Tag Archives: pre-show ritual

Theatre Rite of Passage: Pre-Show Game

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: College student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/20/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old female college student, was describing rituals, related to both her family and her passion for theatre, that she believes help define different facets of her identity. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which she describes a pre-show ritual that she witnessed several USC MFA Acting students take part in during a production.

Text:

Informant: So, last year, the first show that I worked on at USC was doing the spotlight for the MFA repertory. Um… and so I was doing the spotlight for a show called A Bright Room Called Day and it was for the third year MFAs, so they’re in their last year. And it was incredible to sit up in the light booth and watch this really tight ensemble just like completely vibe with each other and fall into place so effortlessly. And I got to see so much from the outside-in that was very inspiring, and it was so cool to observe the rituals they had formed through three years of spending so much time together, creating and growing. And so, they did this thing where, before the show, they would all gather in a circle um… and for a while I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but I ultimately figured out that they were saying this chant where on of them would say, “Get in your body!” And then everyone else would say, “Get in your body!” Um… but then it got really like intense and loud and it was hard to even like keep track of whose voice was saying what. And, basically, this whole eruption of sound would turn into passing the word “bah” across the circle, so you would just throw your hands up in someone’s face — the face of the person standing next to you — and say, “Bah!” And then it would… you know… it was just like lightning! It would just shock through each person. Usually it would go around the circle, but sometimes someone would stop and turn it the other way and people would get in these matches where they would yell “bah” back and forth at each other. And everyone in the circle was so invigorated and clearly so dedicated to committing to each other. So, that was a really amazing ritual to observe.

Informant’s relationship to the item: Though the informant did not personally take part in the pre-show ritual that she observed, she was clearly affected by witnessing other USC students participate in such a high-energy, impassioned, and invigorating display of connectedness. She describes feeling inspired by the game as an outside observer, as well as how the pre-show game seemed to energize each player and provide the entire group with a sense of cohesiveness. While she only watched the game from afar, being able to witness the passion of the production’s actors also seems to have filled the show’s crew with energy and excitement. It also seems to have made the informant feel more connected to the entire process.

Interpretation: The folk chant and game in which the actors participated appears to be some sort of pre-show ritual that the entire ensemble used in order to connect with one another and energize themselves before a show. Such rituals are common in the theatre, as well as other occupations in which people do not have total control over their actions or the ultimate outcome of their craft. There is a psychological element to these kinds of rituals, which some people believe to be magic, because they allow the participants to feel as if they have some level of mastery over the universe. The informant’s account is also interesting because it serves as an example of the distinction between active and passive bearers of folklore. The informant — who only witnessed and did not participate in the game — can be considered a passive bearer of the other actors’ folk game. The actors who participated in the game and, thus, performed that piece of folklore are considered active bearers of the pre-show ritual. However, if the informant decided to teach the game to others, she could become an active bearer of the ritual, as well.

Show Choir Ritual

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese American
Age: 18
Occupation: High School Student
Residence: Arcadia, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23, 2016
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

AA is an 18 year old high school senior. She is a member of her school’s show choir group, a performance ensemble that incorporates elements of musical theater and choir. She often goes to competitions with her team. Here she describes a pre-show practice for good luck that is deeply significant to her:

“So for show choir- our team is not very good. We’re not known as the high school that wins every competition or has elaborate dance routines or great costumes. A lot of it is because we’re so underfunded. But one thing we are really good at is teamwork.

So, before every show, the whole group will gather backstage, including the choir director and the choreographer. We all get together in a big circle and we hold each other’s hands, and then we pass a squeeze around the group to each person. Basically it symbolizes that everyone is involved, everyone’s talents are appreciated, and we’re all in this together. There’s this great sense of unity, and whatever happens, happens, that’s fine- we’re here for each other.”

I think it started as a way of calming everyone’s nerves before a big competition, but we always make sure to do it for good luck too. We never go onstage without doing this first because otherwise we might not perform as well as we could.”

Do you know who started this, or how long ago?

“I think it’s been around in our school’s show choir for a very long time. I know our choir president has been doing it all four years, and that the previous president- before any of us were even freshmen- did it too. So it’s been around for a while.”

Do you know about any other teams or schools that do this?

“I think it’s just us, at least in show choir. Only people in our show choir, in this group, know about this. When we go to competitions, we notice that each team has their own thing that they do- we notice it too. Like we saw one group put their heads together and go “caw caw!” and flap their arms or something like that- there are some weird ones! They’re all very different. But no matter how weird it may look to us, it’s special to them. It’s comforting. It’s kind of a way to relieve your stage fright and whether or not it actually gives us good luck, it’s good to have some peace of mind when you’re going onstage.”

My thoughts: Pre-show rituals for good luck are often a great way to make a group feel closer to one another- they denote you as an official member of that group. The informant mentions that each team has their own unique ritual that brands them as belonging to a specific school. I think this ritual also ties into the anxieties many high schoolers feel regarding their identities- they are often looking for a group to belong to. Also, the ritual helps to dispell any stage fright the performers might have, so it doesn’t matter as much whether it actually grants good luck or not because it’s a reassuring gesture either way.