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Keep Calm

Staying Healthy and Fit: An Actor Exercises

Keep CalmWelcome back for our second part on health and fitness on the job.  In the last installment, I gave a very general overview of two of the three aspects I wanted to discuss, eating and sleeping. I did that on purpose, saving exercise for last, because if you get those first two concepts right, everything else becomes so much easier! But not giving them their due could result in wasted hours in the gym, poor results, and frustration.  And now without further ado…

Exercise on the Road

Or ship, or dinner theatre in the mountains of Alaska…

Many of you know that I’m a certified personal trainer as well as being an actor. So, here’s a chance for me to combine those two passions. I’ll start with a couple of caveats.

Number one, I don’t know anything about dance. My dance training ended…a long time ago. If you are a dancer, then you probably know what your body needs and when. Any advice or methodology I recommend going forward should be measured against what you know your body, and your job, requires.

Number two, I’m not a doctor nor a physical therapist. If you have an injury, you need the guidance of qualified professionals before considering anything I may suggest.

And number three, “fit” doesn’t mean “skinny.” Fitness truly comes in all shapes and sizes. The word fit means “able to do a task.” That’s it. Nothing more.

When I design an exercise program, it’s always tailored to the individual I am designing for. What I am offering now is a basic template, that I feel all exercise programs should include, and I will provide examples. You can use the template to create your own fitness map that can be followed in a gym, a park, or a hotel room.

Basic Human Movement

If there’s one thing you can count on it’s this: that the fitness industry doesn’t always agree with itself. There’s lots of “this is the right/only way to exercise,” coupled with “if you’re not following the grass, berries and bear meat diet then why are you bothering?” What I’m about to present however, is almost universally agreed upon in the industry.

The basic human movements are the push, pull, squat, and hinge movements. Some coaches offer a few others, like the loaded carry (where you carry something heavy for a predetermined distance), rotation/anti-rotation (what you probably know as core work), and ground work (like crawling, rolling, tumbling). Good workout programs are built around these movements done in different planes of motion (horizontal, vertical, sagittal, transverse…eh, did I lose anyone?). I’ll break it down.

1. THE PUSH. Easy enough, a push is when you exert force on an object in an attempt to get it away from you. Any pressing movement (bench press, leg press, overhead press) is a push. Pushes can be done in different planes, a horizontal push can be a push-up or a bench press (your body is horizontal), while a vertical push would be an overhead shoulder press. Pushing is one of the first things we learn to do as infants, as we push ourselves up from the ground to learn to crawl.

earthdowns

2. THE PULL. A pull is when you exert force on an object in an attempt to bring the object closer to you. Examples include the pull-up (bringing your body close to a high bar), the machine let pull-down (bringing the bar down to your chest) and the row (which is a horizontal pull). After we have learned to push, we learn to pull as infants, it’s part of learning to stand and walk.

3. THE SQUAT. A squat involves two major components, a maximal hip flexion and a maximal knee flexion, so that your pelvis and torso are closer to the ground. There are many arguments for the correct depth, but some basic guidelines I always give are: have the angle of your shins match the angle of your torso (see picture), don’t allow your knees to cave in toward each other (called a valgus knee), and in general, don’t allow your knees to pass beyond your toes. I say in general for many reasons, the most prominent is that everyone’s body, limb length and flexibility are different. Squats are easy to learn but may take a lifetime to master. Squats can be weighted with a weight in front of you or resting across the back of your shoulders, or unweighted, using only your body weight as resistance.

squats4. THE HINGE. Like the squat, the hinge has maximal hip flexion, but has minimal knee flexion. If you bend over to pick something up off the floor, you are most likely in a hinge position. The hinge is an extraordinarily powerful movement, as there is great untapped strength in the pelvic girdle (don’t giggle). Most professional athletes know that true power is generated in the hips, and the hinge is an excellent way of training overall strength. The most popular form of hinging is the deadlift, which involves pushing your hips behind you, picking up a weight (barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell) from the floor and raising it waist high, while maintaining a tight core and a neutral spine. Like the squat, it is easy to learn but may take a while to master.

bend snd snap meme

5. THE OTHER STUFF. With all due respect to the importance of these moves, for the sake of space, I must move quickly through them. From the beginning of mankind, we have carried heavy things. There are many variations of carries: the farmer walk, the suitcase carry, the waiter walk. These are excellent choices to increase your own work capacity. Rotation/anti-rotation exercises include wood choppers, moving planks, body rows. Groundwork can be tumbling, rolling, bear crawling.

