“There are no Small Parts, Only Small Actors”

If you’re involved in theatre in any way, then you’ve definitely heard the phrase “there’s no small parts, only small actors” at least once– and probably far more than that. When I was younger, I figured this was just untrue. There are small parts, I thought, that’s just a fact. Some parts are on stage less, or have less lines. They’re small, but that’s not the actor’s fault.

Clearly I wasn’t alone in this sentiment and clearly I’m still not, because I constantly hear stories about actors quitting shows because they didn’t get a “good” part.

This idea among young theatre students– that there is indeed a “small part”— feeds into multiple bad behaviors that not only makes their acting worse but can make entire shows worse. In fact, I’d say that dispelling this myth is one of the most important things a director can do right off the bat to make sure their show has all the power it can have.

So let’s establish something right now– there is no such thing as a small part.

Yes, some have less stage time than others, and some have less lines. But that’s a terrible way of gauging importance to a show. There’s plenty of characters that aren’t in a show for long but are lastingly memorable and extremely important. Brenda is only in the second act of Catch Me If You Can, but she’s still a great role. Grizabella is only in a few scenes of Cats, but she’s by far the most memorable. The characters in Godspell pretty much only have a song each, but some of these songs are extremely recognizable even outside of theatre. Madame Morrible changes the trajectory of the entire plot of Wicked, and she’s only got a handful of lines in the whole show.

My point is this: just because a role doesn’t have many lines or isn’t on stage much doesn’t mean it’s unimportant.

But let’s say you’re no Brenda or Madame Morrible. What if you have an ensemble part? What if you don’t have a single line? What if you don’t even have a name?

You already know what I’m going to say about that, but you probably don’t understand why.

Yes, even the nameless ensemble character is important. In fact, nameless ensemble can make or break a show. They can still be just as recognizable as the characters above. At the beginning of Beauty and the Beast, nameless ensemble become incredibly iconic characters. In Catch Me if You Can, the Jet Set and the nurses are nameless ensemble members that are very important, and also loads of fun to play. Even when the characters aren’t iconic, they’re still important– imagine Wicked without “Dancing Through Life” or “One Short Day.” These songs couldn’t exist without a large cast of ensemble members. Maybe you don’t know who these munchkins are, but you still appreciate them being there! Furthermore, the ensemble parts have the incredibly difficult task of establishing the world or situation, or effecting tone or mood without having any lines. A good, fully-engaged ensemble makes a show fun or heavy- a bored ensemble makes a show boring and non-impactful. 

I think I’ve established the first part of this maxim well- There’s absolutely no such thing as a small part and everyone on the stage has a very important task to be fulfilling. 

So on to the second part- the “small actors”.

I mentioned a bored ensemble above. That would be a group of small actors. Someone who is cast as an important role but plays it bored and limp because they’re upset they don’t have a bigger part is a small actor. Anyone who shirks their responsibility to the show they auditioned for just because they aren’t the lead is a very, very small actor.

In part this is because of their failure to or lack of willingness to learn. Someone who shirks their responsibility to a show because they don’t like their part isn’t learning anything. Contrary, apparently, to popular belief, you can learn a ton from acting in the ensemble: how to make every line meaningful, how to use body language to convey a character without lines, how to stay on and engaged on stage at all times, so on. Someone who stays angry and lazy as a result won’t hone these skills. They won’t learn how to perform their role better, they won’t learn how to make more of an impact with less to work with- they’ll just say their piece and get off the stage to sulk. Anyone who does this will not become a good actor, and they should never get a larger part. 

Like I mentioned before, even parts with one or two lines can become iconic and recognizable. Lurch from The Addams Family doesn’t speak a word until the very last song, but he’s still iconic and you can bet that a really great actor can make it a fantastic, hysterical role. A “small actor” would just be mad to be a side character and phone it in. No one would appreciate his presence. The role would effectively be wasted.

If you treat any given role this way, you shouldn’t be in the show at all. You’re wasting a vacancy of cast space that could be used to make the show better. A cast is only as strong as its weakest link and the moment someone isn’t all-in is the moment a show falters. Being a small actor will make the shows you’re in worse. You will be dragging down your friends and castmates.

So what can you do to avoid that?

You can learn. You can learn not to be upset and you can learn how to play your “small” part to the best of your ability. You can come out of the show having improved your acting abilities and impressed an audience.

Or you can just be mad. That’s what makes you a small actor. Being a small actor is a choice– and if you’d choose to do that, I’d prefer you not join any show of mine. 

