The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Tech Week

I have a sickness of the mind, and it is that I kind of get a kick out of tech week. The idea of 12 hour rehearsals gets me sort of jazzed sometimes. The head-down, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other grind of tech week is very fulfilling to me. It’s a week to throw the entirety of my energy squarely at two targets: put on a good show and don’t kill yourself. It’s like a week of wilderness survival but for a theatre kid. It’s exhilarating and when it’s done you get to show off all your cool scars (some figurative, most literal).

I’m a dweeb about tech week preparation, it’s true. If tech week is wilderness survival, I am your overenthusiastic survival guide. I will get through it and I will get you through it, too. Just heed my advice.

This guide is divided into four sections: Pre-Tech Preparations, Maintaining Mental and Physical Health, Vocal Health for Dummies, and Show Run Reminders.

Pre-Tech Preparations

Before tech week starts, it is helpful to get some other responsibilities out of your way. Clear your plate, because you won’t have time to keep up with too much else once the week begins.

  • Take care of any homework or work assignments ahead of time, if possible. If there are any big projects due in your life during tech week, get them over with before the week begins, or else have them mostly done before the due date. Tech week is exhausting enough as it is. If you’re like me, putting things off until tech week means they simply won’t get done. You never know what may need taken care of at the last minute for the show– don’t run the risk of leaving yourself without ample time to complete whatever you need to.
  • Clear your schedule as much as possible. This means obviously making sure rehearsals and show nights are free of conflicts, but also applies globally to the week. Schedule yourself as lightly as possible– refrain from making any appointments this week if you can. Work is also a consideration. It’s possible to work 8-5 every weekday and then go to rehearsal every night. It’s even possible to work right up until call for your shows come opening night. However, you are guaranteed to tire out quickly this way. If it’s not absolutely necessary, and you can get away with a few days off, now is a good time to take them! PTO is especially useful in this situation. Of course, not everyone can swing this. I recommend at least getting the days of the show off if possible– you want to be at your absolute best come showtime, not exhausted from working early.
  • Pick up any supplies you may need. I keep all of my supplies in a large tote and bring them with me each night. Below is a non-exhaustive list of things you may want/need:
    • All required costume pieces, makeup, etc
    • Your script/music
    • Bobby pins, hairspray, hairbrushes
    • Makeup wipes
    • Light snacks (I always have an assortment of nuts and crackers)
    • Water, sports drinks
    • Safety pins, tape
    • Bandaids
    • Pencils, hi-lighters, sharpies
    • Throat spray, lozenges
    • Tissues
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Deodorant
    • Phone charger (preferably not your “home” charger, in case you forget it at the theater!)
    • Anything else necessary to maintain your health
  • Make sure you know your stuff! Tech week isn’t time to learn– it’s time to review and polish. Your lines, blocking, set move assignments, and vocal parts should be, at least in very large part, learned by this point.

It’s also important to make sure you’re absolutely clear on when each rehearsal begins and when you are to be at the theater for the shows. In general, don’t leave anything about the week up to fate– be as prepared as you possibly can be.

It’s important to take care of yourself leading up to tech week, or you have no hope of getting through it at your best. Make sure you stock up on all the rest, food, and water you possibly can before tech week begins– you’ll be wanting for it later!

Maintaining Mental and Physical Health

It is absolutely crucial that actors take care of themselves during tech week. It’s so important, I will say it again, in bold this time: it is absolutely crucial that actors take care of themselves during tech week. Our society glorifies working until you drop, but running yourself to your absolute limit absolutely doesn’t help anyone. Think of it this way: if you pass out at rehearsal because you “heroically” skipped dinner to get to the theater on time or injure yourself because you’re asleep on your feet due to staying up all night cramming homework, you can delay rehearsal or stop a performance in its tracks. You can totally undermine all of the effort everyone has put into the show if you don’t take care of yourself. You can suffer severe health consequences, too. For example, if you don’t take care of a sore throat and sing all through tech week and performances with no regard for your health, you can severely damage your voice and be vocally handicapped for weeks or longer. Be smart. Take care of yourself.

Here are some tips for doing so:

