It’s a line from Andre Previn’s operatic adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire; Blanche cries, “I want magic!” How many of us, as performances and spectators yearn for that magic as well? I have always believed in the power of magic in live performance. Magic is what I hope and strive for everytime I walk onstage. Magic is what a concertgoer hopes for, too. Isn’t the whole point of going to a show to experience something special, transformative, and inspiring?
How does a performer achieve magic? I believe that when you mix careful preparation, adrenaline, and spontaneity, you have to be prepared for anything – and I mean ANYthing! – to happen when a performance goes live. “Anything” can be disastrous mistakes, like falling scenery, or missed cues, or forgotten lines, but “anything” can also be newfound vulnerability, or new embellishments, or different objectives at different moments of a musical piece or scene.
One of my earliest experiences of “performing magic” was when I presented a scene from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in acting school. In the closing monologue of the scene my character had to cry, and I had not managed to produce tears yet in class. Shortly before my final performance, I warmed up, reviewed my lines (all technical stuff), and then, I prepared myself emotionally: I watched a video of my own brother as a young kid, since my character was essentially sending her brother to death in this play. Then I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I had been working for two months on this scene and there was no further work to be done, and deemed the rest “in the hands of God” (also appropriate since my character was a nun).
As soon as I stepped into the scene: MAGIC. I could see, for the first time, the imposing office of “Angelo,” the deputy who would be my adversary. I finally relaxed into the scene and the interplay and truly began to channel this character. By the end of the scene, real tears were streaming down my face as I prayed in Shakespearean verse for the soul of “my brother.” At my last, crucial line, there rose a loud “whoop” from the audience, and it had come from none other than my acting teacher, an otherwise imposing, discerning, and not overly complimentary authority figure!
I felt like I had just won an Academy Award.
If you train hard, memorize your lines or music, do your technical homework, and expect the highest quality from yourself, you, too, can achieve magic in performance. But you must go one step further by trusting yourself and allowing for spontaneity to happen and magic to manifest. If you do all this, you will not only be good, you will be extraordinary.
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