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5 More Nonfiction Reading Recommendations for Theatre People

Following up my previous list, here are even more reading suggestions for actors and fans of theatre. Once again, this list is organized roughly from “easier, conversational works” to “textbook-style information”.

1. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

The source material for the Broadway musical of the same name, this graphic memoir has all the charm and intrigue of the show. This sophisticated read deals with family, sexuality, and coming-of-age passages, all told with Bechdel’s sarcastic humor and biting wit. A must-read for fans of the musical and everyone else.

2. Drama High by Michael Sokolove

The (highly adapted) inspiration for the NBC show Rise, about the high school theatre program that piloted high school editions of both Rent and Spring Awakening. If you are interested in teaching theatre, this is absolute required reading! This book is at once a meditation on lower-middle-class Suburban life, education, theatre, and the effect all three of these things have on each other. If you are a Rent or Spring Awakening fan, you will find a lot to enjoy in this book, as you will if you were ever a high school theatre kid.

3. The Secret Life of the American Musical by Jack Viertel

A very conversational dig into the bare bones of musicals. Moving “chronologically” through the structure of a musical, this book explores the traditional roles of various archetypical songs in theatre, such as the “I Want” song and the “11 O’clock Number”. Examples from classic and contemporary popular musicals make the information as entertaining as it is accessible. Audience members and actors alike will be able to take plenty from this read!

4. Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway by Michael Riedel

This is the first book strictly on theatre history I have recommended on this blog! This deep dive into the history of the Great White Way has as much energy as the street itself and doesn’t shy away from the seedy daily dealings and dark underbellies of the biggest titans of broadway business. As informative as it is entertaining– a love letter to show biz gone by. If you want your history to be as gritty and unflinching as the Broadway bigwigs themselves, look no further. Highly recommended.

5. Acting the Song by Tracey Moore with Allison Bergman

Incredibly dense and incredibly useful for any musical theatre actor or singer. This book is essentially your step-by-step guide to interpreting songs and as well as performing them. As the title suggests, Acting the Song is about finding actable interpretive choices and playing them at their most effective. The book includes plenty of examples and exercises to steer any performer in the right direction. Take your time with this read– the information is valuable and worth your full attention!

 

My Favorite Strategy for Learning a Role: Engage Your Senses

 

About a year ago I listened to to an episode of the Kwik Brain podcast all about hacking your brain in order to learn lines more efficiently. I’d recommend anyone looking for some new strategies check out the episode and the second part, too. However, of all of the concepts presented in the two episodes, only one strategy has really stuck with me and become a crucial part of my preparation for a show. I’ve now used this strategy to learn several roles, and am always eager to share with others, because it has been a game changer.

This strategy is to engage all of your senses.

Learning lines is often a very cerebral, inactive process– sitting down with a script and working at scenes over and over until you have them down. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this approach. If you find this just isn’t cutting it for you, though, here’s another idea.

Human memory is associated very strongly with certain senses. For example, catching a whiff of a familiar perfume or tasting a familiar brand of candy can vividly remind us of certain people or times. When I eat cherry Twizzler nibs, I am effectively transported back in time to weekends at my dad’s house, when I’d buy these and eat them while I played my favorite video games. Perhaps feeling cold air or smelling dry leaves in the fall reminds you of going back to school and makes you feel nostalgic. Certain memories are so closely associated with certain sensations that seeing, smelling, feeling, hearing, or tasting something from a very bad or good time can make you feel bad or good immediately upon contact.

Memory is connected to your physical senses. So how can you harness this in learning your lines?

The first thing you should try is to rehearse exactly as you will perform as much as possible. For example, if you know your blocking yet and have access to the space in which you will be performing, try memorizing your lines with the movements in the space. This way, the process is made physical– also a huge boon for memorization. Arriving early to rehearsal or staying late where possible to run choreography or blocking on the stage can therefore be even more helpful than rehearsing at home. The sights, smells, and sensations of the performance space can all serve as cues to aid in memorization. This is called context dependent memory and is an actual, scientific phenomenon!

Therefore, always opt for extra rehearsal time in the performance venue where possible. Instead of leaving early and practicing at home, capitalize on your time in the venue as much as you can!

But let’s say you don’t have access to the space– this is probably more likely for most performers, anyway.