  • Always, always, always make food, water, and sleep a priority. This is why I advise you to get other work done and clear your schedule as much as possible– it is most important, now more than ever, that you get proper rest and sustenance. This is what you have worked for for weeks, don’t settle for delivering less than your best. (And you will, unequivocally, deliver less than your best without these health staples.) Get 7+ hours of sleep a night, eat 3 meals a day, drink around 8 cups of water.
  • Stretch and warm up your body before the show. This will help you prevent injury and keep you alert and aware. Acting is a full-body exercise! Warm up each of these muscles before the show begins so you are ready to tackle the performance. Even if the group does stretches together, considering doing further stretching on your own time. You should know your body better than anybody else; therefore, your perception of when your body is warmed up and ready will be unique from everyone else’s. Keep going until you feel totally prepared, and then stretch a little more, for good measure.
  • Take care of your face! The routine of putting on and removing stage makeup each and every night can be a lot of stress on your skin. Always be sure to remove your makeup and rinse your face thoroughly. Pay attention to your eye makeup, too– although it can be harder to remove, heavy eye makeups can cause styes, itchiness, and dryness if left alone all week. If you’re not familiar with facial care, consider looking up some tutorials on YouTube to get an idea of how to save your skin during this week!
  • Minimize stress as much as possible. This sounds like a funny joke, I know. However, stress can cause somatic symptoms like stomach problems and sleep disruptions at worst, and keep you off your game at best. Minimizing your other commitments and being prepared for the week will help keep the stress load light.
  • Keep yourself clean. Maintaining personal hygiene will never be as paramount as it is in tech week. Shows are gross and sweaty, and no one likes to be (or be near) the smelly person in the dressing room. Bathe, brush your teeth, wash your hands frequently. I like to take a quick shower before I leave for every tech rehearsal and performance, if possible– even if not totally necessary. This is also a good way to “reset” your mind from the day and get in the zone for the show.
  • Sickness and injuries must be taken care of. Take you vitamin C and go to the doctor if you’re sick. Manage your symptoms and pain, and absolutely take it easy if you must.
  • Save yourself for the show. Don’t go giving 110% every night of tech. Save your voice, energy, and muscles for the performance. This doesn’t mean slack off during rehearsal, but go easy on yourself. Your director will understand.
  • Pretend you’re a healthy person. Even if you’re usually a hot mess, tech week is a great time to play the part of a person who has it all together. If you convince yourself that you’re organized, dependable, and healthfully-minded just for the week, you’ll be better inclined to take care of yourself and keep up with whatever the week throws at you. Eat the right foods, get your exercise, meditate, use essential oils. Whatever you need to do to trick yourself into staying on top of things, do it!
  • Reward yourself. Disregard my previous point for a moment, now. A big part of maintaining your mental health during tech week is giving yourself a pat on the back for the work you’re doing. So don’t skimp on the self-care this week: Take a bubble bath, do a face mask, eat some cake, sleep in a little. Just don’t reward yourself in a way that might be deleterious– for example, getting wasted after a performance and having a wicked hangover for your matinee is never a winning option.

Maintain your life outside the show– remember, once the week is done, you’ll have to go back to all those other realities you need to attend to. However, let the show be your main focus, just for now. This way, you can cut down on the stress of juggling thirty different tasks and ensure you’ve got the energy to perform at your best.

Vocal Health for Dummies

It is alarmingly common during tech week to hear complaints about sore, strained throats with no plan for restoring and maintaining vocal health. Again, don’t run yourself into the ground– take care of yourself! Aim for prevention of injury or illness, and if this fails, absolutely make recovery a priority. Here are some tips regarding keeping your voice in the best possible shape during a strenuous production week:

