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Occupational Hazards…Surviving a Weekend of Shows

May 29, 2013

It’s the end of a long night and you’ve just left the theatre after several painstaking hours of relentless, uninhibited singing, dancing, and acting. Your muscles are aching and your energy is nonexistent, your scratchy voice checked out during the closing number and your skin is rebelling beneath the inch of makeup you applied 5 hours ago. With your stress level already spiked from the high stakes environment of the theatre life, you realize the most daunting factor yet: its only Thursday. Your voice has to last an entire weekend of shows, your skin is about to break out, and there’s no way you’re going to get enough sleep with adrenaline still pumping through your veins from tonight’s performance.

The solution to this problem is much simpler than you might think. Ditch the pricey energy drinks and stop downing the Tylenol. What you put into your body is what you’re going to get out of it and overly processed quick fixes are not the answer. As a coffee-addicted, overbooked, insomniac actor, I am certainly no health expert. But I have picked up some tips from fellow performers I enviously watch waltz into the dressing room looking refreshed and feeling calm after three days of double shows. I don’t think I’ll ever fully wean myself off of the sweet gift from God that is the coffee bean…but I still appreciate some of the alternatives I’ve heard. Feel free to contribute to this ever-evolving list…who isn’t in need of a boost before closing weekend of a long and trying run.

Energy lagging? Vitality is so essential to a performance career, yet so scarce when you’re working multiple jobs, putting out 4-10 shows a week, and searching daily for your next gig. As tempting, and delicious, as it may be to grab an espresso or a red bull everyday to jolt you out of your morning trance, there are some more beneficial options. Pure pressed vegetable juice or Ginseng tea will give you the natural healthy boost to your day, while improving overall health and keep you from crashing. Make your own smoothies filled with high fiber fruits, add spinach which restores energy and boosts alertness, then top that off with frozen berries for your dose of antioxidants. Eating small amounts of foods like whole grains or nuts throughout the day sustains blood sugar, energy, and mood levels (plus its way more comfortable to perform well nourished, but without feeling full from a huge meal!) Lastly, and most importantly, don’t underestimate the positive effects of staying hydrated with lots of water!

Body aching? Maybe your warm up isn’t sufficient. Static stretching is often unsuccessful in thoroughly loosening up muscles and joints, leaving you more likely to get injured or feel sore the day after a performance. Try warming up with a bit of movement first. Simple Tendus and Plies may do the trick, or try a quick yoga routine to ensure all your muscles are engaged and warmed up in a gentle but effective way. If you’re still feeling achy after performances, stretch AFTER the show, rather than just before, to cool down your body and release lactic acid from your muscles. If all else fails, epsom salt baths and immediate icing after shows can be a life-saver if you’re feeling stiff or strained. As tempting as it may be to crash on your days off and sleep for 18 hours to recuperate, staying constantly active and exercising on a regular basis can be monumental in increasing energy levels and strengthening muscles on a long-term scale to prevent tears or pulls.

Skin revolting? Sweating under stage lights is inevitable regardless of what you’re doing onstage, and heavy makeup tends to be a must in this career. However, there’s no need to give up on having healthy skin during show runs. Makeup removal is the most important part of preserving your skin. Try pure coconut oil as a completely natural and very effective alternative to removing all makeup and not clog your pores. Use a light primer or an oil free lotion before applying makeup and apply a natural night eye cream like Burt’s Bees after removing makeup to prevent redness and puffiness around sensitive areas like your eyes. Clean your brushes constantly and try switching to a more natural makeup brand like Bare Minerals rather than a heavy stage makeup like Ben Nye.

Sore throat? Stay away from antiseptic sprays which numb your throat and mask the symptoms, rendering you more likely to further strain your vocal chords. Try organic hot teas like Throat Coat. This singer’s staple coats and soothes irritated throats without causing phlegm. If you want to stay completely natural or you don’t have access to teas, mix some honey and lemon into hot water or warm up your voice more thoroughly before shows with easy trills. Resist the urge to go out with the cast after the show as you will strain your voice more and be sure to avoid ALL alcohol, which dries out your throat. Ensure adequate sleep as often as possible to give your vocal chords time to rest and rejuvenate. Most importantly, you guessed it, constantly hydrate your voice with lots of water!

Calm down! This is easier said than done, but stress is one of the biggest causes of fatigue, sickness, blemishes, and overall unhappiness, leading to a performance littered with anxiety and inhibitions. Surround yourself with only positive people before show times or put in your head phones to get into the zone by yourself. Stay present in the moment and get through tonight’s show instead of worrying about things to come. Revel in what you’re doing by acknowledging the fun you get to have at your job and allow your stress to melt away.

The show must go on, no matter what you’re dealing with internally or externally. As such, actors are expected to give their very best performance every night regardless of the fact that they didn’t sleep the night before, they lost their voice to an ongoing cold, or they pulled a hamstring during last week’s dance break. Be kind to your body and know your limits, rest when you can, and when you can’t, eliminate problems and strengthen your body naturally to sustain it for the long future of shows that you have ahead of you.

The Reckless Artist sig

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