The 9 Essential Steps to Preparing for a Role and Maintaining Vocal Health Throughout the Run of a Show

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You Booked The Job!…Now What?!?
9 Essential Steps To Preparing for a Role and Maintaining Vocal Health Throughout the Run of a Show
The day you’ve been waiting for has arrived!  You nailed the audition, kept your cool through what seemed like an endless round of callbacks and finally got the call you’ve been waiting for. You booked the job. Congratulations!

After you’ve finished your obligatory happy dance and called your nearest and dearest who’ve been supporting you through this process, it may begin to hit you that you actually have to DO this now. You’ve got a ton of material you need to learn, you’ve got lifestyle preparations to make, and you may have to prepare to leave town- very likely at a moment’s notice . It’s exciting, a relief and anxiety inducing all at once. Many performers feel overwhelmed with the task at hand.

The following is a  guideline of basic steps that you can take to prepare yourself for success in the run of your show while helping to maintain your vocal health along with your general well being.

images1. RESEARCH: Begin to do your homework uncovering the world of the show and your character. You may have already scratched the surface in the audition process.  Now is your opportunity to find out as much as you can and use your creativity as well. Try to uncover the details of where the piece is taking place, the time period, important events of the day, how people interacted and so forth. The more you can understand the world of the show going in, the easier it will be for you make strong and creative decisions in the rehearsal process.

2. NOTE BY NOTE:  Get a hold of the score and script ASAP . You’ll want to go through the score and first identify any specific challenges you may want to work through with your teacher. Begin to figure out sustainable approaches to any challenging sections and make yourself familiar with the rest of the score. You’ll also want to take a look at the text and become aware of any moments that may be vocally or physically challenging there as well.  Keep in mind that everything can change once you begin the rehearsal process such as vocal line designation and even entire songs and scenes being replaced. You want to go into the rehearsal full of information but ready to be malleable and open to new information.

ChorusLine3. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER:  If it’s a revival – know what’s out there- know what’s been done. I’m not saying one needs to obsessively watch every performance of Gypsy that’s crossed the boards. I’m saying it’s a good idea to have some awareness of what’s come before.  Have a knowledge of the work that’s been done on the piece and then see what you can bring to it  to make it your own.

If it’s a new piece of work, try to become familiar with the teams previous work.  Get a sense of their general sensibility.  Seeing as you’ve booked the job, chances are you’ve already got a good sense of this. It can’t hurt to delve a little further and see what you can find.

bigstock-The-d-words-What-s-Your-Plan--241257414. PLANNING: Rehearsal can be the most challenging part of the process and it’s helpful to go in with some sort of game plan as to how you need to pace yourself.  Decide in advance if you are going to try to keep up with your regular workout schedule during rehearsal or reduce it. Keep in mind that every body is different and has different requirements for rejuvenation. It’s important to be in tune with your body and have a strong sense of when it needs rest, when you are feeling vocally tired and what foods you can eat that will help to promote your well being , energy and focus through your rehearsal process. Come up with a solid game plan for work time, rest time, play time, homework and food prep going into the rehearsal process and make adjustments as you discover they are necessary.

my-daily-routine-2bu3bqq5. ROUTINE:  Once you’ve gotten through the rehearsal process, you will want to discover what routine works for you on a regular basis to maintain your health and well being throughout the run of your show. It can become tempting to fall into to some bad habits after the rigors of a challenging rehearsal process.  Balance is an important key to keeping everything copacetic. Take the first few weeks of a run to ease into a routine that is going to keep you healthy and able to be at your best regularly and at the same time is fulfilling on a personal level.  You can always make adjustments along the way as you discover the need for them. 

6. WARM-UPS:  Identify 3 specific set vocal and physical warm-ups that are great for this specific show that will prepare you for: 1. When you are under the weather  2. Feeling ok- it’s an average day and  3. Looking to challenge yourself.  These are not the only warm-ups you will do while you are working on this show.  However, it’s always helpful to have at least three tried and true warm-ups that you know you can turn to and that you feel confident will get you ready to go.  Keep in mind these don’t need to be drastically different from one another, you may make some slight adjustments to your favorite warm-up for when you are under the weather or when you are feeling great and Voila!

