The Penultimate* Vocal Guide to Production Week (Part 2: How to Prepare for Production Week)

If you have already read Part 1 of this blog, you’ll have a clear understand of what Production Week is likely to throw at you.  This blog gives you some ideas on how to plan for it.

I am an advocate of making plans that are flexible, then you have a starting place to work from.  Such plans are easy to adjust as circumstances change or you receive more information.  But if you go into a demanding performance scenario with no plans, you are asking so much from your brain and body to keep making a mile of decisions on the go, that your voice will inevitably fatigue from it all.

Take Notes

I also strongly recommend that you keep a journal or notebook of some kind – either hard copy with a pen or pencil, or something digital in your phone. 

Write your plans into this notebook and, very importantly, write down what you ended up actually doing.  In this way, you will refine your preparation and routines into a model that becomes second nature as the years and shows accumulate in your bio.

Self-care

Vocal Budget

How many vocal dollars do you have in the bank?  Singers are vocal athletes and need to understand:

Think of it like a budget.  You have a limited amount of “vocal dollars” to spend each day or week.  There are ways to put some dollars in the banks, and ways to avoid wasting your vocal dollars.

How to boost your budget:

What spends vocal dollars:

Top tip:

No matter how careful you are, performing will spend vocal dollars.  How will you manage your budget today?

Eating

Use:

Avoid:

Rest

In between shows, as much as possible:

Balancing the day job

Gig bag

I have written a blog with a great list of suggestions on what to keep in your bag ready for performances and rehearsals.  Check it out here.

Vocal health

“Health during the run of a show is a matter of preparation, not luck.”

Pat H. Wilson

“The three-hour rule becomes barbaric when you face a 9am voice-over or a 6am film-set call.  There are times when this is not a nice profession.”

Pat H. Wilson

Top Tip:

Know which warm ups your voice loves. Not your mind…your voice.

Choose your values

Dressing Room Etiquette

The atmosphere of the dressing room influences the atmosphere of the stage.  I’m talking about literal and metaphorical atmospheres.

Respect the crew

Stage crew have your backs in a way you may never fully realise.  So, when you see those superheroes in black – smile at them!  Say hello, please, thank you.  Ask how their day is going.  Don’t treat them like they’re invisible.  They may not have been part of the show’s journey for as long as you have, but without them your show will not work.  Throw a few random acts of kindness their way.

Few things frustrate the Stage Manager more than people being late for their calls without very good reason.  The SM is responsible for the smooth running of the show, so you being late actually reflects badly on them.  

Good crews work hard to settle quickly into a predictable routine of time and movement. They are essentially choreographing their moves, so that they can do what they need to do in a way that doesn’t hinder the movement of cast members. They are trying to make your job easier!

Be cooperative

“Musical theatre isn’t an art form.  It’s 14 art forms smashed together.  And when they coalesce in exactly the right way, I believe it is more powerful than pretty much everything…there is this incredible cast, who does the impossible, eight times a week: tells this story and makes it fresh for every new audience.   Broadway casts are like chefs: last night’s audience had their meal, and you’ve got to make it just as good every night, from scratch.” 

Lin Manuel-Miranda, introduction to the Hamilton program

Look at this extraordinary synchronicity!  Do your part at the right time, and if everyone else does too…you will make magic!  If you start getting argumentative, resentful or rebellious, you will spoil the meal, and probably spoil it for others too.

Side note: it is always better to tell the truth…your production team have heard it all before and can usually spot a lie faster than you can utter it.  Show them your respect by being honest.

Don’t gossip

Do I really even need to explain this?  Nothing divides a cast and spoils a show faster.  Be a part of diluting gossip by walking away or changing the subject.  Be one another’s greatest allies and you will all love arriving at the Stage Door every call.

Top Tip:

Assume that anything you say can and will be heard ANYWHERE in the theatre.  You’d be surprised how sound travels!

