We all make mistakes. And anyone who is constantly participating in a live performance is going to eventually make a mistake. No matter how many hours you practice, how many times you repeat something, inevitably, something will go wrong eventually.
And I HATE that.
Some people just shrug and move on, knowing full well that mistakes are a natural and normal part of live theater. I unfortunately am not one of those people. In fact, quite the contrary - I am one of those people who lies in bed at night after making a mistake in a performance and yells "MISTAAAAAAAAAKE!!! MISTAAAAAAAAKE!!! MISTAAAAAAAAAKE!!! repeatedly in my own head. Kind of like this:
(By the way, the tenor in that clip from the TV show "Scrubs" is named Bruce Sledge, and he happens to be the person with whom I performed my very first love scene when I was 19 years old, at a summer program in California called Music Academy of the West. I was a soprano then, and I sang Nanetta to his Fenton, and we had to roll around on the ground and make out. To make things even more difficult, my parents, not knowing what type of scene we would be performing, were sitting in the third row video-taping the whole thing. MISTAAAAAAAAAAKE!!!)
Anyway, last night's fourth performance of Agrippina was generally quite a good one. The energy was high, people were singing beautifully, all systems were go. When we got to my last aria, the big crazy bravura coloratura one, I was happy with how it was going. I was feeling good and psychopathic and singing all my notes fast and furiously, and then went onto the "B" section which is slow and legato, in contrast to the fiendish fioratura of the "A" section. I am lying on the ground for this section, in between the my mother's legs (don't ask) and I was feeling really in the moment, and playing with dynamics and colors. I was feeling good, like all the elements were coming together. Then in the last couple of phrases, something I cannot explain happened, and for some reason I held one of my notes a beat longer than I was supposed to. So, for the next measure I was one beat behind the orchestra, until I got my bearings, corrected myself, and got back on track for the final phrase. It was so weird - that particular thing had never ever happened before - in all the performances I did of this role two years ago, and in all the two months I've been doing it this time, I have never once held that note an extra beat. I have no idea what synapses didn't fire in brain last night that caused me do to that, and I still don't know now. But it was about 4 seconds of pure agony for me, where I realized I was wrong, needed to keep going while simultaneously correcting myself, and it felt like it lasted for about 4 hours.
The funny thing is, the only people who had any idea that something was wrong were me, the conductor, and the soprano playing my mother, since she has heard me sing this aria a million times while lying between her legs. Even the other singers in the show, who were standing in the wings listening, couldn't tell that anything was off. It was ONE measure in a three and a half hour opera. But I tell you, I was so MAD at myself for this error! How could I have gotten it right in all the rehearsals and made this stupid, useless mistake in a performance? WHY?????? MISTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE??????????????
But you know what? The true test of a professional in any field is not the perfection they achieve, but how they recover from their mistakes. Because perfection is absolutely impossible and besides that, it's boring. The reason that human beings like to experience live theater is because of the possibilities that lie within the unexpected. And sometimes that even means mistakes. So we have to accept our mistakes, forgive ourselves, and make the next moment even more interesting than the last. So my job is to silence that voice in my head that screams, "MISTAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE" and keep going, so that in the end, people don't remember mistakes, they just remember that the evening was very interesting.
Mistake? What mistake? I was just seeing if you were awake.