By Grace Gori, M.M. and Aurelius Gori, D.M.A.
It’s a fact of life in the theater world: after weeks or even months of rehearsing and right before the show opens, comes the most exciting, exhausting, nerve-wracking part of the process: Tech Week, when all the elements of the production – acting, singing, dancing, sets, lighting, costumes, make-up, and all else – must mesh together like the gears of a precision clock.
For high school students who must keep up school work in addition to their show duties, this time can be particularly challenging. (Many schools spread the process out over two weeks, calling first week “Tech Week” and the week of the production itself “Hell Week”… not that this makes the process much easier.)
As vocal teachers and performers ourselves, we’d like to share our top tips for making it to the Finish Line – Opening Night! – with your health and your voice intact. (This list is written with teens in mind, but adult performers, whether amateur or professional, can adapt these suggestions as well.)
• Yes, it seems impossible, but get enough sleep! Try to turn off the light at least one hour before your normal time. Teens need at least 10 hours per night. Most are nowhere near that. And “blue light filters” on computers and phones are a marvelous thing.
• Stay well hydrated by drinking lots of water! Some experts recommend at least 8 ten-ounce glasses of water spread out throughout your day, beginning several weeks before tech week. Yes, you’ll have to make more trips to the bathroom, but your vocal folds will thank you for the extra moisture. Why? It’s their little damp edges that vibrate in order for you to make sound!
• Things to avoid: Avoid excessive caffeine as it can lead to dryness in your vocal folds and interfere with your sleep. Avoid analgesic medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen and blood thinners, as these can lead to vocal fold hemorrhages during heavier voice-use periods.
• Eat healthy! a good breakfast with plenty of protein and a big, healthy lunch, but a smaller meal for dinner. In between, nosh regularly but wisely. In all your eating, avoid excessive salt, sugar, and spicy foods. Do chow down on plenty of fruits and vegetables – stay “regular”. If you have problems with acid reflux disease [GERD], avoid eating after 9:00 pm and raise the head of your bed so that your head is higher than your stomach as you sleep.
• Consider taking multivitamins, preferably at breakfast, to provide additional nutritional support for your hard-working body. There are many commercial vitamins available over the counter formulated specially for teens.
• Use your speaking voice well throughout your day. Speak with a smooth, well-supported legato voice in an appropriate pitch range. Don’t “fry” your speaking by speaking like a “valley girl/guy”. Using your speaking voice in unhealthy ways and/or too much can bring you to your knees vocally before you even begin the day’s rehearsal.
• Warm up gently before you get to rehearsal. Going to chorus practice is most likely not enough, unless your choral director has you singing in your solo voice.
• Assuming you have learned your music by now, your goal should be to refine how you sing it so that you can do so with maximum ease and efficiency. Whether you are crooning a lullaby in your legit voice or belting out the big anthem of the show, you need to find a sustainable, repeatable way to sing your music. Singing should not hurt or make you tired vocally.
• Pace yourself vocally during rehearsals. Don’t always sing at your full volume; learn to mark and do it whenever you can. Yes, you need to sing out when the conductor is checking balances…but seriously, do you need to belt it out at full volume when the point of the rehearsal is to set lighting cues or check spacing onstage?
• Once you’re in production, continue to pace yourself before, during, and after performances. Cast parties are fun – but beware! Being in a loud environment and staying up late will cost you dearly during the next performance, which often is less than 24 hours away. If you are a major lead, or if voice feels tired at all after a performance, or you’re under the weather in the least, consider skipping the parties altogether. You need to focus on being your best. Save the big party for after closing!