed through swimming, biking, and running). Not a smart idea. I know people who have competed, and it takes months and months of dedicated preparation before they’re ready to take the plunge—the first event in the Ironman.
In theatre, if someone wants to be a professional and have a long-lasting career in a very tough, competitive business, they must understand that they will need to take care of their body. It’s their instrument, and it’s the only one they’ll ever have. It’s not like a Honda Civic that can be traded in every couple of years for a newer model. I know many fine actors, even very successful ones, who continually head off to voice lessons, dance class, and, yes, even acting lessons, constantly working, tuning up their “instruments” by toning up their bodies.
Professional athletes, in and out of season, have training regimens that they set up and follow: physical workouts, skill drills, and personal habits to keep their bodies mentally and physically in shape.
If you are in the business world, you might take public speaking courses, join Toastmasters, or enroll in acting and movement classes that will teach you the best way to present yourself.
I have taught theatre for 30 years. What do I tell my college thespians?
- No drugs—of course.
- Smoking is bad for the voice and the lungs (besides the health risk).
- Limit the caffeine (dries out the throat).
- Limit the dairy products (gums up the throat).
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Get plenty of exercise
- Always present a positive attitude
- And: Practice! Practice!! Practice!!!
Remember, the better your instrument works, the more success and fun you’ll have in your career and life.[Tweet “the better your instrument works, the more success and fun you’ll have in your career and life.”]