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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What To Do When You Have a Bad Performance

Greetings ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and this is my little place on the internet where I talk about (or, really, write about) theater.  Why? Well, because I love it.

I'm a big Red Sox fan, but a few nights ago, they were pounded by the Orioles in a big way. Last night, however, they fought back against Toronto and wound up winning the game.

What does this have to do with theater, you might ask?  I'll tell you.  There's a reason I call this blog "Theater is a Sport", and it's because I believe that theater is a sport.

And, like baseball, or any other sport, an actor, or an entire cast, can have off nights.

Lord knows I've had them.  Whether you keep tripping over your lines, or staying in your head, anticipating blocking, or tripping over the set, some nights just feel like a disaster to an actor.  Please believe me when I tell you that this happens to everyone.

The first thing to do, if you feel like your having a bad performance, is to try to get out of your head, and salvage the rest of the night.  Take intermission to try to relax and re-focus.  Accept that you screwed up in the first act, and realize that you can still knock 'em dead in Act Two.  A bad performance is all mental, meaning, all thought.  Get those thoughts out of your brain.

Now, if you can't salvage the performance for yourself, and you reach the end of the show feeling as miserable as you did all the way through, accept it and move on.  For one thing, it probably didn't come off as badly as you might think.  And please, please, if you had friends or family in the audience, and they talk to you after the show, complimenting you on what a great job you did, just smile and say "Thank you so much!"  I know it's hard.  You'll want to say, "I felt so off tonight!  This was my worst performance ever!  I was so much better in rehearsal!"  Don't do it.  For one thing, it's rude.  It's telling your loved ones that they don't know a good performance from a bad one, and that's not very nice now, is it?  And, like I said before, everything you were going through in your own mind was probably not as visible to the audience as you think it was.

Don't let one bad performance ruin a run.  In the school or community theater, you probably have somewhere between 3 and 6 performances for a production (maybe more, but we're not talking month or yearlong runs, here).  The more you focus on a bad performance, the more you open yourself up to repeat them.  If, in fact, there is a section of the play that is repeatedly bad or feels under-rehearsed, by all means, talk to the director and others involved about working towards cleaning up that scene or section.  It's okay to want to keep growing and getting better, even if you're a few performances in.  In fact, that should be the goal.  To keep getting better and better and more comfortable with the material.  But, let's say you had a random incident where you blew a line you had never missed before.  Don't obsess about it.  That's like asking to mess up again.

Above all else, remember that theater is an imperfect medium, which is why it is so magical. Mistakes happen when you're performing live.  Embrace it, accept it, and keep moving forward to the elusive goal of perfection, which you're not going to reach.  It's the journey that matters.  It's the dancing on the head of a pin, the experiment of creating something with a group of people that matters the most.

Just keep your eye on the ball, and everything will be okay.


  1. This post has really helped me after forgetting a like onstage and 'pausing dramatically' (cough cough, trying agonisingly to remember the line!) before being able to continue. While it came off fine to the audience and no-one seemed to notice (or at least pretended not to), my confidence received a sizeable knock, and reading this post has helped restore it. So thank you! Your blog is awesome

    1. I've definitely had my share of those dramatic pauses!
      I'm so happy to hear that this post was helpful to you, and thank you for reading my blog! I truly appreciate your kind words!