Tag Archives: performance

Musical Theater Pre-Show Ritual: Linking Pinkies and Biting Your Thumb

Text:

MA: “A pre-show ritual we would do at my high school, if you were sticking your thumb and your pinky out, you would link your pinky with someone else’s and then bite your thumbs in front of each other’s faces. It’s kind of like a kiss, but you’re not actually kissing.”

Context:

The informant is a 20-year-old college student from Orange County, California, who did musical theater throughout her childhood and attended a performing arts high school. She and her castmates in high school would do this ritual before the beginning of a performance. MA described how the gesture allowed performers to be calm in the high anxiety moments before a show. The intimacy of this act, which she compared to a kiss since “you’re literally a hand’s length away from each other’s faces,” fosters a sense camaraderie between members of a cast which can boost performers’ confidence.

Analysis:

This ritual, like many if not all pre-show rituals, evokes a sense of solidarity between performers. Because performers spend so much time together rehearsing, members of a cast tend to bond with each other. This is important since live theater relies on each individual’s performance as well as the interactions between performers, so fostering a sense of community promotes the success of the actors and of the show. The medium demands vulnerability from performers, who must put themselves on display and maintain their dramatic personas while fielding the immediate, unfiltered reactions of the audience. Thus, a show’s success relies on the cast’s ability to trust one another. This intimate musical theater ritual both reflects and promotes the closeness of the cast, conveying that the performers’ trust and believe in each other. This sense of support and community can build confidence and lessen stress, enabling better performance. It can also be interpreted as a good luck ritual or even a superstition.

“Toi Toi Toi” – Folk Speech for Performing Artists

Context:

Informant AT was a current undergraduate student at The University of Southern California pursuing their BFA in Dance at the time of this collection. AT has been training in multiple dance genres since they were young. Dancing has allowed AT to travel around the world where they have had the opportunity to perform for and learn from many different dance artists.

When speaking with AT, they described a folk speech they heard while in Europe that was said to AT and other dancers just before a performance.


Text:

“Toi toi toi”


This folk speech is similar to saying “break a leg” in that it means “good luck” and/or “have a great show.” AT mentioned that this can be said verbally or written in a card, but they have only ever heard/seen it while performing in European countries, not the United States.


Analysis:

After hearing about this from AT, believe that this particular folk speech functions to direct well wishes to performers without explicitly saying it. Wishing someone “good luck” explicitly is believed to have the opposite effect. Since performers are usually faced with anxieties or “stage fright” before performing, there became a need for a different way of expressing one’s well-intended wishes. This folk speech meets this need while simultaneously creating “insiders” (the performers) and “outsiders” (non-performers). If an outsider were to hear this folk speech it wouldn’t have any significance and might even puzzle them. As a performer, you learn and adopt the customs and sayings of other performers that you come into contact with. This allows for the transfer of the unofficial knowledge/meaning of “toi toi toi.”


Annotation:

This folk speech is similar to another that can be found in the USC Folklore Archive. See this variation here:

Keeney, Samuel, and Samuel Keeney. “University of Southern California.” USC Digital Folklore Archives, 17 May 2020, folklore.usc.edu/saying-merde-instead-of-break-a-leg-for-ballet/.

Pre-Choir Performance Ritual

Main Piece:

Interviewer: You’re in choir, right?

Informant: Uh huh.

Interviewer: Is there any kind of rituals you guys do. Like anything before you guys start?

Informant: Well, one of our teachers, right before we are about to go into a concert, she’ll have us sit in a room and turn off the lights. Then she’ll close the blinds so we are sitting in a dark room. She has us sit criss cross applesauce and close our eyes and doing breathing things. And then she has us think of different places or different things, like, think you’re at the beach and you hear the waves and how at first they are very soft. Then the waves crash, then they go back to soft. Then she compares that to our voices. Then she goes, like, wind on the tall grass or in the trees or something and how you can hear it. But it wasn’t like one thing was way louder than anything else. It was like it all blended together. That’s how she had us get ready for a concert, so we had a calm mindset. We also had, like, a synchronous mindset, where we are all in beat with one another. But it wasn’t like a stressful, like we have to be in beat. It’s like a ‘can we be like nature,’ where we all move together’. And eventually when we move together it will all sound pretty.

Interviewer: Wow, that’s beautiful? Is there anything after the recital that you guys do?

Informant: Not really. I can’t think of anything we do afterwards.

