Guides and Tips, Theatre

Do This, Not That: Tech Week Edition

As I’ve previously expressed on this blog, I love tech week. It’s a semi-sadistic challenge that I adore overcoming. Preparing for tech week and figuring out how to maximize my chances of survival gives me an admittedly silly thrill. If you’re anything like me, or just looking to help your chances of not dying before your show, this article should come in handy. Here are five common mistakes to avoid during tech week, and five alternatives to take instead that will keep you happy, healthy, and in better performing condition!

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Guides and Tips, Theatre

How 3 Key Concepts From English Literature Class Will Make you a Better Actor

“Is theatre literature?” is a complicated question– some say yes and others vehemently disagree– but no one denies that theatre requires many of the same skills your English literature classes demand. After all, in many ways, analyzing a script is procedurally indistinguishable from analyzing a novel.

If you are looking to become a stronger actor capable of creating more compelling characters and scenes, you may want to start paying attention in English class.

Here are three key ideas from every literature syllabus that will help you become a better actor.

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Guides and Tips, Theatre

What Does Taking Care of Your Voice Actually Mean?

Performers hear about it all the time— the importance of “taking good care of your voice.” For actors and singers, the voice is a crucial part of making a living. Protecting it is therefore paramount. 

But what exactly is involved in “taking care” of a voice? That phrase can mean a lot of things, after all. One takes care of a baby much differently than one takes care of a car, for instance. If you throw around this phrase without understanding fully what it means, we’re likely to miss a few steps. Unfortunately, just as in taking care of a baby, missing a few steps when caring for your voice can turn dire. So what does “taking care of your voice” actually mean?

Taking care of your voice means…

Getting to know your voice

You cannot care for your voice if you do not understand what a voice is. Even worse, if you don’t know what your voice is. 

Developing an understanding of how the voice works is crucial, but even before you do that, it would benefit you to focus on getting to know your own voice. Your voice is a part of you, a complicated mixture of genes, anatomy, history, habits, culture, and education. You’ve been using it since you were born, so even without understanding the complicated workings of vocal anatomy and physiology, you know instinctively how your voice should feel and function. You know what feels natural for you, what feels uncomfortable, and what hurts. This is important feedback from your body that you should always listen to. 

Exercise your voice regularly and develop a sense of where your personal quirks, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses lie. How does your voice feel at its best? Where does your range naturally lie, and what color or sound does your voice naturally tend towards? How long can you sing before you feel fatigued? What warmup routine makes your voice feel best, and how does that change day by day? How do things like allergies, tiredness, stress, or emotions manifest in your voice? Do any foods or medications invoke any changes?

Spend mindful time exploring how your voice feels. This is a necessary baseline for any vocal training you wish to pursue. You must become tuned-in to the messages your voice sends you while singing. 

Listening to what your voice and body tell you

Once you understand how to listen to your voice, you must, of course, listen to your voice. 

It’s fairly easy to tell when a particular technique, practice, or situation isn’t working. Your body tells you! If something hurts or feels uncomfortable, try to avoid it. If your voice feels fatigued, listen to this message and give it a rest. 

If you were taking care of a particularly cute puppy, and they didn’t seem to like something, you’d probably avoid making them do or put up with that thing. Treat your voice with the same tenderness. 

Becoming a lifelong student of proper vocal technique

A professional well-versed in the best way to use the voice is a mandatory part of your voice’s care team. Think of them like the trainer for your particularly cute puppy: You want both your trainer and puppy to be well-trained and excellent at what they do!

Although everyone is naturally equipped with a voice, we often develop harmful habits in using it. These “blockages” are often hard to recognize on your own. Therefore, voice teachers and therapists are crucial to developing the voice. Learning the most efficient way to use your voice when speaking and singing is a must, and they can help you get there.

Vocal technique involves learning to coordinate the muscles in the body to breathe and create sound in a comfortable, unrestrained way. Mastering vocal technique will free your voice from damaging learned habits and behaviors. 

