Ah, tech week. The dreaded storm before the calm (yes, you read that right).
For those of you who don’t perform in the theatre on a regular basis, “tech week” refers to the week leading up to opening night of a show, so named because it’s typically the first time you work with all of the “technology” of a show, like sets, costumes, real props, lighting, the actual stage itself, and the orchestra. Tech week is the longest and most difficult week of the rehearsal process, with rehearsals often lasting five or six hours and sometimes running late into the night or the wee hours of the morning. There’s a reason that many performers refer to it, somewhat less than fondly, as “hell week.”
As you can imagine, tech week is a very different beast when it comes to a) operas, where you have to keep yourself healthy and in good voice, and b) community theatre groups, where every participant has a day job. The show I’m currently preparing, The Pirates of Penzance, is both of those things, as several shows I’ve done in the past have been as well.
Here is my self-taught guide to surviving tech week.
- Before the week starts, stock up on meals that are very easy to prepare. When I say easy, I mean ten minutes or less. If you’re like me, you never know if you’ll be able to leave your day job with enough time to get home and cook a whole meal before hopping in the car and heading to rehearsal. My favorite thing to do is go to Trader Joe’s and raid their freezer section. Everything at TJ’s is delicious and not all that bad for you, and it’s fast. I also try to pick things that will pack up easily, so I can eat while driving (super safe, I know) or heat up food at the theatre, since most have at least a microwave, if not a full kitchen.
- Take naps whenever you can. If you’re putting in late nights at the theatre and early mornings for your day job, chances are you’re not getting a lot of sleep at night. Thankfully, my day job is a split shift, which allows me to do whatever I want/need to do in the mornings and early afternoons, so that can include napping. If you don’t have that flexibility, I suggest napping on your lunch break, taking a power nap if you have a few extra minutes before you have to head to the theatre, or even napping in your dressing room or a different quiet area when you’re not needed onstage (but don’t miss a cue!). This is all particularly important when you’re doing an opera or even a musical, since the amount of sleep you get directly correlates with your vocal health.
- Drink a lot… of water, tea, and maybe even coffee. That last one depends on how coffee affects you and how much it hypes you up, dries you out, etc. Water and tea are always a good choice though. They will keep your body going and keep your voice working properly.
- Recognize that your spouse, friends, etc. will feel neglected. T tends to forget from show to show what actually happens during tech week and how much I’ll be gone. He’s often shocked the first day or two of tech week when we are barely even awake at the same times, and that invariably leads to an argument. In response, I try to validate his feelings as much as possible––they are valid, after all. Just because I’m doing something I love doesn’t mean I wouldn’t rather be spending time with T or with our friends or our youth group students or sleeping or any number of things. To make sure he knows I’m not just ditching him for funsies, I make sure to take care of as much as I can around the house. Today during my off-work time I emptied and reloaded the dishwasher, wiped down the stove and the kitchen sink, did a load of laundry, and made my tech-week trip to Trader Joe’s. (I also took care of myself by disposing of a horrific spider and yes, taking a short nap.) Even though I’ll be gone every night this week, I want T to know that I’m still thinking of him, taking care of him, and looking forward to doing all of our normal weeknight activities again starting next week.
- Stretch a lot, and do your normal exercise and/or yoga routines. Between lack of sleep, lots of singing and dancing every night, brand-new stage hazards to deal with, and quite simply the amount of energy expended, tech week can take its toll on you physically. Last night at the very end of rehearsal, my stage partner and I had to hold our final pose, a dramatic dip, for a solid three or four minutes while the lighting designer set that particular light cue. By the end of the six-hour rehearsal my feet were already sick of wearing character shoes, and it didn’t take long for my supporting leg to start shaking. My counterpart had no problem holding me in that position, but the words “I guess I need to do yoga this week” definitely came out of my mouth. I know I need to keep moving and work my muscles and joints if I’m going to make it through four more rehearsals and three performances by this time next week.
- Wash your makeup off every night. Just do it. It might be tempting to keep it on in preparation for the next day, especially if you’re mostly wearing regular street makeup anyway, but seriously, wash your face. You will be so much happier, and so will your skin. Same goes for your hair… take it down, brush it out, and wash it, especially if you’ve used copious amounts of hairspray.
- Be excited! Tech week is the most exciting part of the whole rehearsal process, because it’s when you finally get to put everything together. Even though most rehearsals are just about running through the show and not doing detailed character work, I believe that some of the best acting progress happens during tech week, because everyone finally sees what the show is going to look like and how it all fits together. It’s when the magic starts to happen. Let yourself get excited about it!
Performers out there, what do you do to survive tech week?