Thanks for That, but What Do I Do With It?

Right. A theatre job can actually be a great time to “get in shape,” whatever that means to you. If you’re already strong and fit, maybe your goal is to be stronger. Or maybe you’d like to lose a few pounds. Or maybe you’ve never seriously exercised and want to start. I say this is a great time for two reasons: the first, you are likely away from home and away from the distractions of your day-to-day life (like friends, a day job, your favorite TV show on the DVR); the second, once your show is running, you have an insane amount of free time. Seriously, we work about 30 hours a week in theatre. What else are you going to do with all that time?

Whether or not you are an experienced gym-goer, take a look at the chart below. I’ve listed examples of the basic movements, pick one or two from each category, decide on a set and rep range (if you’re a beginner, start with one set of ten repetitions, and build from there as you feel you can), and go to work. When you’re finished with your session, take notes. How do you feel? What was hard/easy/confusing? Are you hungry or did the session suppress your appetite? Repeat the plan 3-4 times a week, resting after every two workouts.

Exercise chartI’m sure some of that will seem like Greek to some of you. Do a thorough Google search on terms you don’t understand, yes, the internet can be a wasteland of misinformation, but there’s good stuff there too. Find the good stuff.

Aren’t I Supposed to Be Running or Something?

I’m not a fan of traditional “cardio,” at least, not as a means to lose weight. I believe the best modality for weight loss is through diet and strength training. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to exercise your cardiovascular system. Pick your jam (running, elliptical, cycling, walking, swimming) and get that heart rate up.

Admittedly, that’s about as general as it gets. I offer it as an idea, a map if you will, for the person who doesn’t know where to begin or maybe isn’t sure what’s missing from their own regime. As always, approach this work with respect, injury comes when we disrespect our own intuition.

I mean, you could always hire a trainer…

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Audition Blackboard - Are you ready?

Performing Arts High School Auditions: Preparation

Audition Blackboard - Are you ready?Your child has decided that they want to go to a specialized arts high school. That’s a big decision. Now what? If they are in seventh grade, going into eighth grade in the fall, then hopefully you have already addressed some of the items covered in this prevous blog on the first steps to take regarding performing arts high school auditions.

So here you are a couple of months away from the start of eighth grade, it’s summer — time for relaxing before school starts, right? Nope. You and your child need to be starting your preparation now for auditions that could begin as soon as late October (yes, that’s soon). For the sake of this article, I will be focusing on the New York City schools preparation, but most of it should apply generally to your local schools.

Once you and your child have narrowed down what schools they are interested in, you need to determine the audition schedules and any other pre-audition testing or requirements. Your middle school/junior high school counselor should be able to help you with some of this, and if you are in a large district like New York that has multiple options for performing arts high schools, there should be information on your school district site like this. Get a notebook or keep a good calendar so you don’t lose track of things. The whole process can get overwhelming, especially with multiple schools, and you don’t want to get any dates mixed up and not be allowed to have your child attend the auditions.

calendar-1868106_1920

Once you have determined your choice of schools and the audition dates, it’s time to think about audition pieces. And hopefully your youngster is already studying in the arts. Here we will focus on acting and vocal auditions, but much of the timing and general advice will be the same.

Drama/Acting

Be sure to check for your school’s specific requirements (and they could differ by school even in the same district), but in general an acting audition will require two memorized, contrasting monologues (for example, a comedic one and a dramatic one). They must be from either published collections of monologues for young people, or they can be taken from a play. But the key is that they must exist in some published form. The play that Aunt Susan wrote as a college project or a monologue from a TV show or movie your kid loves does not count. The characters in the monologues should be close in age to your child, and they should avoid classical (ie, Shakespeare) at this stage. Check out the StageAgent monologue tool and our partfinder to start looking up some possible audition monologues. Some school sites will also give you a list of suggested monologues to use.

