I've spent the past 8 months as the Vocal Consultant for TheatreworksUSA primarily working with their touring casts. Part of my work involves preparing the actors for tour, as well as helping them when they're out on the road and encounter trouble. I have a lot of clients headed out on tours soon, so I wanted to share some of the tips I've compiled to help you stay healthy on the road. Be sure and head over to the My Favorite Things page to see links to purchase many of the items you'll see here.
Drink water consistently, not just pre-performance or pre-travel. Your body has a hierarchy of hydration needs and the vocal folds are pretty low on that list so you need to be hydrating consistently in order for the folds to get a real benefit.
Use a travel humidifier in your hotel room and your dressing station. This keeps you from drying out over night or during a show.
Use a steamer daily. You can never steam too much.
Consider adding electrolyte supplements to your water to increase your body's overall hydration. These are especially great pre, during, and post activity like a show or a workout, as well as when you've been in other sweaty situations such as hiking in the sun. (They are also great after a night of drinking. Electrolyte supplements=hangover cure!)
The Humidiflyer is essential for traveling. It's a mask that you wear while on a plane that keeps you from breathing in dry air. It's a game changer for frequent traveling and singing.
Nasal irrigation is great for dry nasal passages. A neti-pot, saline spray, and nasal gel are all great.
Lozenges can help keep your mouth moist when traveling and performing.
Scroll down for an old post on hydration for more tips.
Sleep is essential to allow your body and voice time to recover between shows. Aim for 7-9 hours each night.
Try and control your bedtime, especially if you have early morning press events, shows, or other obligations.
Moderation of Voice Use
Monitor the amount of speaking and singing you do offstage. Remember that the vocal folds don't know if you're on stage or not. Voice use is voice use.
Avoid loud bars and other places with loud background noises, especially when you're already fatigued after a show.
Rest physically and vocally when you're tired.
Take vocal naps during the day when needed. If you're tired or feeling strained, have lunch by yourself with a book instead of meeting up with friends. Allow your voice some quiet time.
Moderation of Life Style
Always balance your booze with water. For every pint of beer, glass of wine, or cocktail, drink a pint of water. This helps you stay hydrated.
If you have reflux or general heartburn, try not to eat or drink anything at least 2 hours before bed. If you have to eat, consider a bed wedge to prop up the mattress.
Avoid any unnecessary drug use. It's especially important to avoid NSAIDS (ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen) when performing. They increase bleeding, so if you suffer a vocal fold hemorrhage, the bleeding will be increased. Try Acetomenophen when you have a headache or cramps. If you must take an NSAID for a physical injury or other issue, try and take it in the morning well before a performance or rehearsal.
Visit this website to see how any drugs you take may impact the voice: www.ncvs.org/rx
Your physical health will impact your vocal health, so be sure and prioritize workouts, stretching, meditation, and other forms of physical fitness that keep you well-balanced. This can be hard on the road, but can help you find consistency in your day from city to city.
Try and stay ahead of any illness by taking care of your body. Consider medications, minerals, vitamins, herbs, oils, etc. that can promote a strong immune system.
Remember that we're all different, so something that works for someone might not work for you, and vice versa. Always speak with a doctor or pharmacist before trying new medication or supplements.
Tours are close quarters, so be sure and wash your hands often and well.
Keep hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial wipes with you as well as at your dressing station to prevent germs from spreading.
If you're contagious and have a swing or an understudy, call out. Don't bring your germs into the theatre to spread amongst the cast and crew.
Warming up is essential before a vocal task. Research has shown that warming up produces acoustic changes in the voice as well perceptual changes in the sound. Essentially, your voice will sound and feel better if you warm up in the most effective manner for your voice and the task at hand.
The most important part of warming up is understanding how your voice is functioning in that given moment. You must observe what is working well and what needs more focus. You want to know what parts of your show you're going to need to focus on vocally and what parts you're going to be able to sit back and let happen. This can change daily, and that's ok. You won't know whats going on without a warm up though.
Ask your voice teacher to create a warm up track for you before you head out on the road. This will give you an organized routine each show. This will also make sure that you don't over warm up before a show.
If you're worried about warming up in a hotel or with others around, consider purchasing a Belt Box or using a straw.
The benefit of a cool down is that it allows you to leave your show behind and reclaim your everyday voice. This is especially important if you are using extreme voices or excessive singing.
Try cooling down by working in the opposite direction of where you've been singing. Also add in some speaking voice work to make sure your speaking voice returns to your default.
As with the warm up track, as your voice teacher to record a cool down track for you to use after each show.
This is your opportunity to get your voice up and running each day and is not your show warm up. This is the chance to touch base with your voice each morning so that as you go about your day, you are using your voice in a productive way.
Try some easy lip trills through your range, some easy sirens and sighs on an "oh" as in "show", and some humms in your speaking range to get your speaking voice ready to go.
This is your DVR that assures that your speaking voice is ready to order coffee at Starbucks, call your mom on the phone, and then do that interview for the local paper in the afternoon.
On a day with little vocal obligations, consider doing these exercises gradually throughout the day.
What To Do If Something Goes Wrong?
First of all, don't panic.
Talk to stage management immediately. If you noticed any vocal change during a show, fill out an accident report form. Don't wait on this. It's hard enough to get worker's comp to pay for voice related injuries, so be swift and fill it out even if you aren't sure there's something wrong.
Increase rest, hydration, and steaming as a precaution.
Contact your voice teacher and talk through what's going on and see if they have suggestions on what to do. It's important to keep your voice team (laryngologist, voice therapist, and voice teacher) in the loop with what's going on on the road. Don't wait on this. The earlier your team knows what's happening, the faster they can help you.
Communicate with your MD. If you need to mark something, have a line reassigned, or need a vocal line changed, your MD can be helpful in making those changes for you. Don't ever make a change to any part of a show without approval from stage management and the music director.
If you are sick, see a doctor. Remember that it's normal to lose your voice with an upper respiratory infection for about 7-10 days. Anything longer than that needs the attention of a laryngologist who can scope you. When you're performing, you don't have 7-10 days to recover, so seeking the assistance of a fellowship trained laryngologist who understands the needs of singers is essential.
If you are far enough away from home that you can't see your laryngologist, call their office, speak with your doctor about your current issue, and ask for recommendations in the area that you are in. You can also reach out to your voice teacher or voice therapist for recommendations. Teachers, therapists, and doctors who are well-connected can help you get seen quickly by great doctors all around the world, so keep your team back home in the loop.
Hopefully these tips will help you as you head out on the road. None of this information is designed to replace medical advice, it's just here to try and steer you in the right direction. Try and purchase any of the items you want before you leave so you can be sure and have room in your suitcases. It's amazing how quickly those bags fill up!
And now for the most important tip from my personal experience: Always be the last one on the bus to the airport. This puts your luggage on the outside, which means that you'll be the first one off the bus and in line to check your bags and get in the security line. Makes for a much better travel day :)