A show's energy level is one of the most critical pieces to its success. Unfortunately, not all shows boast the vigor of the self-fueling gut-busters we call our favorites. We’ve all experienced low-energy shows. As performers, we blame fate for waning energy and resort to throwing band-aids on our performances. We scream through rounds of "Eights," aggressively forcing eye contact with each other until someone has a heart attack and someone else cries and flees the green room. In the end, we give up and fling our anxious selves onto the stage to try to make the best of it.
While fate does play a role in the outcome of a show, there are lots of ways we can help to improve the flow of energy before the show even starts. Energy is complicated and comes from several different sources. Learn to identify these energy sources and apply some basic improv rules to them, and you’ll spare your future shows the misfortune of lethargy.
Establish Your Framework With a Routine!
You begin setting the energy of a show with your personal routine. The amount of sleep you get, the quality of your diet, and the number of Robusts you pound at the bar all impact the level of energy you bring with you. Poor habits dull our wits and inhibit our senses.
If your routine could use improvement, it can’t hurt to start making some changes. However, sudden drastic changes can stress your body and make the problem worse. Consistency is key. Make small, sustainable changes like getting to bed early or eating your first vegetable. Work your way toward getting a full night’s rest, eating well-balanced meals, and hydrating properly. When you do have a show with killer energy, take a retrospective glance at your routine leading up to it and do your best to replicate those practices.
Create a personal pre-show ritual. On the way to your show, listen to your favorite high-energy music like Britney Spears or Slayer, or a light, fun podcast. Anything that keeps you out of your head and amplifies your energy will work.
Focus on the Relationship With Your Troupe Mates!
Proper group-minding requires more effort than struggling through a frustrating game of "Mind Meld" three minutes before your show starts. You need the memories, trust, and inside jokes we get from hanging out with each other outside of practices to form a true group mind. Plan to eat dinner, grab a beer, or frolic through a meadow in the nude between practices. When you’re not together, keep communication open. Text each other, share YouTube videos, or Photoshop each troupe member’s head onto the body of a different mythological creature and caption the photo with defamatory allegations.
Before your show, get pumped about it! Tell each other how excited you are and advertise the show on social media. When you meet up at the theater, empower each other with that same enthusiasm. You’re about to have fun with your friends on stage. Channel that passion and make each other laugh. Just as we teach in classes, match each other. Energy is contagious, so let loose and be crazy.
Try to meet up as early as you can before your show to shake out the stress of the day and reconnect with your troupe mates. Rushing into a show from something else causes our tiny human brains to panic and keeps you from being able to focus sufficiently.
Choose the warm-ups that bring you the most joy as a group. The objective of a warm-up is to get on the same page and motivate yourselves before the show. Energy doesn’t come from screaming at each other or whoosh-bang-powing yourselves into bewilderment. It comes from trusting each other and letting the energy you’ve each stored up individually combine into something beautiful.
Heighten Your Show – Involve the Tech!
Teching is one of the most overlooked parts of any show. The tech is as much a part of the show as any member of the troupe. The music played beforehand and the timing of the edits directly alter the vitality and stamina of the show.
You know what it feels like to be in your head during a scene. Edits and support moves become increasingly difficult to execute. You see so many wonderful opportunities for edits, but you’re thinking so much that you stay glued to the side and miss opportunities. Techs do this, too! We get in our heads about our edits, because we’re worried about making the best and smartest move for your show.
Help the tech get out of his or her head! Bring the tech in for a warm-up, dance in the tech booth before the show starts, tell them you’ve got their back and know that he or she’s got yours.
Support the Audience!
Even if you work on all of the above until your troupe brims with levity, a crabby audience can suck it all right back out.
The opportunities for us to enhance audience energy start when customers walk through the door of the theater. They’ve already chosen to go out and have a good time, so they’re excited and ready to laugh. Elevating that energy even higher doesn’t take all that much work.
When you’re hanging out in the lobby between shows, say hello to strangers! Show them how loving and uplifting the community can be. Let them see how much we cherish the privilege of our involvement at the theater.
Also, catch your friends’ shows! There’s nothing like an audience of performers to show a crowd how to enjoy themselves. Plus, laughter and applause from fellow performers carries a bit more weight than that of strangers learning to distinguish improv from stand-up comedy.
Energy flows up the chain. Start at the lowest end of the chain and apply as much energy as you can, then keep boosting the energy as it travels further up the chain. If you start with little or no energy, it’s very difficult to boost it to that explosive state that we see during our favorite shows. Understand the elements that influence that energy flow and work to consistently improve the way you approach them. And above all, have fun. That’s what this is all about.
Scriven Bernard is a performer, tech, TA, and all-around fun guy. He works full-time as an implementation manager for a software company that focuses on driving corporate social responsibility. He enjoys running, reading, singing, dancing, and intentionally breaking the vacuum cleaner so that he doesn't have to clean the house. You can catch him at a Jam or an open mic or see him performing with the troupes Your Neighbor Karl, Coiffelgänger, Ununited Nations, and Tabooze.