As a student preparing for auditions, finding a monologue isn’t just a matter of picking something off a list and using the first one. You must try a few out, see how they feel, see how you like the character and how comfortable you are with the language. You shouldn’t just decide to perform the first ones you pick. I have had students work through half a dozen monologues or more before settling on the final two pieces; then we have to work out just the right cut of it to fit the time requirements, generally a minute long. As a parent in this process, try to find someone to coach your youngster; often they are just too self-conscious to work with mom and dad, and then they won’t really be prepared. Your school’s drama teacher, local conservatories, or private acting coaches all will have experience that will help your child feel really ready to audition.

Starting this process is not something you want to do a mere few weeks before the auditions. Once you’ve found monologues that seem interesting, your child needs to read the plays they come from (where possible–many of the monologues in anthologies may not come from full plays). Your acting coach will work your child on creating a character, understanding what makes that character tick, working on their diction and projection skills, as well as keeping them on task with memorization. Coaches will help a student work on additional skills like how to confidently walk into the audition room and introduce themselves, “cold” reading (performing a scene or monologue without benefit of extra preparation), or improvisation or theater games.

Photo credit: Tammy Ayala via Creative Commons License.
Photo credit: Tammy Ayala via Creative Commons License.

If a student is auditioning for a straight drama/acting program, this will be the general run-down. Students auditioning for musical theatre programs will need to perform song selections as well, which we’ll address next.

Vocal/Musical Theatre Auditions

Vocal programs could be either classically based or musical theatre. Once again, check the specific school’s requirements, and more specifically, understand the types of vocal classes offered. If your child only wants to do musical theatre, you want to be very clear that you are not auditioning from a more operatic/classical program (although the skills learned in either are going to serve them well down the line). Musical audition pieces should be chosen with the same care as monologues. They need to be age-appropriate and show an understanding and relation to the lyrics being sung. Lyrics need to be acted; singing pretty isn’t the only option here. I believe that an auditioning singer needs to read the libretto for the musical they are singing from just as the actor doing a monologue would read the play.

Two contrasting pieces should be prepared: an uptempo and a ballad; a comedic and a more dramatic song; or a musical theater piece and a classical piece, which might be in a foreign language for more classical programs. Once again, the StageAgent Partfinder and our audition songs database are a good place to start looking for material. The pieces must be memorized and fit comfortably in the student’s range. It can be better to choose an easier song that your child can perform really, really well than a more showy piece they might struggle with. And as with monologues, the process of choosing these pieces should be started months before the auditions! Hopefully, for singers, they are already in choirs or musicals or are working with private vocal coaches to develop their skills. At the auditions, students may be asked to sing scales or listen to rhythms or pitches and repeat them back to show facility with musicality in an improvised, unrehearsed setting.

Once again, any coaching outside of the family setting is a huge help. Having someplace to go and sing other than their bedroom will encourage exploration and better practice skills where your child isn’t worried about people hearing mistakes as she learns her music or if he is singing too loudly and bothering the neighbors. And a professional vocal coach will make sure that your child’s music is prepared correctly for the accompanist and work with your child on how to make their entrance and speak appropriately to the accompanist as well. Anything you can do to boost your child’s confidence is key.

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

One last note about musical theatre auditions. Those students will need both songs and monologues prepared, and they will need to be ready for a dance audition as well. They don’t need to be ballerinas or amazing tap dancers to get accepted (that’s why there are dance-specific programs), but they need to be able to demonstrate an ability to move well and keep count with the music. They need to demonstrate that they can make the effort to learn the dance movement and sell it and show their character and personality! Overall, schools are looking for potential.

So, here are your summer homework assignments that you need to get cracking on now (sorry about those summer plans):

  • Reread the First Steps blog for a few reality checks/reminders.
  • Determine audition dates.
  • Choose audition material with your child and an outside arts professional.
  • Encourage and support your child to practice daily now and consistently for the next few months and not wait until the last minute.

These next few months will fly by. Create a plan and help your child stick to it so that they will be well-prepared, confident, and be able to nail that performing arts high school audition!

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Pillow

STAYING HEALTHY AND FIT, NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE

Performers of any kind rely on their bodies. Whether they are dancing, singing, or acting the most dramatic roles, a performer needs access to their abilities and their emotional life. And if I’m being wholly honest, there is an aesthetic need as well. Actors come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want to play Superman, you must look the part. But no matter your physical type, there is one need that should be addressed before all others: your health.

