The Importance of Focus
Turn off the TV so you can focus on studying! Leave your cell phone alone and focus on driving! Sound familiar? I’m sure these are phrases you have heard your parents tell you time and time again to get you to focus on studying, driving or many other tasks that require your undivided attention. So what on earth does this have to do with performing?
Have you ever watched a performer acting or singing that you just didn’t believe? Or what about a performer that leave you breathless because of their stunning performance? Much of the difference between these two performers can be attributed to FOCUS.
Focus in acting is what allows a performer to stay “in the moment” during a scene, song, show, or any other type of performance. Focus, in general, is hard. It requires a connection to the story, your emotions, and the scene. In some circumstances, this is easier than others. In full staged performances, where you are interacting with other actors, costumes and props, it is much easier to believe in and focus on the make believe world you are playing in, but it is just as important to be focused when you are a solo performer doing a solo recital.
Here are a few helpful hints on how to help you develop your FOCUS.
- Be specific! When you are working on a character, scene or song, you need to be specific as to who you are, who or what are you dealing with and why are you acting in the particular way. In our real lives, we react to people and situations based on our history. If I’m allergic to peanuts and some one offers me a snickers bar, I’m going to have a certain, and probably very negative, reaction to that offer. It is this kind of specific background knowledge that allows us to react to a scene and give color to it as well. Spend some time answering questions about your character and the situation; who they are, where they came from how they feel about the situation and why, etc. We have a long list of such character development questions on your website!
- Practice ‘believing the story’. Don’t expect that when you get on stage, you will be able to magically go to this new world. Once you have practiced your lines, notes, and any technical aspects of the piece, you need to add the focus component. Let your technique work for you and focus on the emotion and the circumstances surrounding your story and character. Use the lines or lyrics to give life to your story.
- Use your eyes! We communicate a lot of information through our faces and especially our eyes. Some performers get so wrapped up in the emotion that they feel it is necessary to close their eyes. Unfortunately, the only thing that does is cut off the audience. We lose touch with the story and the emotion that the performer is working so hard to convey. Keep those eyes open and be expressive! Remember, your audience isn’t standing right next to you. Depending on the size of the theatre, they could be thirty to forty yards away.
Incorporate the idea of focus into your rehearsal process and performing and I promise that you will feel more connected to your story. The result will be a much better experience for your audience, and hopefully more performances for you!
Summer Singing Plans
School is nearing an end, the weather is warming up and everything is in full bloom. It’s time to pack up the school books, get out the sun tan lotion, bathing suits and head to the beach. This all sounds great, but summer is also a great time to use your time away from school to improve as a singer, actor and/or performer! Just about every theatre and performing arts school (including PPAS!) has a summer program of some sort. These programs are a great way to hang out with friends and spend time on stage during your summer break. You can always head to the pool after camp. What if you’re not interested in doing a camp? Don’t let your summer go to waste.
Summer is a wonderful time to go see a new show, pick new songs to sing, learn about some of the different acting techniques or work on your audition book. There is a lot to do that I bet you don’t have the time to do during the school year. I know I don’t! So here is the deal: Take 15 minutes and make a list of what you would like to accomplish this summer. No matter how old you are or your current performance level, this is a great way to get started. List 3-5 things you want to accomplish this summer.
To give you an example, here is my actual list of what I want to accomplish musically this summer!
- Learn Cascada’s Role from the Merry Widow for a performance in August
- Learn 2 new audition arias
- Listen to Britten’s Folk Songs and pick 3-4 to learn
- Learn 1 comedic monologue and 1 dramatic monologue
- Read Uta Hagen’s “Respect for Acting”
You can see that I’ve been pretty specific about what I wish to accomplish and I have listed the goals in order from most important to least important. This way I have set measurable goals that I know I can achieve. Of course, there’s always more that I want to accomplish; other songs to learn, more books to read, languages to study, but if I can accomplish this list of 5 goals during the summer, then I know that I will be able to say in September that I have done things to make myself a better performer than I was in May.
Next, schedule some time every week to work towards your goals. You don’t want to get to Labor Day and try to accomplish all 5 goals in 1 weekend! Give yourself deadlines to guide yourself through the summer. Before you know it, a new school year will have started and your busy schedule will get even busier. Then comes the crazy holiday season (which can be even busier for performers) and then audition season (February/March) If you can take some time over the summer to learn a new song or monologue, read a book on acting or singing, go see a few shows and learn from what the performers are doing, then you can consider yourself ahead of the curve when the year roles around… and you will undoubtedly impress your teachers!
As school winds down, on behalf of all of us here at Popovsky Performing Arts, I want to wish you and your families a very happy and safe summer. We look forward to seeing you very soon! Look for our next newsletter when we will be discussing one of the most important components of performing….. FOCUS!
Taking care of your instrument
Noticing a lot of your friends getting sick these days? The flu and allergies are running rampant and tons of people are getting sick, but the show must go on! As a performer, taking care of yourself and your voice is of utmost importance. Here are a few hints to help to keep your instrument healthy and in tip-top shape.
- REST. Sure it sounds simple, but think about it. Being well rested keeps your entire body, including your voice, functioning at its highest ability. And if you start to get sick, or do come down with a cold, rest becomes even more important to your voice. What if you ran track and sprained your ankle, what would you do to help it get better? You’d stay off your ankle as much as possible. Your voice works the same way. If your vocal chords are swollen or strained, the best way to get them to heal is to rest them.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! The body is two-thirds water and it is important to keep it that way. The vocal chords have a thin film of mucus on them that help them to vibrate smoothly and evenly. There are membranes just about the chords that secrete this mucus and if the body is dehydrated, this mucus production slows down, affecting your ability to sing your best.
- Starting to feel icky? Kick it before it kicks you. Use supplements like Vitamin C drops, Airborne and Emergen-C to help your body fight off the illness.
- If you aren’t feeling 100% and you still need to perform or practice, it is very important to listen to what your voice is telling you. Take extra time to warm up carefully and don’t push your voice. Starting with stretching, breathing exercises and easy warm-ups in a comfortable range is especially important if you’re voice isn’t responding the way it normally would.
These are just a few ways to take care of your voice as you survive flu season, allergies and the change of seasons. Some other things to keep in mind: avoid menthol products (teas and cough drops) because of menthol’s drying property and choose pectin throat drops and non-menthol teas instead, avoid decongestants for the same reason and use an expectorant instead, and inhale the steam from a hot cup of tea or shower to get moisture directly to the vocal chords.
Until our next article, remember too that preparation is the key to dynamic performances!