Pre-Show Rituals

AF is a USC student who is describing his experiences performing musical theater in his high school located in New York City:

AF.) So I was a musical theater kid back when – unfortunate [sic] – but there were a couple rituals that we did before shows and one of them was, just before the curtain went up on the show, behind the curtain – backstage – everyone would get into a circle and everyone will link hands in a big circle and do something called passing the pulse. It was to start to get us in like the right frame of mind where you squeeze the person’s hand to your left or right and then you go in one direction and everyone, when they feel it, squeezes the next person in the same direction and you have to keep on doing that until it makes its way all the way around the circle or gets lost along the way, which happens sometimes. After that, everyone started yelling, and they would sing the shot song that was like, “shots shot shot shot shot shot shots” loudly for the audience to hear. They weren’t able to see whatever was happening, but they would hear everyone yelling shots backstage.


AF discusses two rituals here, one being “Passing the Pulse” and the other being the recitation of the song “Shots” by pop duo LMFAO.

Passing the Pulse is a common game played by students of drama to both calm the mind and promote mindfulness between actors working with each other. The name of this game and the situation it’s performed in make it a form of sympathetic magic. As a model proposed by Frazer in The Golden Bough, sympathetic magic seeks to reproduce phenomena by performing a ritual that resembles those phenomena. Here, students are seeking to sync mind and body with one another through the ritual of propagating a hand squeeze between each other. 

The recitation of the chorus from the song “Shots” could be an assertation of ingroup versus outgroup dynamics. The ingroup is the student actors, and the outgroup is the audience. By not explaining the ritual or why they are performing it, the students are priming the audience and themselves for a performance where the students are leading the experience for both groups.