“It’s a part of my track when I warm up. I have my track onstage, but I also have blocking offstage where I know, ‘OK, this is the point in time where I warm up.’ If I don’t adequately get my body ready, I could injure myself.”
We caught up with Andrew Mayer, ensemble member in the trailblazing new musical Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. I met with Andrew at Corso Coffee, just across from The Imperial Theatre on West 45th Street, where Andrew was about to begin another eight-show week. We dive into his pre-show routines, what he has learned working on this show, lessons on mindset, and much more. I’ve broken down this interview into two parts – check out Part II here. Enjoy!
How do you find the energy to sustain eight shows a week? Particularly in this high-energy, demanding show?
“This show is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. It’s genuinely hard on the body and the voice. When I was learning the track, I was learning what I had to do while playing, and singing, in addition to moving, in addition to climbing about 300 stairs a show. You put all these different skill-sets together. I had to learn to sing while playing different notes from each other, harmonizing with myself, and in different rhythms sometimes. When I play, in my head I hear the pitch, and then it translates to my fingers. Now, I hear a pitch and I play it, but I have to sing another pitch. It burned a new neural-pathway in my brain to be able to do this.
Today is the first of our eight show week. So, today is a longer pre-show routine. Longer warming my hand up, and my body, because each day it gets easier in some ways and harder in other ways. On the front end, I’m waking my brain back up to what this is. On the back end, I’m more interested in cooling my body down. I might be hurting by the end of the week, whereas now I feel good.”
BREAKING DOWN ANDREW’S PRE-SHOW ROUTINE
“I’ll usually warm up at home vocally. Depending on how my voice is feeling and what happened the day or night before, I need to adjust accordingly. Then, I’ll get to the theater no later than forty-five minutes before. Even though my call is half-hour, I’m usually there 45-minutes to one hour before. I need to bring my mind into the space. There are so many moving pieces, physically and mentally, that I need to go through the steps. I warm up my violin, the instrument itself, and I warm up my hand. I play scales, similar to what you do with a vocal warm-up, but just with the violin. I tune it. Then, I stretch a little bit physically. I don’t do anything too intense at at the top of show. I save the more intense stretching and rolling out for after intermission. The biggest production number, as far as how taxing it is on the body – I have a song and a half to warm up right before it. I have a very specific eight to ten minutes where I don’t even go to my dressing room. I’m in costume, and I go straight to the warm-up area to roll out or stretch (dynamic stretching, not static stretching) and almost sweat before I get out onstage. Then, my body is primed for the intense physical activity, the shock it’s about to go through. It’s a part of my track when I warm up. I have my track onstage, but I also have blocking offstage where I know, ‘OK, this is the point in time where I warm up.’ If I don’t adequately get my body ready, I could injure myself. People have and they HAVE warmed up, so I want to be as preventative as possible.”
ROUTINE FOR TWO-SHOW DAYS
“During a two show day, I’ll do that whole routine once. In between shows, maybe I’ll nap. I’ll definitely eat. I don’t like to eat too close to curtain. I’ll usually be hungry in Act Two, honestly. I’ve moving so much that I stick with protein. Protein bars and coffee. Coffee is life. Not for everybody, but for me. I try to not drink it when I don’t have to do a show, so it really works when I do have a show.
I’ll nap, I’ll eat. Sometimes I have PT or something. The second show, I don’t do as intense a warm-up, because I don’t want to overdo it. Some basic tuning. I do a half version of the full warmup for the second show.”
ON BALANCING WORK AND LIFE IN NEW YORK CITY
“I’m still figuring that out. Eight shows a week, I’ve done before. For the amount of time that I anticipate I will be doing this, I’ve never done it that long. The body acclimates. I’m more primed, in less pain, and better cardio now than I was in tech. It’s easier on my body to do the show, but I can’t take that for granted. On a Tuesday night, I know I have a two show day the next day, so I’m not going out too much. Sleep. Sleep is one of the biggest things for me. Personally, I’d rather sleep than almost eat in some ways. My voice responds to sleep. My body responds and heals. I need those eight hours.
Sometimes in the morning I’ll wake up – I was talking about this with my cast-mate Gelsey Bell – I got to the theater and I didn’t feel quite up to it yet. She was like, ‘When did you wake up?’ And I actually woke up too late that day. She does this thing where she needs to be up for three hours before her voice is ready to be active. I think that’s a cool way of thinking about it. Very often I do find it’s 2pm and I feel better than I did at 11am. So, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. Not screaming, not drinking too much, if anything. You find what works for you and you have to be responsible. At the end of the day, this is a job, so you have to maintain that.”
ON THE LINK BETWEEN ATHLETICS AND PERFORMING
“This is an athletic event, what we do here. I’m really competitive. Maybe unhealthily competitive, sometimes. I played sports in high school. I played some baseball, I always played soccer. I loved gym class. Actually, as I got out of high school and into college, my interest in athletics, working out, and fitness really took off. There’s so many different limitations that exist that we are not in control of in this industry, and the world. There are things we have no say over. Something I do know I have a say over is my own body, my own physical health. I don’t want my body to stand in the way of being able to do something as difficult as this, so I train to make sure that I’m physically capable of doing it. I’m in control of my fitness levels. It would be a shame to not be able to do something because of something you can control.”
I love the way you put that. As you said, so much is out of our control – related to that – when you were starting out, how did you detach from results and not take rejection personally? Keeping a sense of optimism and enthusiasm when so often told “no”?
“This changes from day to day, especially when I was auditioning. No one is constantly peppy and if they are, they’re lying. It’s ups and downs. Going in the room and doing the work. I made a transition. At one point, I was going in the room trying to impress people or trying to get a job, or give them what they wanted. In a way, you always need that in your head, because you have to read the breakdown and choose your material appropriately. But after you do that little bit of homework, you have to think you are the answer to their problem. You are potentially the person they are looking for. You are in a position of power, and the key is to not lose sight of what power you do have as a performer. Also, it’s important to go in the room and do the work. Live in what you’ve chosen to do. If you’re so busy thinking about other things, and you get caught up in your own head with, “Does he like me? Does he not like me?” Sometimes just performing the piece gave me the immediate satisfaction of keeping it about what I did in the room, and not about whether they wanted me for the piece or not. Of course I want to book things, but that audition is still process of learning how to be more present.”
That’s something I’m still working on all the time. That’s a good reminder. If you’re here now, then why be stressed?
“You can be stressed, but if you are, you’re thinking about something else. In the room, keep it about the work. I like to imagine stress doesn’t exist. Stress is something that is created by either thinking about something in the future, or thinking about something in the past. You’re stressed about something in either direction. But, how can I be stressed when I’m right here with you now, talking? I don’t think that’s possible. I’m here with you. Also, it’s business. It really is sometimes. It hurts, don’t get me wrong. It hurts every time, especially when you’re five callbacks in. But, it’s a progression. You were five callbacks in, not because you were bad. You’re at that that point because you’re doing a really good job, but there’s other things in play. Control what you can and the rest is…keep your head down and keep trucking.”
In Part II, we cover:
- How Andrew found out he got cast in The Great Comet
- What advice Andrew would give to his younger self
- Overcoming fear and perfectionism
- Creating opportunities for yourself
- The discipline of practicing and developing a new skill