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Say No to Nodes! Vocal Health on a Hectic Schedule

If you have any experience as a singer, actor, or a performer of nearly any type, you know how difficult it can be to get through rehearsals and shows while maintaining your vocal health.

So what do you do when you’re even busier than normal, or balancing multiple performance opportunities? Whether it’s an eight-show-a-week schedule in a Broadway-caliber play, a tour of a major musical, or overlapping short-term gigs, your vocal health needs to be an even-higher priority when you’re using your voice more often.

Here are 10 tips and tricks to ensure you stay in tip-top vocal shape on the go!

1. Your Voice Is a Body Part—Treat It Like One!
Your voice is more than sounds that comes out of you—it’s a product of careful collaboration between a plethora of body parts. So treat your voice like a body part, and treat your body like it is the physical mechanism of your voice (surprise, it is!). Develop and maintain healthy habits that you can take on-the-go: plan ahead for healthy snack and meal choices. Dress in clothes that are conducive to your practice and travel regimen to avoid overheating/chills (layers and a scarf are a safe bet). Don’t shout! And avoid loud environments that will instinctually make you talk louder.

Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.

2. Learn Proper Technique (for everything).
Ever hear the phrase “fall back on your training?” When you’re tired or sick (which will inevitably happen at some point in your career), a solid foundation of training will prove invaluable for both your vocal quality and confidence. By training healthfully in a variety of styles, you can confidently navigate any type of sound needed in any show without worrying about how being tired or under the weather might impact your sound.

3. Don’t stress!
Some stress can be good for us–but when stress starts to impact your body, mind, and voice, it can be a real problem. Stress on the vocal mechanisms themselves can lead to injury. Listen to your body, and rest or “mark” if you need to (a great skill worth working on). The stress of our minds (“I’ve never hit this note perfectly” or “How am I going to integrate all the director’s notes?”) can manifest in physical tension, including vocal tension. Even in a hectic schedule, make time to acknowledge these worries and allot time for practice and positive thinking.

4. Don’t Sing Sick!
No one expects an athlete to perform while sick or injured! If you are very sick or have a vocal injury (or an injury that impacts your singing, particularly anything in the chest or abdomen), don’t push to “sing through it.” If you can’t avoid it, work with a doctor or otolaryngologist (ear-nose-throat doctor) to make sure you can do so while maintaining vocal and physical health. Remember–your voice will last you your entire career if you take care of it. Don’t risk a lifetime of singing (and speaking healthfully!) for one opportunity.

Photo Credit: COM SALUD
Photo Credit: COM SALUD via Creative Commons License.

5. Avoid Making Long-Term -Bad-Habits Out of Short-Term Bad Circumstances.
As singers, we often work with teachers or directors who will make strong-handed or impossible demands of us and our voices. Recognize the difference between opportunities to grow and learn (which can make us uncomfortable, but can still be healthy) and being asked to create sound or perform in an unhealthy manner. As singers, we will often bend to produce what is asked of us; don’t make a habit of pushing too hard or straining beyond what is healthy just because someone applauded you for it.

6. Find Warm-Ups in Your Projects.
When facing a hectic schedule, you may not have time for your full warm-up or vocal exercise regimen. Look through the music you’re working on at any given time and find parts of the work that might make good warm-ups. Start with something comfortable, in your range, that you enjoy singing. Then find opportunities to stretch the voice like an athlete warms up their muscles. Look for passages that cross different “parts” of the voice (chest, head, mix, falsetto, etc.) and that utilize a variety of different vowels or consonants. Try singing passages only on vowels (or on one vowel) or warming up the articulators by over-enunciating lyrics.

7. SLEEP.
This is one of the most useful tips for vocal health anytime, but especially when you’re on the go. Avoid the temptation to let “down time” interfere with sleep. If you find yourself booked every hour, book “relaxation time” and “sleeping time” as a part of your schedule. You may have heard that it takes four hours of sleep for the voice to “reset.” Everyone’s body is different in how much sleep they need, but aim for a good night’s rest to let your voice (and the rest of you) off the hook for a while.

Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil, via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil, via Creative Commons License.

8. Get Support Staff.
Nothing is worse than trying to build a relationship with a voice doctor or teacher when you already have an injury. Take the time to find a team of experts when you’re healthy. Your team will better be able to work with you having seen and heard you healthy, and often times, being an “existing patient” will help give you more immediate access to medical professionals. These people can be a trusted doctor, voice teacher, musical mentor, or performance coach.

9. Don’t smoke. Anything.
We all know that smoking cigarettes and use of tobacco increases risk of disease. Recent studies have shown that “vaping,” as well as the direct inhalation of any smoke from any source, can have an impact on the body as well. Avoid the temptation to smoke to relax, or hanging out in environments that allow smoking. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about exploring the many ways you can quit!

10. Find Liquids You Like (and keep drinking them).
While some singers swear by a water-only hydration plan, you may find that switching up liquid tastes or temperatures suits you and your voice. While caffeinated beverages (that act as diuretics) will dehydrate you over time, some singers need that pep (especially on a hectic schedule). Some singers love juices (aim for 100% juice, not sugary cocktail) as the sugars promote salivation and can help with dry-mouth. Some like carbonated beverages, some add lemon (to cut through phlegm) or honey (to lubricate), and some will just drink from the water fountain. Proper hydration is important to keep not only your body performing in tip-top shape, but the swallowing reflex also helps relax throat muscles. Invest in a few favorite water bottles––I like the insulated ones that keep hot things hot and cold things cold for extended periods of time!