The performance space will be unique in many sensory ways. For instance, the building might be air conditioned and frequently be cold, or might have a distinct smell. You may be able to recreate some of these experiences on your own. It would be easy to turn on the AC in your home or otherwise rehearse in cold spaces. However, it may not be possible to recreate some facets of the experience of the performance space. If this is the case, you can create your own constants across the varied spaces you will rehearse.

For example, let’s say the theater has a very particular smell. You cannot recreate this scent at home. Instead, you could wear a certain lotion or perfume each time you study your lines. This will become the new sensory context the memory of the lines is associated with. A bit Pavlovian, smelling the lotion or perfume will now remind you of the times you’ve previously rehearsed. You can wear this scent when you go to the theater for rehearsals and wear it during the performance– you’ll find it helps anchor yourself into the character and scenes because you have so associated it with the character and scenes.

You can also pair this with other senses. Taste and touch are likely the easiest. Chewing a specific flavor of gum is good example. Chew a unique flavor while you go over your lines at home. Though you probably shouldn’t chew gum in rehearsal, simply chewing a stick on the way to rehearsal and spitting it out before anything begins can be enough to get the taste in your mouth and associated with the rehearsal. You can also wear certain types of clothing or fabrics that will match those of your costumes. For example, the sensation of wearing a corset could be mimicked by wearing a (safely) tight bra or undershirt. Once you begin rehearsing in costume, the feeling of wearing the tight clothing might put yourself back into the context you felt rehearsing in tight clothing.

Even though you perhaps can’t rehearse in the exact conditions of the show, you can create your own conditions and fit them to the show yourself.

When I played Claire in an illegal stage production of The Breakfast Club I wore the same scent of perfume and lotion to every rehearsal. I also sprayed my script with the scent, so that every time I reviewed my lines, the scent was prominent. Coupled with this, I also chewed a specific unique flavor of gum on the way to rehearsals. I would always be sure to wipe off the lotion or scent as much as possible once I was done working, and kept other flavors of gum to change gears later. A year after this performance, when I smell the perfume, my brain instantly goes back to that show, and I still salivate for that flavor of gum!

This is a great way not just to memorize your lines, but also to get into character. Thinking about character motivations and interpretations while surrounding yourself with these sensory cues can turn these sensations into “triggers” for the character. This can also be the basis for some sense memory work– for example, if you apply a certain perfume you associate with sad memories just before going on stage for a sad scene, it might help put you in the proper mindset for the performance.

It is important to note that your sensory context choices must be unique. If you use a taste or scent you are already very familiar with for a character, you’ll probably already have a memory associated with that sense, and it will be less effective. For best results, use a perfume or gum flavor you have never experienced before. This provides you a completely “empty” template upon which to build your sensory context.

I have used this strategy for every big character I’ve played in recent years! I am slowly collecting a wealth of lotions and perfumes that make me instantly nostalgic for specific productions when opened.

To summarize, rehearse in the context in which you will perform, in order to trigger your context dependent memory. This means rehearsing with your physical movements, in similar dress, with similar people, in the rehearsal space under similar conditions to performance as much as possible. However, if this isn’t possible, you can create your own context by introducing certain sensory products like flavors of gum or specific, unique perfume scents, and utilize them every time you practice your lines at home, have a rehearsal, or perform the show. These will help you remember lines and blocking and can also serve as triggers to get you into character.

Try these out for your next show! It works best if you start as early as possible– create context triggers for the role even while preparing for auditions. Then, by the time the show arrives, you’ll completely associate the trigger with the show, character, and process. Hopefully this helps you as much as it has helped me!

Get the Most out of Your Rehearsals by Journaling Them

About a year ago I was assigned a project for class that involved learning about anything and tracking your learning in a multimedia format. Since I was at the time involved in three different productions occurring simultaneously, I decided to make a blog about my efforts in learning to be a director. Though this project itself was very low-stress and even enjoyable, I got a perfect score and a glowing review from my professor, as well as a brilliant learning experience I didn’t expect.

Apparently required journaling of rehearsals is pretty common in school theatre programs nowadays– I never had to do this, and so I was able to approach the task with a fresh mind. Even if an assignment like this has previously tainted your experience with journaling rehearsals, consider revisiting it– it can be very beneficial for your learning, both in regard to that show and to your overall development as an actor and artist.

Note that I use “journaling” as a light suggestion rather than a commandment– you can record and track your rehearsals in any way that works best for you. A blog can work well, as I’ve already found. You could also keep voice recordings or record video or photo diaries– whatever works best for you is the route you should follow!