As performing artists, we’ve chosen a difficult path, one often laden with long hours, little rest, constant practice and training, for what at times can be little reward. To survive in this environment, and hopefully thrive, you must have your health, and today we’re going to talk about maintaining your health when you’re away from home. Like the song says, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

Casino gigs = buffets!
Casino gigs = buffets!

BEFORE YOU GO

Let’s start with the notion that you’ve booked a job—congratulations! You are about to be paid for that thing your parents always said would never pay. Some things to think about, regarding your health:

WHERE ARE YOU GOING? Perhaps obvious, but what’s the climate like: cold, hot, humid, rife with allergens, rainy? You’ll need to be prepared not only with the right clothing but perhaps the right medications. When it comes to health, I think breathing is pretty important.

WHAT’S YOUR HOUSING LIKE? A lot of the same stuff, is it air conditioned/heated well, newer/older (old houses hold allergens and mold like it was their job), do you have your own room? That could matter when it comes to rest and sleep.

WHAT HEALTH AND FITNESS OPTIONS ARE IN THE AREA? Is there a gym nearby (and is membership complimentary to company members)? Or maybe there’s a school with access to a track, or a park. If you have space, you can exercise, even if there’s not a gym for miles.

ONCE YOU’RE THERE

You’ve arrived at the job and been shown to your housing. Could be a hotel, a shared apartment, a private room in a house, or a cabin on board a cruise ship. Leaving the last option for later, we’ll start with shared spaces.

1. IF YOU ARE SHARING A KITCHEN:

This is the most likely scenario. You’ll have limited space for your own groceries, perhaps even marked out clearly in your cabinets and refrigerators. Shop wisely, perhaps share certain staples (oils, condiments, kitchen supplies, etc.). And while we’re in the kitchen, let’s spend a moment on food shopping in general: The healthiest food options are located on the outside aisles of supermarkets, produce, dairy, meats (including fish and chicken), and usually whole grain breads. I won’t veer off into “this diet vs. that diet,” but most likely, no matter what dietary philosophy you choose, the food you want is located here. You might want to adopt an “80/20” rule, meaning you do 80% of your shopping on the outer aisles and 20% from the aisles within. It’s a good way to eat healthy yet not feel wholly deprived when you can’t enjoy the occasional bag of Oreos.

I don’t…I’m not sure…what this means…
I don’t…I’m not sure…what this means…

2. IF YOUR MEALS ARE PROVIDED FOR YOU:

This likely means you are working on a cruise ship, or perhaps a dinner theatre (where certain meals could be provided). On a ship, the food may be repetitive but at least there will be nutritious options (remember it’s in your employer’s best interest to have you healthy), as well as the standard high-caloric fare. Crew members on ships often work incredibly long hours, so the provided meals can be high in calories, and a calorie is just a unit of energy, so the workers can make it through their shifts. See my recent posts on Cruise Ship Life for more information. Dinner theatres can often provide one meal per performance day, and that meal is usually…uh, dinner.

3. IF YOU HAVE NO KITCHEN, BUT ARE GIVEN A PER DIEM:

Well, this gets tricky. If you don’t know, per diem (“per day”) is money given to you to cover costs of meals and/or housing (if you are on a National Tour). This can seem like a large sum of money, but you’ll find quickly that single housing in A-list markets (think Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles) can often be more than your per diem for the week, leaving nothing for meals. That’s a conversation for another post, however. Some tours pick up the housing and give you a smaller per diem for food, let’s say that number is $350.00 per week, $50.00 a day. You can certainly do it, but you’ve got to be smart about it. Yes, fast food is more affordable. Yes, you can choose healthy (healthier) options from the menu. But trust my experience on this, it gets old FAST. Per Diem is often built around a formula of (using a $50 per day format) of a “10-dollar breakfast, 15-dollar lunch, and 25-dollar dinner.” My suggestion to you, for lifestyle and weight management, reverse these numbers, or at least the caloric values. There’s an old gym adage that goes, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” This way you are consuming more calories earlier in the day and gradually tapering off as the day ends. This is good for keeping you energized but not over full before a show, and gives you more opportunities to burn calories as the day goes on. Plus, dinner menus are always more expensive than breakfast or lunch options, so your money will go farther. Oh yeah, and don’t eat garbage after a show. It’s so tempting! But if you must eat, make it reasonable—a protein shake or bar, a small sandwich—stay away from burgers and fries at 11pm, they are not your friends. Consuming 1,000 empty calories within an hour of going to sleep is a surefire way to gain unwanted weight.