Many performers forget that there is more to vocal technique than singing. Learning to use your voice well while simply speaking and projecting on stage is also necessary. In addition to a singing teacher, look for an acting coach who can help you train your speaking voice. 

Using your voice properly in EVERY situation 

Remember that the voice is not only used in singing or projecting, and therefore vocal technique applies to more than just performance. In other words, you must care for your voice whenever it is used.

Take care of your voice in your daily life. Extremes like shouting and whispering are damaging. Avoid these and anything else that causes pain. This may mean altering habits at school or work. If you often end the day with a sore, fatigued throat, you are likely overusing your voice, or using it in injurious ways. This is a sign that voice training or therapy will be beneficial!

Understanding your limits

Imagine you lived a sedentary lifestyle and then suddenly decided to become a runner. You probably wouldn’t start by trying to run a 5k. In fact, you’d probably struggle to run more than a few minutes at a time to begin with. You’d simply have to understand that your abilities are limited by genes, experience, muscularity, and stamina. 

Training your voice is much the same. Regardless of what training you may have received, every performer has personal limits to contend with. For instance, if you don’t use your voice frequently, you’ll probably lack the stamina to sing for long periods. If you regularly sing and speak in the low parts of your range, it will likely take some time and exercise to strengthen the top parts of your range. If you normally sing in a “legit” style, you’ll need to spend some time learning the rules and techniques of a pop-rock style before becoming comfortable with it. 

You may be able to surpass all limits with training, but understanding where the limits are to begin with is necessary for reaching such a point. Respect your limits, and avoid pushing yourself to dangerous extremes! Otherwise, you’ll fatigue yourself and possibly injure yourself before you get very far.

Understanding the risks

An important part of taking care of your voice is understanding exactly what will happen if you don’t. 

Failure to preserve and protect your voice can result in strain and injury. Educate yourself about what vocal injuries look and feel like. Understand what causes them, what you can do to prevent them, and what options you have for treatment should they arise. 

It’s especially useful to listen to the stories of performers who have injured their voices and made full recoveries! Too often performers are bombarded by worst-case scenarios and fear-mongering. Understanding what treatment and recovery look like is as important as understanding what leads to needing treatment. Natalie Weiss talks about her injury and recovery in this video from her YouTube channel, and here’s an excellent interview about Telly Leung’s survery and treatment. Here’s another great article about the realities of vocal injury on Broadway.

Learn about the risks not to scare yourself, but to understand that injuries happen and with the right intervention, recovery happens, too. 

If you want to learn more about vocal injury and recovery, I heartily recommend The Vocal Pitstop by Adam Rubin, which you can purchase (while benefitting an indie bookstore!) by using my bookshop.org affiliate link here!

Seeking medical intervention when you need it

If you believed your particularly cute puppy was getting sick, would you just hope it got better, or would you take it to the vet?

Don’t hesitate to seek out professional medical advice and intervention when it comes to your voice. It’s better to be safe than sorry! If you have pain, recognize a marked change in your sound, or if something just feels “off”, go to the doctor and see what’s up. 

If you understand the risks, you understand how important medical intervention can be. Don’t shy away from it, or you may ruin your voice beyond repair. 

Maintaining your performance health

Keep up with all the little habits your teachers and directors encourage— there’s a reason they’re encouraged. During the rehearsal process and performance, maintain adequate hydration, ensure you warm up and down properly, and take time to stretch. Avoid foods that might inhibit performance. Get enough sleep, while you’re at it. 

While performing, your body and voice are under a lot of duress. Therefore, it’s important to pay your health a little extra attention. The stress and strain of performing can easily make you more susceptible to injury, accident, or illness, so be diligent in your prevention efforts. 

