I have been a professional performer for almost twenty years now. My experience has centered on improvisation and clowning, with some modeling and an increasing amount of scripted theater mixed in. Then three weeks ago, I entered new territory as I began my first stint performing in a renaissance festival. For seven weekends this summer, I will be stepping on the site as a reasonably-seasoned performer, reborn as a newbie.
I had a three-day cram session for two shows’ worth of lines and started learning about a typical renaissance fest environment. This is my first time performing a show that depends so heavily on audience participation and where being cheeky and bawdy is an expectation. If you’ve been in the groove of doing something in a specific way for a while, it can be jarring and intimidating to completely change gears, patterns, or environments. Having these guidelines helped me take the stage in spite of my apprehensions:
- Manage your workload. Be careful not to overestimate your ability to take on new information, physically or mentally. Eagerness (or fear) can easily lead to overload. Develop a plan and work with manageable chunks.
- Have patience (or cultivate it). You’re learning something new. The more different things are from your current skill set, the more time you may need to get the hang of it. Give yourself time.
- Stick with it. As trite as it may sound, there’s no denying that practice is the key to proficiency. Tenacity is a great asset.
- Back off sometimes. Knowing when to take a bit of a rest is as valuable as knowing when to push through. Taking a rest lets you recover mentally and physically. A good night’s sleep gives you time to integrate what you’ve taken in.
- Be willing to ask for help. It may be daunting or embarrassing to ask for assistance, but the knowledge of others is a ready resource.
Being a newbie again can be as fruitful and renewing as it can be frightening. Moving into unfamiliar territory keeps us learning and growing, and the right steps can make the difference in experiencing and creating successful results.
Contributing writer Gregory Parks is a clown, improvisational actor, coach, and teacher living and thriving in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.