Once you’ve chosen your method of tracking rehearsals, it’s wise to establish some parameters to follow with every “entry”. On my blog project, I set a few basic rules for every post. I decided that in each post I would:

  • Briefly summarize the events of the rehearsal
  • Note how the director managed the rehearsal and whatever difficulties/successes occurred
  • Verbalize one main “take-away” lesson from the rehearsal
  • Note what I should do to prepare for the next rehearsal and when/how I would do so
  • Mention anything else worth note

These guidelines were broad enough to allow a lot of freedom, but also specific enough to keep me on task and keep me focussed on the goal of deriving directorial insight. Some other suggestions for things one might make a “rule” for their posts include:

  • Light analysis of rehearsal’s scenes/songs/blocking
  • Relate rehearsal events to readings/recent lessons in acting/voice/dance/etc
  • Describe personal character choices/revelations
  • Analyze the rehearsal practices of other actors/director/etc whom you look up to
  • List areas in which you did well and areas in which you need to improve
  • Record questions you may have for the director in the next rehearsal

Possibilities are really endless, but these are some general examples that may come in handy. Ideally, your “journal” should be uniquely fitting to your process, so feel free to add/drop guidelines as you go should you see fit. Find what works for you!

I recommend making a “journal entry” every time you have rehearsal, preferably as soon after the rehearsal concludes as possible. The closer you write to the rehearsal itself, the fresher your memory will be, and the more useful the writing will be to you. You may also want to make an entry when you do anything adjacent to theatre, your rehearsal process, or your learning. In my blog, I reflected upon chapters of books I was reading, discussed podcasts and YouTube videos I had consumed, wrote “reviews” of shows I saw, and wrote about any revelations in the “homework” done as I pored over the script outside of rehearsal. You can include passing thoughts about the show, ideas for character choices or blocking, or frustrated comments about whatever is bothering you– whatever. It’s your journal to use as you feel fit!

Recording all of this is beneficial for many reasons. For one, you’ll have an easy way to review your previous rehearsal efforts, and be clear on what you need to work on going forward. You can piece together the information you’ve acquired across all of your learning– for example, bits of knowledge gathered from rehearsals, auditions, book learning, classes, and random thoughts– and have an easy place to synthesize it all while reviewing prior thoughts. You have a constructive way to air frustrations, and a private place to reflect on insecurities or concerns. Reflection is an important step for growth and personal improvement, and contributes to a more mindful life. Plus, you’ll be easier able to set and keep track of goals you have in regards to your show or acting career. I really think the perks can’t be overstated.

Make your “journal” yours and make it as beneficial as possible to you! That might mean heeding none of my advice, or following almost the exact same parameters as I did on my project. Regardless, as long as it is what works for you, you can derive some meaning from it, and you are able to stick with it, recording your growth will be of your benefit.

15 Tips for Improving Your Singing Skills

While I’m no singing expert, I have spent the last several years working to improve. I’ve learned a ton. I’ve become a lot more confident in my ability and have a stronger, more supported sound to show for all the effort! There’s still have a lot of work to do, but I also have a lot of knowledge to share from my years of struggle.

Here are 15 assorted tips for improving your singing voice!

1. Practice Daily

This is one of the best things you can do for yourself if you’re seeking to improve. When you practice daily, you flex all of the muscles associated with singing and improve your vocal stamina. Treat your voice like a muscle. If you don’t use it frequently, you’ll lose it! Singing daily will also help you get a feel for your own voice– how it feels and sounds at its best, and what it feels and sounds like when something is wrong. It doesn’t have to be hard, strenuous singing each day– practice as simple as light humming or singing along with the radio can be beneficial.

2. Don’t skimp on warm ups

Especially if you’re getting ready for a performance or some hard core practice– make sure you warm up! Warming up will make sure your vocal folds are ready for action and that you don’t injure yourself by leaping into the hard stuff. Warming up before a performance will keep you sounding your best. It gives you an opportunity to practice whatever you need to before you get out there, such as high notes or quick patter. If you’re wrapping up a long rehearsal or performance, warming down can also be of benefit– it gives the vocal folds a chance to “unwind” from the work. Doing a quick 10 or 15 minute warmup session per day counts as daily practice, too!

3. Find a voice teacher

A good voice teacher is absolutely crucial if you’re serious about honing your skills. One on one training is mandatory to really reach your highest potential. A skilled teacher can help you learn to reach your goals in a healthy, effective way, and can provide constructive feedback to help you get there. If you don’t already have a voice teacher you love, find one ASAP.