As a singer or performer, your voice is not only your business, but your business partner—it gets you jobs, it keeps you in communication with the world, and of course, lets you perform. It’s important to keep your instrument healthy to support not only your performance goals, but also your everyday life.

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Makeup

The Skinny on Skin Care for Actors

Photographer: Alexandra Studio ca. 1955
Photographer: Alexandra Studio ca. 1955

 

Skin is our largest organ, and for actors it’s their largest canvas. Unfortunately the canvas can take a real beating after six-week runs of eight-show weeks, months on tour, audition stress, and countless makeup applications.  So here’s the skinny on how to keep your canvas in tip-top shape.

Science of Skin

First, here’s a little scientific talk to help you understand the inner workings of your body’s coolest organ. Skin is composed of three layers, but the epidermis, the outermost layer, is the only one you pay much attention to. The dermis and subcutaneous tissue give your skin the bounce, texture, elasticity and resilience skin is so well know for. The epidermis, however, is responsible for skin’s water resistance.

Water resistance is a key to healthy skin. The combination of humectants (water molecules) and emollients (oil molecules) create the super-strong barrier that keeps bad stuff out and good stuff in. An imbalance of these two molecules is often the beginning of skin problems.

Too Dry

For many actors, cleansing their skin to remove makeup after each performance, or traveling to varying climates, dry skin becomes a real nuisance. The problem escalates if you’re in a production of Shrek or The Lion King, removing large amounts of grease paint or prosthetics.  Here are some of the first things to consider with your skin care regimen.

Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda
Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda

Proper makeup remover: Every variety of makeup has a remover designed for its chemical makeup. Soap will never remove alcohol-based makeup, because surfactants don’t disturb alcohol. Alcohol won’t remove silicone wig adhesive alone, it has to be combined with a bunch of polycarbon chains. Leave the science of these solutions to the pros, at places like Kryolan  for prosthetic and alcohol-based makeup and Lancome for street makeup. Sure, they can be expensive, but so much cheaper than dealing with cracked skin, dermatitis, or really any irritation. Why risk weakening your body’s largest organ?

Rebalancing moisture:  Moisturizer may not be enough. Many moisturizers are heavier in humectants than emollients, meaning they are putting more water and less oil back in your skin. If you’re using makeup that needs alcohol for removal, you’ll want to focus on replenishing oil just as much as water. Try a classic cold cream like the Ponds your grandma uses , or heavy-duty overnight moisturizer.  If your makeup is removed with an oil-based remover—many of the best street and stage makeup removers contain oils to glom onto the oil in the makeup pulling it away from your face—this is less important, just make sure you’ve picked a moisturizer that is hypoallergenic, and your skin will like whether you’re covering your face in makeup or not.

Too Oily

Oily skin can become a problem for anyone whether they have naturally oily skin or not. The key is don’t remove too much oilSebum, the natural oil of our skin, is good. It protects us from all the foreign elements that want to invade our bodies. Sure, it’s shiny and greasy, but it’s important to work with it, not against it.

Choosing the right makeup: If you have oily skin—sheen around the nose, cheeks, and forehead—don’t use a liquid makeup. Cream, mousse, and liquid makeups are heavier in emollients, allowing the pigment to slide along the face with ease. On oily skin these cosmetic oils ball up with your natural oils, causing makeup to run. Stick to powdered or water-based makeups that dry like Kryolan’s Aquacolor.

Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda
Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda

Keep the oil:  Removing excess oil sounds like the right thing to do, but by removing oil, your skin will only produce more. That’s its job! Instead of stripping the oil with tons of toner, remover, blotting papers, etc., try this: In the morning if you have oil deposits in the center of your face—nose, cheeks, forehead, try massaging the oil out to the rest of your face. You don’t want to lose the oil, you just want to redistribute it.

Irritation

Allergic reaction, over drying, and too much exfoliation are all culprits when it come to irritated skin. Here are some quick tips to keep skin calm onstage and off.

Create a barrier: If your natural barrier isn’t enough, try a barrier cream  under your makeup. This invisible glove will keep your skin’s chemistry balanced, and keep makeup on your face. It’s well worth the extra cost and step.

Identify the cause: When irritation arrises, consider all the causes. Everything your skin is exposed to is a chemical compound, which reacts to other chemical compounds, so usually the problem isn’t just between the makeup and your face. Did you switch laundry detergents? How about daily face wash? Are you over exfoliating? Have you neglected SPF on your day off and have a mild burn? Any and all of these factors can lead to irritation.

Give things a break: On your day off, simplify your routine. Use a gentle cleanser, preferably a cleansing milk (they have fewer drying surfactants). Moisturize with SPF. Don’t poke and prod your face. Don’t tone it, or exfoliate. Just let it try to rebalance its natural homeostasis.

When in doubt, consult a pro. Whether it’s a dermatologist, your go-to theatrical makeup company, or your theater’s makeup supervisor, there’s a good chance someone will have a clue when it comes to keeping your integumentary system in tip-top shape, and you looking your best. Just don’t forget, it’s the only skin you’ll ever be in, so be gentle, it will thank you in the short and the long run.

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