  • Drink water. This is a mandatory baseline. When you sing, it is the mucousy  membrane lining the surface of your vocal folds that does most of the vibrating required for sound production. These membranes absolutely need to be hydrated. Hydration is also useful for flushing phlegm from the throat, soothing and repairing strain, and keeping the rest of your body healthy. Drink water.
    • Soda/Pop is not a substitute for water, and creates excess phlegm in the throat.
    • Alcohol, coffee, and sugary beverages like energy drinks will dry out your throat even more. Avoid them as much as possible.
  • Warm up and warm down, gently and thoroughly. Even if the group does warmups together, you should know what your voice feels like when it is warmed up– do what is necessary for you to be prepared, not what is necessary for everyone else. Thorough warm ups can prevent injury and keep you sounding your best. A gentle warm down, such as humming, is a good way to relax the muscles after all the hard work of performing and helps you mentally wind down from the day’s work.
  • Prevent injury. Avoid over-singing, and avoid anything that is stressful to your voice, such as screaming, whispering, coughing, or clearing your throat. If you begin to feel pain, assume you are beginning to strain your vocal folds and back off.
  • Immediately respond to symptoms. As I’ve already asserted, you should be the authority on your own body. If you start feeling pain in your throat, heed the message! Strain is very common during tech week, as performing so much can take a heavy toll, especially if you aren’t used to performing often and don’t have strong stamina built up, or if you are recovering from previous vocal injuries or sickness. When you feel pain, it is important you assess and respond.
    • Am I sick or am I strained?This is a valuable question to ask, though the treatment for both will be relatively similar. A “sick” sore throat will often feel rather different from a “strained” sore throat.
      • Sickness: Raw or dry feeling in back of throat, “thickness” or tickle in the throat, accompanying symptoms of illness such as sinus problems, fever, etc.
      • Strain: Pain in the musculature in any part of the neck or throat, especially under the chin or around the sides/front of the neck. Pain might get better when the voice is not in use. Voice might sound breathy, raw, or weak, especially when singing.
      • If you are totally unable to discern whether you are sick or feeling the effects of strain, continue as if both were the problem, just to be safe.
    • Treatments for sickness:
      • See your doctor for diagnosis and more complete advice.
      • Take Vitamin C.
      • Expel excess phlegm from the body– blow your nose and attempt to clear post-nasal drainage, which can irritate the throat.
      • Avoid coughing or clearing the throat as much as possible. If you’re phlegmy, you might feel the urge to do so a lot, but it can be very damaging. Clear the throat with some gentle vocal warm ups (lip trills and 5-note arpeggios are good) or by drinking water– not by force.
      • Remember to clean/replace water bottles, lest you reinfect yourself.
      • Drink water.
      • Get plenty of rest.
      • Avoid misuse of the voice and go easy during rehearsals.
    • Treatments for strain:
      • Immediately cease misuse.
      • Go on vocal rest, if at all possible.
      • Assess singing habits (with the help of your vocal coach/music director, if possible) for damaging behaviors, and immediately seek to change them.
      • If possible, sing a different voice part closer to your natural range, or don’t sing at all in rehearsal. (Discuss with your director/music director so they don’t think you’re just slacking off.)
      • Be sure to warm up and warm down extra gently.
      • Drink water.
      • Get plenty of rest.
    • Remove the cause, not just the symptom: … but manage your symptoms, too. Here are some suggestions for soothing the pain in your throat:
      • Drink water… or hot drinks like tea for immediate relief.
      • Gelatin is soothing to a sore throat– Marshmallows are a common method of consumption.
      • Honey does wonders.
      • Potato chips are a weird suggestion, but they work. Try plain Lay’s the next time you have a sore throat.
      • Toast can be good for gently scraping some of the phlegm out of your throat, if you’re feeling especially “gunked up”.
      • Apples (and many other fruits) are full of Vitamin C, high in water content, and contain acids that can gently flush phlegm from the throat. Therefore, they’re pretty great for performers. Apple cider vinegar is even better, if you can stomach it– adding a small amount to a glass of water is a good way to flush toxins from your system.
      • REMEMBER THAT SOOTHING PAIN IS NOT THE SAME AS SOLVING THE PROBLEM. Drinking lots of Throat Coat and then singing away as though healthy just because your pain is temporarily gone isn’t the goal. Pain is important– it sends us valuable messages. By all means, soothe your pain, but remember to take it easy and seek to solve the underlying problem rather than only the symptom.
  • Avoid eating right before performing. Though nothing you eat will ever actually touch your vocal folds, eating directly before a performance can make your voice feel “thick” and hard to manage.
    • Side note on this: Dairy. Some say it makes them phlegmy and swear it off in the days before performing, some don’t care. Find what works for you and do that. How you feel is most important!

The most important take away from this section is take care of your voice. And also drink water.

Show Run Reminders

These are some general reminders for tech week and the show beyond:

  • Always pay attention to what your body is telling you, and immediately stop and inform your director/stage manager/music director/authority who can help when something is painful or feels wrong. If you feel dehydrated or lightheaded, take a minute to seek solutions and ensure you are alright before trucking on with the show.
  • Maintain your health above all else. Sleep, drink water, eat enough food.
  • Be responsible at your after-parties, especially if you still have shows left. If you have no shows left, go wild, but always be wary of potentially harmful situations. You can’t perform well in the future if you’re dead.
  • Keep alert by getting enough rest and getting light exercise. If you must drink coffee or an energy drink, seek low-sugar options, and drink it well enough in advance that you have time to chase it with water and keep your vocal folds effectively hydrated. This goes double for energy drinks: drinking these too close to the show can cause your heart rate to rise sharply and suddenly especially when nerves or lots of dance are factored into the equation. This can lead to hospitalization. Be careful, and avoid these “boosts” as much as possible. Get energy the old-fashioned way– with sleep!
  • Stay in the moment, especially once the rehearsal run or performance starts. Keep yourself fully occupied with the tasks at hand and save the rest for later. This will help you avoid stupid mistakes!
  • The worse the dress rehearsal, the better the show, or so they say. Don’t get too down about rough rehearsals. Just fix what you can for the next one and keep plugging along. A negative attitude won’t help you succeed.
  • Know when to give your all. You’ve got only a small handful of chances to perform– so don’t tire yourself out prematurely by going to hard during tech week. Save yourself for the show, and then give 110%.

Final Thoughts

Drink water.

Tech week can be long and painful, or it can be relatively painless and easy if you take care of yourself and keep up with the punches. Opt for the easy route: get sleep, get hydration, get sustenance, keep yourself healthy!

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One thought on “The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Tech Week

  1. I learned about tech in university- I was a theatre minor. I heard it was the worst- as in the hardest rehearsal time frame.I may just be an audience member- but I understand all of the hard work it goes to perform on stage.

    Like

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