4. Train your technique

Learning about vocal technique is also crucial if you’re serious about singing. Learning proper technique will help you sound your best while singing healthfully. You can do your own research on this– there are lots of resources available online– but the best way to learn is from a teacher who can help you ensure you’re singing correctly.

5. Perform more

Getting yourself out there more is fun and very beneficial for every singer! Go out for shows, or go to open mic nights and karaoke– every little bit counts. Treat your auditions as a chance to perform! Get more confident and comfortable in front of a crowd, and you’ll find the entire endeavor easier.

6. Learn about vocal anatomy

Understanding the underlying structure and functioning of your voice will help you understand the best practices for singing. This is an often overlooked step in the vocal education process, but is very important for your growth as a singer and relatively easy to explore. YouTube is full of videos offering explanations of vocal anatomy, and there are a wealth of great books on the subject. Anatomy of the Voice by Theodore Dimon Jr is one of my favorites.

7. Learn about vocal health

Also absolutely required for anyone serious about improving their singing is learning about vocal health. Maintaining good vocal health is crucial for growing singers. Young singers especially have a habit of stressing and straining their voices because they simply don’t know better– this can be disastrous in the long-term. Learning about how to take care of your voice and use it properly will keep you in top shape and prevent vocal injury.

8. Learn basic written and aural theory 

This won’t improve your singing voice necessarily, but it will help you to learn music quicker, be better in tune with other singers and the music, and help you detect intonation in your own singing. It also makes riffing and harmonizing easier! There are a wealth of music theory and ear training resources out there, especially in app form. A few minutes of practice a day can quickly translate to easier learning and better performances.

9. Hear more trained singers

Just as visual artists can learn a lot by going to a museum and actors can learn from watching other actors, singers learn from hearing great singing! This is especially useful when learning about good singing technique. Some singers like Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston are famous for their impeccable technique. Seeking out masters in the field and finding what they do well can be very helpful for your growth.

10. Seek feedback 

If you’re taking my advice to seek a good voice teacher, hopefully this is already occurring. Seeking constructive criticism and advice from many sources is always beneficial. However, remember to take all feedback with a grain of salt, especially if you don’t know the critic’s credentials– great advice is hard to come by, and not everyone is qualified to give it.

11. Take care of your voice

Once you’ve learned more about proper technique and vocal health, taking care of your voice becomes a much more intuitive job. You’ll begin to get a feel for what is destructive to your voice and what is beneficial. In general, remember to keep yourself hydrated, and never strain yourself trying to sing far beyond your comfort zone. Consistent vocal stress can lead to injury, which can end careers early. Keep yourself at your best!

12. Explore different styles

Many singers like to choose a lane and stick in it. In musical theatre, this lane is often “contemporary musical theatre pop style”. While there’s nothing wrong with this, experimenting with other styles can broaden your range and introduce you to a wealth of useful skills. Consider trying classical bel canto style or opera, or get into rock and growling. You will learn transferable skills from each, and all singing (as long as it is done healthfully) will be beneficial for you.

13. Do your own research

There are a wealth of resources available to singers looking to improve themselves. The internet makes many of these resources free. Start looking for books, ebooks, websites, podcasts, YouTube channels, apps, blogs, magazines/e-zines, documentaries, and more relating to singing! Your options are endless and there’s never been a better time to find learning materials in an instant!

14. Find your own voice 

Many singers, especially young or new singers, are tempted to imitate styles of singers they respect or look up to. This can be damaging, as attempting to imitate the style of a trained singer without the very same training can cause vocal strain and injury. Therefore, it’s imperative that singers find and become comfortable with their own voice. This can be difficult to teach. Finding your own voice requires time and lots of comfort with singing. In the meantime, ensure you are not straining yourself to imitate Broadway stars or popular artists, and think about putting your own spin on their work. Your voice teacher, assuming you take my advice and seek one out, will be able to help you in this endeavor.

15. Join a choir 

Choir is a great way to learn more about music while flexing your singing voice! It also requires you to learn to blend and tune with others, and allows you to learn in a group environment. Plus, assuming you like to sing, choir is fun! Seek one out in your local community or at your school. The benefits really can’t be overstated.

Bonus Point: Be Confident

Nothing really sells a performance like confidence. Even if your singing needs work, confidence can mask some of your shakier points. Fake it until you make it! Keep practicing and getting better, but be happy with the growth you’ve made, and continue to show off your stuff: you’ll be a pro in no time.

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!