Earlier today, I got all dolled up in period dress and preformed The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for an appreciative crowd at Warner Library. The event was the Gunpowder Kids awards, where kids who have volunteered in the village throughout the year are celebrated. A good group, of all ages, and they ate it up.
My performance is a fully-memorized one-man show. It spans around 25 minutes, tells the whole story using Irving’s words, and generally leaves the audience satisfied. Right in the middle of the story, however, my mind went absolutely, 100% blank. I just plum lost everything. One second I was running full steam ahead, the next my head was as empty as leaky bucket. Which I would think would be very empty. Hence the metaphor.
Work with me, people.
So I broke into that special, split-personality thing performers do when their body is going through the motions while the mind is scrambling for something. I sort of half-repeated what I’d just said, slowing down both for effect and a desire to stretch out the time, while my mind backed-up and quickly ran through it again, trying to figure out what I’d missed. It didn’t work. I gave up backing up and scanned ahead, looking for a good place to jump back into the story. Meanwhile, my lips started babbling random words that felt like they belonged, trying desperately not to lose the audience.
After what seemed forever, but was probably only a few seconds, I dove back in with both feet and got back into the rhythm of the story. Yes, I had skipped some things–and of course once I started, I realized where I’d gone wrong and had to resist the urge to go back–but I managed to pull the train into the station, so to speak.
When I was done, everyone erupted with applause. They loved it. And not a one had any idea that I’d utterly blanked in the middle of the show. I even asked a couple of my friends if they’d noticed anything, but they didn’t. They thought I had been perfect.
This has happened before. Point of fact, I doubt I have ever done one of my one-man shows the same way twice. I used to wonder why the audience seemed oblivious to my obvious missteps. But I long ago realized the key to getting through these momentary mind-erasures–bluff. As long as I seem confident, nobody knows the difference. Bluff and bluster and just keep saying something. Anything.
What the audience doesn’t know can’t hurt you.