This is something that always takes me by surprise and I’ve only gotten better at dealing with the more practice I get.: surviving production week without having a mental breakdown.
“Impossible!” I hear chorused from the wings!
Well, the least I can do is bestow some of my hard learned wisdom onto you with a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up. Here are 3 tips to surviving production week with your sanity intact.
1. Theatre Aid Kit
I always make sure that going into any production, but especially during production week that I have a 'Theatre Aid Kit' ready to go. It contains everything I need and a few things that fellow cast members have surely forgotten or haven’t thought they would need.
script: Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a production where everyone has remembered their script for production week. Some out of arrogance, some out of simply having too much going on. So I make sure I have mine; not just for me to peruse when I have the chance, but as a go-to copy for anyone who may need it.
a refillable water bottle: Keep your fluids up. It’s easy to forget, and I know you don’t want to be running to the toilet every chance you get, but you need to replace the water you sweat out under those stage lights.
pencils and highlighters: You never know what last-minute changes will be made so it’s always best to have these on you. It’s also good to have them for the obligatory program-signing and congratulations cards that will be floating around backstage.
throat lozenges: Vocal care is so important. If you feel a tickle in your throat, deal with it ASAP. If someone starts coughing, offer them one. Sickness kills shows, so kill it first.
tissues: Perfect for awkward sniffles, and as emergency makeup wipes.
makeup and makeup wipes: You should always have your own makeup for a show. I’ve accumulated a huge kit over the years, as I know how unprepared new theatre makers and male cast members can be when it comes to stage makeup. The same goes for makeup wipes. Everyone will need them and they disappear very quickly. If makeup wipes are too pricey (which often they are), get some baby wipes. They are great for sensitive skin and you get better value for a pack.
snacks: I’m just all about that food. A little bit of sugar goes a long way with energy. Make sure you have something with a little salt too, to replace any lost from sweating under those theatre lights.
headphones: This is for any down time you have (which you probably won’t) or they can be used as a good indicator that you don’t want to be disturbed. I’ll put on some ambient music and go over my lines in my head, or I may have a song that really helps me into the character’s shoes.
book: Again for down time and unwinding when you need to. You probably won’t get to read it a lot but I always like to know that I have one there. I find I get the most reading done during tech rehearsals because as an actor there is a lot of waiting around during these.
knife and fork: For your dinner or for any other poor soul that ordered UberEats but it didn’t come with cutlery.
phone charger: You shouldn’t be using your phone during rehearsal or in the wings during performance, but chances are you’ll be in the theatre for a while and if you want a fully charged phone at the end of it best to bring one. And someone will ask to borrow it, I can guarantee it.
2. Meal Prep
Normally I hate doing meal prep and I avoid it if I can.
I actually take great joy in cooking, but during production week, it really isn’t an option. I went through the phase of after rehearsal MacDonald’s meals, but doing that for a whole week
isn’t good for anyone. Mainly, you aren’t getting the right nutrients or calorie amounts to keep you going and eating late at night greatly affects your sleep quality. You need energy and rest to get through production week and if you put junk in your tank you’re going to break down.
So the weekend before production week starts I make huge versions of meals that I can freeze and reheat. This way I can reheat it in a microwave and eat it during break or have small mouthfuls when I’m sitting in the wings.
Bolognese is a classic and goes really far, or a stir fry. Sometimes a venue won’t have a microwave for cast members to use, some other options there are veggie sticks and dip of your choice (I recommend hummus because it's very filling), or a good ol’ sandwich or wrap. It’s healthier than late night drive thru foods and it will save your bank account and stomach lining.
Doing this also takes one thing off your mind for the whole week. If you aren’t focused on what and if you’re going to have dinner tonight then you’re going to be able to focus on performing.
3. Warm-up, Warm-down
This is something I’ve been forging into a habit.
Warming up your body and voice before every rehearsal independently of the ensemble. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be running to schedule and have time to warm up as a group and some theatre companies expect it to be the actors responsibility. Here’s a hard truth, it is the actors responsibility. I’ll stretch in the wings or dressing room quietly waiting for my cue and my vocal warm up often consists of singing along to whatever I want on the drive to the venue.
That being said, don’t go too hard with your warm ups.
I once had the pleasure of hearing Melissa Langton speak about vocal care. She said, “A tennis player doesn’t play a whole match before a competition so why would you warm up with the whole performance.” I’m definitely paraphrasing here but it was something that stuck with me.
Pace yourself and keep the energy for your time on stage.
And warm down! This is important for so many reasons. Firstly, if you don’t let your body loosen up after moving around so much, the tension will start to hurt, and you’ll have to deal with cramping up on stage or just not being able to do the movement of your character full justice.
Also hugely important, and often overlooked: vocal cool-downs. I’ve lost my voice for performances and I can not recommend it. You feel like you’ve let everyone down and in smaller events where there are no understudies it can mean that the performance gets cancelled.
You also need to mentally warm down. There is a lot of adrenaline flying around when you perform and if you don’t unwind afterwards and just let it go, you are sleeping anytime soon. I’ve taken to literally shaking the performance off at the end of the day and showering away any $#!+ that has happened during the production. Focusing on that one line you stuffed up isn’t going to help you in the long run, trust me.
Well, this went on for much longer than I intended, so I’ll cap the advice here. It is about finding techniques that work for you in the long run, these are just what I do to get through it and so far they haven’t failed me.