A Mid-Show Fire Alarm? How to Prep for Onstage Mishaps
Just as the Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers reached an emotional moment in an April performance of Santuario, inspired by the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, the fire alarm began blaring. Timed as it was with the actual reenactment of the shooting within the piece, most of the audience remained in their seats expectantly, thinking this was part of the show. But the onstage fog effects had combined somehow with the humidity in the theater so that there was a real need to evacuate until the fire department could give the all-clear.
An actual break in the action like this—where the lights come up and you're forced to file out into a parking lot—is probably one of the most extreme distractions dancers could encounter during a performance. But thinking about how to refocus can help you prepare for any wardrobe malfunctions, prop flubs, lighting miscues or other onstage stumbles that could happen in the middle of a show.
Plan for Distractions
Practice for the unexpected just as you'd practice for a challenging solo. "The most successful performers aren't more perfect; they know how to visualize performance success and mentally prep for when things go wrong," says Dr. Charlie Brown, a retired performance psychologist who has worked with dancers from Charlotte Ballet.
Make a list of every distraction you've ever experienced onstage—how did you react? Could you have handled it better? Armed with this information, come up with a refocusing routine. "Get to where you can say, 'If something goes wrong, these are the stretches I'll do to get back into my rhythm again,'" says Brown. Some athletes even have drills or distraction days—one Olympic swimming coach would throw things in the pool during practice for the London games.
"Your abilities are enhanced by thinking through the scenario and identifying how you'll react," says Brown. "Uncertainty is the stress factor, so just by bringing additional awareness to what could go wrong, you'll have the confidence to regain balance."
Find Your Way Back into the Piece
No matter what mishaps occur, calm your mind and tell yourself that the rehearsal process has prepared you to start from any section of the piece. "Breathe deeply to relax your body and then try connecting with imagery—the kinesthetic sensations, pictures, and music that help you relate to the story of the work—to drop into the part of the brain that doesn't use words," says Brown.
Keep Safe and Warm
If a performance actually stops mid show for something like a fire alarm or power outage, remain ready to perform. Do what you can to stay warm and mentally sharp, but if you're inactive for more than 10 minutes, start at the top of an abbreviated warm-up routine.
And spend the time you need to get back into it: If the audience has stuck with you this far, they'll wait. KYLD choreographer Lin says that very few ticket-holders left during the commotion, and the experience may have even enhanced the performance. "The audience had so much compassion for the dancers," he says. "So they didn't give up. They were patient, came back in, and brought a very different chi into the theater. I think they were even more engaged in the dance itself, with its messages of compassion and love."
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.