“Rob, isn’t this post about staying healthy while working a theatre job? Why all that space on food?” Ah, you’ve seen right through me. While there are two more elements to cover, let me say this very simply: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. Get that right, everything becomes easier. Keep doing it wrong, and you might be wasting all your hard work in the gym.

SLEEP!!

Of equal importance to nutrition is sleep, or rest. The body’s natural processes operate at maximum efficiency during periods of rest, not exertion. You don’t build muscle while you exercise, exercise creates the condition that asks the body to build the muscle, which happens while you are asleep. Ever notice that the prescription for any illness or injury almost always involves rest? The body wants to “right” itself, sometimes the best thing we can do to help, is simply get out of the way.

PillowSleep recommendations are very simple: aim for 8 hours a day, and try to have those hours be the same hours every day. I know many of us are night owls, we finish a performance sometimes exhausted, but sometimes energized and needing time to wind down, or even go out and celebrate. That’s all fine, just allow for recovery. I’m not as young as I once was (I was 23, uh…23 years ago), so I can’t stay out all hours eating and drinking and expect to be a normal functioning adult the next day. Maybe you can, but I promise you, that bill will eventually come due. SLEEP. Protect yourself. Your body and your voice will thank you.

There are 168 hours in a week. You might spend five of them exercising.  But the other 163 hours are actually much more important. Eat right, and sleep right.

Next time I’ll finish up this article with suggestions for exercise in whatever environment you’re in, because I’m helpful like that. And MODEST!

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Wait - those aren't cell towers?

Cruise Ship Entertainment Pt 2: A Few More Tips

Avast! (Somebody stop me…) We’re back for more Life Upon the Wicked Sea…Stage. In the previous installment, we looked at the kinds of shows and entertainers you would find on a cruise ship; now we’re going to examine what life is like onboard.

This is where you really must decide if you are cut out for this kind of work. My castmates sign contracts that basically say for seven months, they will live on the ocean, on this boat. In a tiny room. And I mean tiny. It may be private, with its own private bath, or you may share a bathroom, or you may even have a roommate in your tiny little space. Frankly even if you have a single cabin, you still live on top of everyone else. And you eat ship food. Some cruise lines allow entertainers to eat (and drink) with the guests, they even encourage it, to provide a more fun guest experience. Others do not allow this, and you are for the most part resigned to eat in what’s known as the Crew Mess (it’s a military term for crew cafeteria). The food you eat may be fine, or it may not, but your biggest complaint may be that it’s THE SAME. Same stuff, different day.

The lifestyle and rules, of course, vary from company to company. Along with dining privileges, you may have what is commonly referred to as “guest status,” meaning that basically you can behave like a guest if you are dressed appropriately, behaving reasonably, and not interfering with a paying guest’s experience. So you can go out and sunbathe, enjoy the pools, hot tubs, buffets, sometimes an adult beverage, if that’s your thing…but if you don’t have guest status, you may find these experiences are few and far between. Something to consider in the contract negotiation phase.

dog mai tai

In most theatrical productions, your cast becomes your temporary (sometimes permanent) family. On a ship, it’s not only the cast, but the crew who run the everyday ship operation, who are also part of that family. And they are from other countries, other cultures, in fact the American percentage of crew members is usually small. On my ship we have representatives from 6 of the 7 continents (I don’t think there are any Antarcticans…). And I’m sure all cruise companies are the same.

A quick note on the non-performing crew—these people work very hard, very long hours. The average crew member here works 80 hours a week, without complete days off. Yes, there are laws that protect them from employer abuse, but in general they work…a lot. And the clear majority of them are very, very good at their jobs. They should be applauded, appreciated, and respected for their work ethic, dedication, and attitude.

I mentioned laws. Each company has their own rules of conduct, their own employee guidelines, but that’s not all you have to contend with, you must deal with Maritime Law. Maritime Law is the law that covers the oceans, the rules and codes that are common to almost all sailors of any nationality. These laws are born in the military, and though we as performers did not join any armed service when we agreed to perform in “Those Fabulous 50’s” aboard the “SS PartyAllNight”, most of the ship leadership (called the Steerage Committee) has some military background. And we all will want that, and appreciate that.

