I’m about to perform a play so I’m in here rehearsing. I’m getting turnover—repetition. It’s no different than giving as speech, toast or a presentation in the boardroom. It’s all the same. I rehearse all of that stuff. I memorize what I’m going to say over and over again because repetition is the king. Repetition and practice get this bad name, or vibe, because people think it’s boring. I learned early on as an athlete and as a performer that those who could deal with the monotony and boredom of doing the same thing over and over again, those would be the ones who would become the best in the world at what they do.
I want you to get used to that mastery, that repetition, that loneliness, that mundaneness, that being alone and training. It’s not boring—kids say it’s boring—it’s not boring. It’s mastery. It’s greatness. It’s the highest level of intelligence that there is, that’s why I do it. That’s why I want you to do it.
I’ve done this play 1,300 times. A lot of audience members come to me and say, “I’ve seen your play 12 times and it’s different every time. How can you make it different every single time?” It’s only different because it’s happening in real time. I’m not just spewing words that I’ve memorized by rote. I’m not doing that. I’m looking out into the audience—just like I’m looking at you right now through the lens of this camera. I don’t know exactly what’s going to come out of my mouth, but I look at you, and then the words come out. I’m co-creating whatever this performance is with the audience members in real time.
That is the key to the most amazing performances you could possibly muster because now your audience becomes a necessary player in your speech. Your audience becomes complicit with your performance—they’re helping you create it, but you as the performer have to look out there and be brave—because it’s not for the faint of heart, you have to look out there and you’ve got to have a lot of courage and say to yourself, “What do they need and what do I need from them? Let’s create it right now.” And then those words come out of my mouth. Now this person and I have a relationship and it’s going to last for the next 90 minutes of this show. Then I look at the next person and the next person, re-creating and co-creating the performance in real time so that by the end of the show it’s hitting a crescendo where everybody has created the story together and everybody’s on the same side.
At the end of the show, what happens a lot of times is that the audience gets slugged right in the stomach for helping me create this thing because it might have a dark ending or I might call them to action and ask them to do something. Well, if they’ve created it they’re more apt to do something, to act. That’s what this is about. You have to have the courage to look out into the audience and say, “I don’t know where I am. All I know is I need you and I know you need me,” and here we go. Create it right in the moment—that’s great art, that’s great speaking and that’s great performance.
The magic of great speaking and great performance—whether it’s a play or speech—is this little magic that happens between the lines that surprises even the performer. I memorize the dialogue and then say it so many different ways. I say it fast, slow, like my audience is deaf, like I’m talking to kindergarteners. I rehearse it n all these crazy different ways so I never do it the same way twice—that way it’s real.
So whenever I’m out there with a person, anything can happen between that person and me. And everything has happened between audiences and me. Surprises like people have fainted in my audience. People have been blind, and I didn’t know, and I tried to touch them and reach my hand to them and they didn’t reach their hand back because they couldn’t see my hand and I didn’t know they were blind. All kinds of surprises happen. That is the magic of live speaking, of live chemistry in a theater.
People don’t get enough of those moments. The performer usually ruins those magical moments. Say I’m up her performing and I’m drinking from a bottle of water. I drop the water and it spills all over my shirt. I say, “No, let’s stop and go back.” That ruins a great performance because through the water falling or some other mistake onstage, your audience sees your humanity and now they’re on your side. They love humanity. They love to see our foibles. They love to see us mess up because now we’re like them. Most of us want to be perfect as speakers and performers so we never let them in on our humanity. As soon as you mess up a line or you don’t know where you are, the audience is on your side. That’s the magic—never that pass. Sink your teeth into that and pray that those moments happen because they’re irreplaceable.