My little rituals for performing on stage: Ian McMillan

They say that once you’ve learned to ride a bike you never forget how to, even if you’ve not been on one for months.

"I go through the same rituals and routines", says Ian McMillan.

Well, I can’t ride a bike (I know: hard to believe, isn’t it?) so that wise old saying doesn’t apply to me but the equivalent for performers like me would be that once you’ve learned how to stand on a stage and try to make people laugh you never forget how to do it even if you haven’t done it for months.

Well, the last stage I was on was at Penistone Paramount Cinema in early March and we had a great time but I’ve not interacted with any live audiences since then, so I wonder how long it will take me to get back on that particular bike? A metaphorical bike, of course, unless I give up the poetry and start a novelty unicycle act called One Wheel McMillan. I wonder if I’ll remember what to do.

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The main thing, I reckon, once I can start doing gigs again, is to make sure I go through the same rituals and routines I always did before the show, and that will settle me into the right frame of mind.

The ritual always begins hours and hours before the gig when I get my bag ready: the books, the daft notices that I read from, the postcards that I give to the crowd as they come in, the shirt that I’ll change into.

Now, this supposes that I’ll be able to hand people the postcards but I think I’ll proceed as though gigs will actually run in the future in more or less the same way that they did before, which may be a forlorn hope, but it’s good to keep the spirits up. Then, before I set off to the venue, I have something to eat. Some performers like to eat just before they go on stage but not me: I don’t want to repeat myself, if you get my drift.

So then I’ll travel to the gig, either on my own or with my mate Luke. Let’s assume this rescheduled show is part of our endless tour of village halls. We arrive at the hall and we have a cup of tea and I do what I call “inhabiting the space”, which is maybe just a pretentious way of saying that I wander around a bit. I walk all the way round the village hall inside and outside.

I walk across the stage if there is one but I also walk around the kitchen and the small room at the back and I stick my head in cupboards to see what’s inside. Then, after a while, I feel I know the building inside out and then I feel ready to perform in it.

Luke will then eat a vast meal and I’ll nibble fitfully on a sandwich for the reasons outlined earlier. Then, assuming it’s allowed, I’ll greet the audience as they arrive. This relaxes me and it relaxes them.

Then, finally, I’ll go into the toilets, making sure there’s nobody in there already, and I’ll look at myself in the mirror and I’ll say “McMillan, you are a funny man!”

And then I’ll get back on the bike.

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