Repurposing Parking

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I recently learned the word 'repurpose' on one of those lists of mildly useful household tips that circulate round the internet. (They always make of me think of the Viz example: 'A cigar case full of angry wasps makes an inexpensive vibrator'.) It has a more thoughtful and less jerry-rigged feel to it than 'hack' (as in 'life-hack' or the more specific IKEA-hack*), and so I'm happy to use it to describe the manner in which I have appropriated an idea.

The concept is one shared by Karen O'Connor in her Performing on Your Mind workshop back in November, called 'parking'. It is a technique for sequestering anxieties, especially those outside your circle of influence. If something bothers you, but is completely beyond your control, then once you have figured out there is nothing you can do that will make a difference there is nothing to be gained by giving it any further attention.

Of course, this is easy to say, but not thinking about things is famously difficult to achieve.

The technique of 'parking' a worry doesn't require you to forget or repress or actively try to avoid the thought. It allows you to consciously acknowledge it, but then to put it to one side. It is still there, but it is no longer in your way.

The way I have been repurposing this idea is to use it as a way to manage preparation for a performance in the specific scenario of when you have a significant gap between your warm-up and the performance itself.

The choral warm-up is partly about the voice, but it is significantly more about the mind and the emotions. The warm-up process activates the skills needed for the performance, and gets the singers feeling aligned with one another and ready to achieve the goals of that performance. It gets everyone on task and focused.

Between the warm-up and the performance, however, there is nearly always some kind of delay. This may be nothing but a 10-minute hold off stage, or it could be a 2-hour gap in which the ensemble travels from warm-up to performance venue, meets all kinds of other people (hosts, stage crew, other performers, audience members), and sits through other people's performances.

This offers a lot of opportunity for distraction. Even a short delay gives people the chance to distract themselves and each other. The voice I am less worried about - once this has been activated it will respond even after a couple of hours' delay. But the quality of attention needs more active management.
Performance preparation is about climbing the Yerkes-Dodson curve to the point where you are nearly, but not quite at the perfect level of arousal to do your best job. You want the extra little burst of adrenaline that comes into the system as you go on stage to lift you into the zone. The risk with delays is that people may either slide back down - get too relaxed and thus not be ready at the key moment - or continue the arousal process until they've gone too far and head onto stage with far more adrenaline in their systems than they need.

You can see where I'm heading with this. When we get to the end of the warm-up, we need to park our sense of readiness. We need to tuck it into a safe bit of our selves where we can get it out again later, like a hamster storing a nut in its pouch until later. We need to have a clear sense of where we have put it, and to be aware of keeping it safe there through everything else we do until we perform.

This is easier to do when our schedule is clear and we know when we're aiming for. We can then have a sense of anticipation, of being ready to be ready at the appropriate time. This resonates well with the ideas about planning and the use of triggers Karen also talked about - when we know when the key moment will be, we can meet our ideal selves there, and present it with our readiness ('here's one I prepared earlier').

When the schedule is unclear - or worse, becomes unclear through mismanagement of the event itself - keeping our readiness parked is a trickier and more active mental task. It's less like having your car in the multi-storey while you're on holiday, with the valet company getting it out to meet you as you emerge from customs, and more like the aeroplane circling in a holding pattern waiting for its turn to land.

But it is still achievable. We can't always control the events we perform at - what kind of distractions or obstacles or unpredictable delays they might throw up - but we can manage our responses to them. Knowing that we have the wherewithal to keep our readiness parked until it is needed is not only useful in itself, but also a great comfort in the face of circumstance.

*My favourite IKEA-hack: you know those plastic bag dispensers designed to hang inside cupboard doors? Knickers.

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