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Face Palm! When Performance Goes Horribly Wrong

Ghetto StrapsStory time! So, this past week, I saw an old flame for the first time in about 12 years. Now, I’m a blissfully happy married lady, but you know how this works. No matter how much of a douche he was, no matter how happy you are now, you REALLY want to look amazing when you see him. With this in mind, I booked myself an afternoon at the salon to get my color done (it’s quite the ordeal). When the poor stylist took the foils out of my hair the first time, my streak was half yellow, half lilac. I sh*t you not. So, the guy puts Extra Strong Heavy Duty Super Terrifying Bleach on my hair to try again (by this time, I was just hoping that my hair would actually stay attached to my head). We rinsed again, and success! Glorious color! But now, it was too late to blow my hair out to the sleek, sophisticated do I’d envisioned.


 “I know!” said my stylist. “I’ll make it all Burnadette Peters fabulous! The higher the hair, the closer to Jesus!”


He proceeded to tease and spray my hair until it stood a full four inches off my head. Instead of cool and collected, I looked like the Wild Woman of Borneo. To top it off, there was a gale-force wind outside. By the time I saw my old dalliance, I looked like a homeless woman who had been though a hurricane. Oh – it was so bad. Instead of the, “Damn! I can’t believe I let that get away!” I had hoped to inspire, I’m fairly certain he thought, “Damn! Dodged THAT bullet!” Awesomeness fail.


Aside from a bruised ego, I was fine, of course. But what on earth does this have to do with anything aerial, you’re asking? Well, I’m a-tellin’ ya. Have you ever had a performance go very, very wrong? Messed up your routine? Got tied in a knot? Or (worst of all), gone Big Boom like our friend below? When you feel completely humiliated, it’s HARD on the ego. Grab some cawfee and a prune danish. Let’s tawk.


When You Just Want to Die

Performances are funny things. Rehearsal is meant to prepare you for every eventuality, but when you’re confronted with an audience, nerves, lights, loud music, and a host of other things you didn’t have to contend with beforehand, stuff can get weird. Fast. When you finish a performance feeling more mortified than marvelous, keep the following in mind:
  1. It’s almost never as bad as you think. The audience may have had a COMPLETELY different view of your act than you did! Find a sounding board you trust, kvetch a bit, and let them console you. Very therapeutic as long as it doesn’t become a habit!
  2.  If it was, in fact, as bad as you think, try to put it in perspective. Other than your ego, is anything else in shambles? Unless there was a Cirque du Soleil scout in the audience, chances are that this one performance won’t have any major repercussions in the grand scheme of things.
  3. If you clearly and meaningfully injure yourself (intense pain, a blow to the head, etc), stop immediately and, as gracefully as possible, exit the stage. It’s tempting to try to keep going, but adrenaline could be masking more injury than you think. Really be conservative on this one. If you destroy your body, where are you going to live?


Prepare the Right Way

I’m big on troubleshooting and preventing problems before shows. Not everything can be anticipated, but here are some good places to start.
  1. Rehearse your ass off. If you’re a seasoned professional, you can push your limits a bit. But for the student or green performer, you’ll want to make sure you can easily complete your act three times in one hour. Can’t do it? Make the piece shorter or put in more resting moves.
  2. Make sure you’re totally 100% comfortable with the elements of your piece. Performance is not the time to bust out the stuff you’re struggling with or just learned yesterday!!!! This cannot be overstated. Know what you’re doing onstage.  
  3. If you’re doing ambient work (nightclubs, for example), don’t just wing it. Prior to the event, string together lots of sequences that are second nature for you. Not only does this keep you safer, but it keeps your work dynamic so you don’t keep repeating the same four moves ad nauseum.
  4. Check your lighting. Make sure you have enough light to consistently see your apparatus (and the floor if you’re doing fabrics or a flying apparatus, especially if it’s a dark floor). You also want to make sure you’re not being blinded or disoriented by bright lighting. Talk to the LD (lighting designer) about your needs. For us, we request a basic wash on the apparatus (and floor if we need it), about 70% brightness for stage shows, and no strobes, fast-spinning gobos, or unexpected bally-hoos with the lights. Beyond that, they can have fun!
  5. Make sure the sound person is really clear on when to start your music. 
  6.  If there’s time, do a quick sequence on your apparatus in the space. Just a little “check in” can make a big difference in how comfortable you feel.
  7. Do a good warm up and make sure you’re hydrated and fueled! Eat a light meal about 90 minutes before the show, and make sure you’ve been sipping water regularly. A warm-up should elevate your body temperature, take your muscles and joints through their anticipated range of motion, and get you feeling strong and ready.



Enjoy the Show! Do a good prep, do your best onstage. If the piece goes Very Wrong, take heart: we’ve ALL had awful shows. Truly! Take a good look at what happened, and learn from your experience. Then, go have Dance-on-the-Table-Margarita Night with your best friends, and make them all tell you repeatedly how awesome you are. Because you are awesome. 🙂 Love and pull-ups, Laura

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7 comments on “Face Palm! When Performance Goes Horribly Wrong”

  1. Jonathan Deull Reply

    Please don’t forget to check (as in inspect) your rigging from top to bottom. In good light, before the house opens. Don’t let your first climb be your show opening. Especially if it is something other than a dead-hang, the rig can perform differently that what you are used to. Don’t get caught (or not caught) by surprise.

    • Lewitwer Reply

      100%, Jonathan! I can’t believe I omitted that! Would you mind if I quoted in the body of the post to make sure people see it?

  2. Heather Franklin Reply

    Spot on! I always have sequences ready for ambient work… Makes for such better flow!

  3. Moo Reply

    Such amazing timing. I have performed only a handful of time to a local audience. Last week I performed and forgot some of my routine but I hadn’t done a dress rehearsal…

  4. fran Reply

    i would add: don’t wear your costume for the first time in performance. make sure the costume works without problems- wear it in rehearsal to find out.

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