Maintaining your full-body health

Your voice is not just limited to your vocal folds, nor only to your throat or lungs. Singing depends upon the work of many muscles and organs throughout your entire body. You simply cannot achieve your full performing potential if other health and lifestyle matters are holding you back. 

Basic health necessities are also basic necessities for success in performance. Eating properly, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep will have an impact on your performing capabilities. They’ll also help you avoid vocal injury and illness. When injury and illness arise, following up with medical intervention as needed is also important. 

Maintaining your mental health

Your voice is not just a product of your muscles. Your voice is a mechanism for communication and has evolved through millennia to suit that purpose. When you’re feeling stressed, tired, or upset, it’s no evolutionary mistake that it often comes through in your voice. 

It’s difficult to perform or sing well when your mental health and emotional faculties haven’t been properly cared for. Mental health problems can pose a real issue for the stamina and resiliency required in performing. Just as it’s important to have a team of health professionals and trainers to care for your developing voice, it’s important to have a team of friends, confidants, doctors, and therapists to see to your mental health. Once again, don’t resist professional intervention when you feel you need it. It can make a world of difference.

In summary

To summarize, taking care of your voice means getting to know your voice, listening to what your body and voice tell you, becoming a lifelong student of proper vocal technique, seeking and keeping up with excellent training, using your voice properly in EVERY situation, understanding your limits, understanding the risks, seeking medical intervention when you need it, maintaining your performance health, maintaining your full-body health, and maintaining your mental health.

Your voice is a complex entity that requires careful care and attention. Treat it well, and it will flourish!

Guides and Tips, Theatre

5 Apps That Will Help Improve Your Musicianship Skills

Do you wish to sight read or simply learn to read music better? Do you feel like you struggle to sing in tune, or feel like you don’t really understand exactly what singing “in tune” means? Do you feel that you’re an okay singer, but your lack of music comprehension is holding you back? If so, it’s time to consider practicing your musicianship skills. Don’t worry: it’s not as scary as it sounds.

“Musicianship skills” is an umbrella term that covers a lot of territory. Basically, it refers to everything that makes for a gifted musician: development of ear training skills, the ability to read music, a full understanding of your instrument and how to take care of it, the ability to accurately reproduce pitches you hear, or harmonize with them. These are highly desirable skills that make performers more versatile, independent, and ultimately, castable.

If you’re looking for ways to develop these skills, fear not: here are five apps you can download right now to help you get started.

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Guides and Tips, Theatre

Every Theatre Company Should Have a Patreon: Why, How, and Assorted Tips for Creating an Online Income Stream

If you’re not yet familiar with it, Patreon is a popular website that allows fans to pledge monthly subscriptions to creators they love. In return, fans may receive exclusive rewards, and the knowledge that they’re helping their favorite artists or personalities thrive. The site has been used to great effect by YouTubers, podcasters, musicians, Twitch streamers, writers, and graphic artists, to name a few: more than 5 million patrons use the site each month and have contributed over one billion dollars to their favorite creators to date. For some, Patreon is a source for some extra pocket change. For others, it’s a primary source of income.

Enter the theatre company.

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Guides and Tips, Theatre

The 5 Most Important Learning Objectives From Every Theatre Degree Program— And how to Achieve Them Independently

A college degree simply isn’t the best choice for everyone.

I’m not in the business of discouraging anyone to go to school for theatre. I always stand in support of theatre majors. However, in education, the phrase “one size fits all” is a harmful myth. For many, a college education just doesn’t make sense. Besides the obvious (and woefully often overlooked) point that the traditional higher education setting isn’t the best learning environment for everyone, college is expensive, and theatre majors are too often reminded of the fact that all the money spent for tuition still can’t guarantee future employment.

Many agree that the degree itself  is not the most important outcome of a college education in theatre. Rather, what you receive in return for all that tuition is valuable training and professional connections. As the official degree is the only thing a traditional college path can boast over independent study and on-the-job experience, some are more suited to seek training outside of a college setting, preferably at a much lower price point.