Interviewer: What kind of breathing exercise?

Informant: Well, at first, she has us hold our breath for like 10 seconds, or something. And then breath in and out and in and out. But then our breath has to be in sync with the others, so it’s not like we’re going “huh, huh.” (Breathing hard and erratic.) And how you’d hear like different layers of it from everybody. It’s like “in sync” breathing. So we’ll go “in 1, 2, 3, out 1, 2, 3, in . . .” It’s like different kinda like counting.

Background:

The informant is a fourteen-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in eighth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. We were in the kitchen and I asked her about different groups she was a part of at school.

Thoughts:

Not only was the choir a place to find community, it was a place of ritual, harmony and synchronization. Pre-recital was spent in meditation, softly centering the mind in balance with nature. I enjoyed hearing her explain their choir’s pre-performance routine. It was also a picture of the beauty that can come out of community and teamwork. It is not solely about the individual. Rather, individuals in a group working together as a cohesive unit. Ritual is a creative process, key in attaining a certain frame of mind and promoting active engagement.

Preparing for Performances

Main Piece:

Informant: We played with xylophone for a couple of years before percussion. And once we were able to be in percussion, you got to use it a lot more. So it’s basically for the kids that wanted to have more time playing on it and making music with it and going more into depth with the instrument. That was for those students who wanted to.

Something we did, we would go around the carpet playing different instruments. So we would say like. . . like we had this certain beat that we would do on every single one. And to prepare for all of our performances, we would do a thing called “Rock your mallets to the top.” So we would say “Rock your mallets to the top.” Then you’d go to the bottom and say, “to the bottom do not stop. Hit them in the middle please. Hit them on your long tong C’s.” And then we’d change to D’s and then we’d change to minors.

Interviewer: Do you think you could do the whole thing for me?

Informant: It’s not very long. It’s . .  *laughs,  “Rock your mallets to the top. Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. To the bottom do not stop. Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. Tap them in the middle please, doo doo loo doo doo loo. Hit them on your long tong c’s. Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom.

So we basically would do that and then we’d switch instruments. And then she would say, uh, she would just count to 3 and, or we would do certain, different like patterns and she, our music teacher, would do it and we would repeat them back. And sometimes she would say, we’d put it in different, um, you could take certain bars off. We would do C pentatonic a lot, where you take off your F’s and B’s and so there would be groups of 2 and groups of 3 and then she would ask us to do a certain thing on a group of 3 and a certain thing on a group of 2. And that’s kinda how we prepared for every single one of our performances.

Background:

The informant is a twelve-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in sixth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I was asking her about groups she was a part of at school.

Thoughts:

She emphasized that this was a musical group for those who wanted to dive deeper into the subject, in this case, spend more time learning the instrument. It was fun to hear the rituals and chants the students would use during practice and before a performance. Ritual is a creative process, key in attaining a certain frame of mind and promoting active engagement. It is also a picture of the beauty that can come out of community and teamwork. It is not solely about the individual. Rather, individuals in a group working together as a cohesive unit. 

Occupational Folklore: “Merde”

Main Piece: “So I did ballet for many years and usually when someone has a performance, at least where I grew up, you would say ‘break a leg!’ to wish them luck. It’s a weird thing. I don’t know where it came from. But…um… in dance we were never allowed to say ‘break a leg’ because that was an actual concern when dancing. So instead we said ‘merde’ which literally means ‘shit’ in French. So…um…before every show we would always whisper ‘merde’ to each other to wish everyone luck”

Background: The informant did ballet for many years in her hometown, Chicago. Whether the expression is specific to Chicago or to the lore of ballet is unclear. The informant is fluent in French but most of her friends in ballet did not speak any French. However, the majority of ballet terminology (i.e. different positions and movements) is French.

Performance Context: The informant sat across from me at a table.

My Thoughts: I understand the expression as occupational folklore. Knowing and using ‘merde’ is a rite of passage within the context of ballet and performance. Perhaps “merde” is ballet’s adaptation of “break a leg” used in theatre. I also grew up taking lessons in ballet and performing, but have not heard this term, which leads me to believe it is a term specific to the informant’s studio. Because most of the language in ballet is French, it is fitting that the dancer’s lore would be French as well. Even though “merde” has little relevance to ballet, it is consistent with the linguistics of the ballet studio. According to the informant, “merde” was whispered before each performance, so not only is this folklore occupational, it is ritualistic as well.