Theatre Health & Safety

Hearing

Your hearing is a vital part of your vocal instrument. Damage to it can often lead to loss that is irreparable.  So don’t take risks with your hearing. 

It is often challenging to hear yourself adequately on stage.  Perhaps you are not in the right position to hear the foldback that has been installed.  Or perhaps the company budget didn’t extend to as many foldback speakers as might be useful.  

Top Tip:

When you can’t hear yourself through foldback, your job is to tune into your body and trust the physical sensations you experience in practice to guide your technique.

The sound will change a lot depending on how many people are in the audience as well.  A full house will absorb the sound in a different way – so be prepared to have a range of audio experiences across the season of your show.

Stage safety

Don’t get sick or injured

You mightn’t have signed a professional contract with your theatre company, but you have made a commitment that comes with implicit obligations.  Your acceptance of a role in the cast now translates to you making choices that put the show first.

You are always a singer – 24/7.  So, during the run of a show, don’t do anything that jeopardises your ability to fulfill the work you need to do onstage.  For example:

“Try to do nothing which consciously risks your health and safety.  This is a large part of what being a reliable performer is all about.”

Pat H. Wilson

Carpark safety

Depending on the location of your theatre, whether you leave by the rear stage door or the front general entrance, and the time you are leaving the theatre, you might wish to consider having a carpark buddy for personal safety.

What’s next?

Now that the show is open, your attention turns to sustaining your health, energy, camaraderie and show quality for the rest of the run.

“Remember you have to do the show 8 more times, and while we always want lots of energy and passion from you, we also want you to deliver the show evenly and with your own personal satisfaction (and no laryngitis). So, pace yourselves. Your voices aren’t all used to this amount of work, day after day…give them lots of love!”

Sharon Tree in an email to a cast

Car Singing

One of the most tempting things to do now will be to warm up in the car on the way to the theatre.  Your singing teacher will usually say it is a bad idea.  But reality also bites sometimes…so here are some ideas for a safe compromise.

Firstly, there are good reasons why singing in the car is risky for your voice.  It is a place of MOSTS and LEASTS, the place where:

In the car your primary job is to get to your desination without injuring yourself or anyone else on the road.  But your primary job in a vocal warm up is to prepare your brain and body to sustain hundreds of vocal fold collisions per second.  The human brain is AMAZING…but maintaining the focus required to do both of those well simultaneously is untenable.

Now that I’ve rained on that parade a fair bit, here are a few safe things you can try on the way to the theatre:

Top Tip

Keep your talking to a minimum during the day, and when you do talk, support the voice with your breath and avoid monotone pitching right at the bottom of your range.

Well, there you have my guide to preparing your mind and voice to thrive, not just survive, production week and the run of the show you are busy rehearsing.  I would love to hear your ideas of what to add to this guide so that it can be useful to many people.  And if you have perspectives on other community theatre practices in your local area, I’d love to hear from you!

Chookas to you and your whole company for your next run.  I pray that you walk out of every show with a voice that has quite a bit left in the tank, and a heart full to the brim with the joy of storytelling.

Sources:

Conversations with Matt Black, Chris Neal and James McPherson

Diaries of Sharon Tree

Endless conversations with Canberran casts and production teams

Hall, K. (2014). So You Want to Sing Music Theater: A Guide for Professionals. (A NATS Project). Rowman & Littlefield, Maryland.

Laster, J. H. (2001). So You’re the New Musical Director! Scarecrow Press, Maryland.

LeBorgne, W. D. & Rosenberg, M. (2014). The Vocal Athlete. Plural Publishing, San Diego

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Robinson, D. K. (2016) Improve Vocal Stamina. YouTube clip https://youtu.be/axXBjJil10k

Titze, I.R. (2000). Principles of Voice Production. National Centre for Voice & Speech, Iowa

Wilson, P. H. (2013) The Singing Voice: An Owner’s Manual. (2nd edition). Lazy O’Rhinus Press, Sydney.

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