Your Actor’s Nightmare & How to Wake-Up!

Posted by on Oct 25, 2011 in Blog, Uncategorized | 1 comment

The Scream by Nalissis


I knew it was going to happen 24 hours before it did.  I woke up in the middle of the night with such anxiety that I couldn’t sleep.  I didn’t know how to calm myself down…and I was thousands of miles from home.

This is the story of getting my latest show up on it’s feet and living through your and my worst nightmare.   This past year I have been writing a new show.  It’s called snug harbor.  It is the most personal show I have ever written and creating it helped me through a very difficult time.  The show is about my relationship with my father.  A wonderful and flawed man who always did things his own way, including how he chose to die.

I was invited by the wonderful Tanya Taylor Rubinstein to debut my new show at her brand new Solo Performance Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I felt this gave me enough time to get it ready and the comfort of debuting a new show way out of town, my hometown of Toronto, Canada.

I usually travel with a stage manager when I go on tour.  This time I had my gifted director, Anita La Selva with me.  We arrived in beautiful Santa Fe with the show running about 85 minutes and with parts still needing to be memorized by me.  So, we spent all of our time, that we were not in the theatre teching, running my lines.  Poor Anita.  This is not really her job and it should have been all done before I got on those two planes to Santa Fe.  Oh, the ‘should-haves’!

I have two performances, Thursday and Saturday night, prime time slots.  It’s middle of the night before I open.  I wake from my sleep and something is wrong.  I feel fear, in my body and mind.  And try all my tricks to calm myself; Bach’s Rescue Remedy, I take two aspirin, I do stretches and yoga on the bed, finally I reach for my iPhone, go to my music and find Deva Premal & Miten’s song; ‘Radhe Govinda’.  Listening to this does the trick.  It pulls me out of my own stress and worried mind into the world of the soothing music.  I am able to fall back to sleep with this song on a continuous loop.

Fast forward to Thursday evening, I have been going over my lines like a banshee fighting for her life.  I arrive at the theatre while the show before me is still on and it is….a comedy, performed by the hilarious Ann Marie Houghtailing.  With huge laughs coming every other line.  Oy vey.  I try not to listen as I warm up.

Here comes the living nightmare part.  I knew there was a chance I would have to ask for a line or two or seven, so I tell the wonderful woman running my slide show, that this may be the case and to be ready for it.  If I need a line, I will look at her and simply say, ‘yes’.  Well, I must have said ‘yes’ twenty times of those 85 minutes.  It was just my reality up there.  There were certain lines I did not know.  My mouth was drier than usual and I have actually never needed someone to feed me my lines before, but here I was and this was actually happening.  I was mortified but the show must go on.  Even as I asked for lines I stayed fully in character and fully focused.  We get to the end and it’s time for the final video clip.  It has trouble starting, and the audience can see the screen from my lap top, with the computer saying ‘press play here’ and all that stuff that should be behind the magic theatrical curtain!  I take my half hearted bow and retreat as quickly as I can to the back of the green room. I felt awful.

Later that night, planning my escape from Santa Fe so I don’t have to do the show again, I get an email with the subject; “Peer-to-Peer”.  I’m awake when it comes in around 2:00am.  It’s from the amazing woman who was giving me the lines I needed during my performance that evening.

Her name is Michelle Baker and she happens to be a director and solo performer herself.  She says: “I hope I am not over-stepping myself here. What I am going to say is only as my insight as I reflect upon the past few days and the rehearsals we have had, and is offered to you in friendship and as a fellow actor.”  She believes that I’m forgetting the lines that I’m forgetting because they are not necessary in the telling of my story.  In know right away, she’s right.  And she offers to run lines with me before my show on Saturday.  What a gift.  Massive!

It’s about 3am at this point.  I jump out of bed and make the script edits.  I know exactly what to cut.  I send her the revised script and over the next two days we work on the show.  The new stream-lined better version.  And it’s 70 minutes.

Saturday night comes and it’s time for me to go on.  I ask her to please be on book (watching my lines) again for me, just in case.  My husband has flown in from Canada and is in the audience.  The lights go down.   I start the show, singing a gospel song and entering through the audience.  Up on stage I feel again my mouth is dry and I am standing about one foot away from my body.  Then, after a minute or so, something magical happens.  I re-enter my body and I feel the joy I get from being alone on stage acting out a great story.  I know the show now and I’m back.  Without the unnecessary bits to weigh the show down, it takes off.  I’m getting laughs, crying, singing and really connecting with the audience, as a group and as individuals.  There’s even an applause break after a particularly irreverent bit.   The ending comes, the video works and my bow is greeted by a standing ovation.

I was so glad I hadn’t successfully planned my escape from New Mexico!  (Although I know some sneaky routes, if you need them.)

I came through the fire of my worst nightmare and woke myself up by listening to what the problems were trying to tell me.  What I have learned, from this experience and 16 years of performing solo shows, is the show will always tell you what it needs.

Listen to your ‘mistakes’, to places where you can’t remember what comes next, to whole chunks you keep forgetting.  And sometimes, OK always, you have to go through the ring of fire, the labor pains to bring a new solo show into the world.  But, let me tell you, IT’S WORTH IT!  It’s worth it to move people.  It’s worth it to tell and share your story.  To make people laugh.  To talk about something that’s hard to talk about.  To free yourself and others from being in the closet…about anything!  The braver you are, the braver you inspire others to be.   Believe it or not, speaking your truth helps set not only you, but others free as well.  It’s contagious.

Now go help others catch your courage!

Warmly Yours,

Tracey Erin Smith

p.s.  I am happy to say, snug harbor will have it’s Canadian debut in 2012!

One Comment

  1. What an amazing story, but then it involves amazing people. How wonderful that Michell Baker sent that email to you.
    I’m so looking forward to the Canadian debut of Snug Harbour.

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