There’s a lot of rules: places you can’t go, foods you can’t bring on board, number of people in a particular area…yeah, it can seem extreme. But I always feel the answer to your inevitable question of “Why?” is simply this:

5000 PEOPLE ON A TIN CAN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN.

iceberg

That’s a lot of people (and the approximate total of the ship I work on, including crew). What if something goes wrong? Power failure? Missing person? Terrorist attack? Yeah, we want some people with real skill and real training to take the lead. Incidentally, all crew members have responsibilities when it comes to safety duties. Typically, the performers have jobs like organizing and keeping the guests as calm and comfortable as possible, while people with more expertise man the lifeboats and ready the evacuation, if necessary.

Do you know what the most common and potentially crippling safety event on board a cruise ship is? It’s called gastroenteritis. Which means a really bad stomach bug, which could affect hundreds of people if not managed properly. It’s not the Titanic, but it’s bad news none the less.

So that’s why there are so many rules; it’s just too large a population in too small a space to not have a very solid structure in place. Sometimes the rules may not make sense to you, but trust me, they are in place for a reason.

Earlier I mentioned that I would talk about taking care of yourself on board a ship. First, you need to know your ship’s itinerary, that is, where you’re going. I’m on a Caribbean cruise– Eastern one week and Western the next, and the home port is Florida, so I’m typically in a warm to hot climate. That means when I am in my cabin or other indoor areas, I’m breathing recycled air, and living in air conditioning. Some people are very sensitive to air conditioning and find it may affect their singing voice. To counteract this (and the feeling of cabin fever), try to spend as much time out in the fresh air as you can. You face a similar problem on an Alaskan cruise, but in reverse, you’ll walk into heated rooms that may dry you out. Know where you’re going and prepare as best you can, by bringing all your secret remedies for vocal issues.

Photo Credit: Tim Moreillon via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Tim Moreillon via Creative Commons License.

Remember when I called the ship a tin can? Well, it’s steel if I’m being fair. It’s steel underneath the carpet, underneath the laminate floor, and underneath most of the stages. For dancers, that means the floors aren’t forgiving (or “sprung” if that means anything to you), so you must take care of your body and allow lots of recovery time for demanding shows. Foam rollers, massage tools, all become necessities.

You should also keep in mind that there is no union jurisdiction on board a ship. It’s not against my union’s rules to be here, but I don’t enjoy any of the benefits of working in a union house, such as accrued health insurance weeks, pension contributions, and representation in my workplace. I’m essentially on my own out here, and though I trust my employer, I joined Actors’ Equity for a reason.

And of course, we should acknowledge the incredible impracticality of the gig. You’re often in the middle of the ocean, so you know, there’s no Taco Bell run at midnight. Out of toothpaste? Good news, there’s a crew store; it doesn’t have your brand, oh well. Really missing your girlfriend at home? Sure, you can call her, but phone calls from the ocean are expensive, if they’re even possible. And there’s no streaming Netflix out here, the internet isn’t very powerful and it costs a lot of money. So your creature comforts are very limited. Hardly the end of the world, but don’t underestimate the value of simply walking through a grocery store, eating at the Olive Garden, or seeing a current movie.

Wait - those aren't cell towers?
Wait – those aren’t cell towers?

With all that said, there’s a ton of advantages to jobs like these. You might be pushed to your limits as a performer, and as you meet those limits, they expand. You’ll travel to places you might not otherwise. You’ll meet amazing people from different cultures. And yeah, these jobs usually pay quite well, better than most standard theatre jobs at least. Your housing and food is provided, you can save the vast majority of your salary, and you should. It’s a perfect opportunity to build that cushion we all need to pursue less-paying opportunities that may be more artistically satisfying.

If I were pressed, I’d say that the cruise ship is a young person’s game. I’m married with a family, and they’re not here, and that’s tough. Sure, I get great benefits to share with them, but the cost is my absence from their lives for a brief while. My job requires someone of “a certain age,” but in general I think the younger crowd can enjoy this experience the most, as typically there’s not as many attachments to home for them.

The work here is often fun, sometimes a grind, but overall it’s a very well-paid vacation. If you want to save some money for your move to a bigger market, it may be ideal for you. But if you are someone who struggles with too much structure or a perceived lack of freedom, it may not be in your future. In either case, safe travels, and may the wind be always in your sails.

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ENT - featured image

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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