So what exactly should one get from their theatre degree program? And how could they go about getting those without pursuing the degree at all?

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Guides and Tips, Theatre

3 Definitive Traits That Make you an Excellent Performer

I’ve been around a lot of performers, in a lot of different settings. I’ve directed, I’ve taught, I’ve acted, I’ve watched from the audience and from the stage manager’s booth. Every performer is unique, and everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Yet, in all of the actors, dancers, and musicians I’ve worked with, I have found that there are exactly three traits every truly excellent performer has in common.

These traits are instrumental to success in the performing arts. You won’t get very far without them, and having them can put you on top in close auditions.

If you can honestly say you have these three traits, then pat yourself on the back! If you’re not so sure, read over this article closely and do what you can to pick them up immediately.

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Guides and Tips, Theatre

How to Practice Show Material at Home Effectively

In my adventures (and misadventures) as a middle school musical co-director, I find the phrase “please work on this on your own time” within my top-five most said in rehearsal. As an adult involved in community theatre, the same sentence is probably within my top-five most heard phrases as well. Most performers will agree to practice at home in earnest, but often find themselves at a loss when it comes time to do so. How can we make at-home rehearsal feel as useful and efficient as rehearsal with our peers?

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Guides and Tips, Theatre

Why Singers Shouldn’t Strain for High Notes, According to Physiology and Anatomy

You’re probably not being told everything you need to be the best singer you can be.

Singing is at once an intricate art and a complicated science. We often forget about the science part, because it’s not usually the most visible facet of singing– when we hear incredible singers, we are typically drawn to the depth of their emotional performance, not so much their ironclad technique and mastery of their bodily “instrument.”

Any vocal teacher worth their salt should spend time discussing both the science and the art. Proper understanding of human anatomy and physiology as it relates to the voice will be necessary to produce sound in a healthy, pleasing way. Strict scentific understanding alone nonetheless won’t make someone a great performer if they’re unable to harness and use artistic expression to their benefit. The science is in many ways rather instinctual to humans– we’re born able to produce sound and typically start singing even before we start speaking. As we age, we tend to become less free with our emotions and more reserved, and so the emotional work of singing can become the most pressing matter for many voice teachers. Many new voice students need a lot of help expressing themselves with some small technical pointers along the way. This generally yields passable enough results. Besides, most students aren’t seeking long term careers in singing, and don’t really have enough use for the complicated scientific teaching as would make the effort to teach and learn such principles worthwhile.

This unbalanced treatment, however, means that many beginner and even intermediate singers never fully understand the science behind their voices, and therefore get overly wrapped up in the emotional side of things. We put so much weight on emotion and see so much emotional power in great performers that without scientific understanding of the voice, we assume emotion will be enough to power us through nearly anything. “Pushing” or straining is associated with heightened emotion, and assumed to be the necessary “secret sauce” to make difficult voice work happen. This is not the case.

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Guides and Tips, Theatre

If you Absolutely Must Drink That Pre-Show Energy Drink, Make Sure you do it in a Healthy Way

I get it. Your energy is running low, you’re craving that (artificially) sweet, sweet burst of caffeine to jolt you awake. You want to put on the best show you can and need the energy to do so. You need to get your energy quick if you’re going to get it at all.

Enter the energy drink.

Much has already been said about the dangers of energy drinks, and it’s true that there are many other far healthier and far more efficient ways to bring about a feeling of wakefulness. For the purposes of passing complete information along to my readers, I’ll touch upon alternative options and health risks briefly, but that’s not the main purpose of my article.

This article goes out to the employee who woke up at 7:00 to work eight hours and then drives straight to the theatre for call. The average working/school-going/child-raising/all-of-the-above person who can’t stop for a nap or a quick cardio session, and needs to get some sugar and caffeine into their system right now goddamnit. This article is for you.

Here’s how to drink an energy drink before a show in the most health-conscious way possible.

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