“Nobody can do two things at once, you know.”
The Red Queen, via Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking Glass)

Take that, multi-taskers.

The Red Queen was a tough customer, but she had much to teach Alice that is more important today than ever. Endless scientific studies are showing us what we already knew; that it’s an illusion that we can split our attention and not pay a price.

My son is a software programmer, and he explains to me (repeatedly and patiently) the difference between serial and parallel processing. When we try to do many things at once, we fool ourselves into thinking our brains are engaging in efficient, lightning-speed, parallel processing. Actually, we’re still doing one thing at a time, but we’re switching between them every few nano-seconds.  And (as is patiently explained to me), every one of those switches loses us time and keeps us from immersing ourselves with the necessary depth in any of the many tasks we’re attempting.  (I tend to believe him, for he’s a digital native who juggles online gaming, Pandora, emailing and web surfing at once; yet when he needs to write difficult code, everything else is shut down so he can really look inside it.)

What’s our take-away? Not only is this important for our private study and work, solidifying technique, learning roles, doing research; it’s also a hard but critical thing to put into practice while performing. (And yes, auditioning is performing.)

We should only be doing one thing at a time: delivering that wonderful integrated package that is music/voice/character/language. But if the preliminary work has not been done, we end up trying to remember the words and notes, monitor the technique, and fine-tune the interpretation – all at the same time. Enough practice must be done so that our addled brains aren’t trying to jump back and forth between these different concerns. Nail them down; make them part of you and completely interlaced with one another before you put yourself out there.

Oh, and another thing – while you’re performing, there should be no part of your brain that’s devoted to scanning the room for cues (“Are they writing bad things about me?” “Why are they frowning?”) and obsessing about other unfinished business (“Do I look OK in this dress?” “Did I remember to mark the cut in my music?”).

Be attentive to what matters, and shut down that monkey mind that swings frantically from branch to branch.

“Stand knee-deep in the flow and life and pay close attention….
Survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention.”
“The quality of life is in proportion to the capacity for delight.
The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”

Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way

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