2054147. CHECK-UP:  Check in with your ENT before you start the rehearsal process. Assuming you have health insurance, this is a great opportunity for you to check in and be sure that you are starting the rehearsal process with a clean bill of health.  If at any point you run into to difficulties either during rehearsal or the run of a show, it’s great for your ENT to have a record of what you looked like when you were healthy and perhaps be able to trace when your problems started to arise. In checking in with your ENT on a moderately regular basis you are also developing a relationship so that if an issue should develop at any point you are dealing with a doctor that you know and trust as opposed to someone whom you are meeting for the first time.

8. CHECK IN:  Whether or not you are going to be in town, out of town or on the road ,set up a game plan for checking in with your voice teacher intermittently. That can mean weekly lessons , Skype or Facetime sessions, email correspondences or pop in lessons when you are in town. If you are not in town, you can also find out if there is someone in the area that your teacher would recommend working with as well as an ENT they may be aware of.

9. YOU DESERVE A BREAK:  If you have the time and funds  before the run-SCHEDULE YOURSELF A VACATION – you’ve earned it! Hoping and assuming your show is a hit, you may not get another break for a while. If you don’t have time for a vacation , try to reward yourself with something grounding like a massage, some meditation or even a nice bubble bath before you dig into the rehearsal process. You’ve worked very hard to achieve this and you owe yourself a pat on the back and a moment to take a breath and enjoy the victory.vacation_965867

Please feel free to make suggestions for other topics you would like us to explore in this blog, comment or ask any questions.

Be Warm,

Kim Stern

Co-Creator, The Broadway Warm-Up 

A completely synchronized vocal and dance warm-up that can be completed in 30 minutes! 

www.broadwaywarmup.com

The Organic Connection Of Emotion To Breath When Singing

 

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“If you are connected to a feeling your diaphragm WILL respond!”

I was doing a 29 hour reading of a new musical recently and these words came out of the director’s mouth. It instantly struck me that this is an idea that I teach in my studio repeatedly and it was worth exploring further .

I think what struck me about this director’s words was that singing is a truly organic experience connected to an emotion and more specifically connected to the body, mind and spirit’s need to communicate that emotion. We can spend countless hours in the studio hammering out vocal technique (which is of course a crucial basic element), but when push comes to shove, if we are not fully invested emotionally and spiritually, that magic “X” factor will inevitably be missing.

I just took a break from writing this to teach a lesson. As I was working with the student (who is someone new to the studio) on her song, instead of working on her breath support, vowel structure or resonance, I simply asked her to speak the lyric and connect to what she was saying. I then asked her to sing the segment we were working again. The result was immediate and dramatic. Instantly, she was connected to her breath , she was articulating and the sound was ringing like a bell!

In her book The Right To Speak, Patsy Rodenburg talks in depth about the connection of emotion to the release of sound and breath support.  She states, “Once we feel supported and ready to speak we connect to real vocal power. Any previous temptation to push, bluff, embellish, or even retreat from words is lessened. These are, after all, only manipulative habits we use to compensate for our fear of trusting our innate means of support. The whole scope of the voice opens and widens.”

She goes on to say,” Sometimes when we come face to face with a heightened choice-a moment of grief, pain or joy- we can experience support as never before. The habits of the body and the voice are overridden and suddenly we go on automatic pilot, almost as if the moment can only be purged through sound. We laugh till our sides ache, someone new to support work will feel their ribcage beginning to work.”

This same idea is true when we are singing .  We can train our voices and work on our breathing, but it’s the intention to communicate a feeling that will really allow the breath to respond and the voice to soar. So often the performer gets caught up in “How do I sound?” “Here comes the high note” or “I wonder what they’re thinking of me right now”. I can guarantee that performer, audience and everyone involved will feel a greater sense of fulfillment from a performance the moment the singer lets go of all of those questions and commits completely to what is happening in the song. That means what the lyrics are saying, what is happening on the page in the music, what the accompanist is giving you in the moment, and the energy in the room.

When working on repertoire, I’m insistent that my student bring their acting choices into every lesson from the start. What you are thinking and feeling as an actor will dramatically affect how you are approaching the piece. Chances are, you’ve done your work and trained. You’ve warmed up your instrument and are ready to go.  Now that you are working on a piece of material, it’s time to trust that work and know that “If you are connected to a feeling, your diaphragm WILL respond!”

Be Warm,

Kim Stern

Co-Creator : The Broadway Warm-Up

A Completely Synchronized Vocal and Dance Warm-Up That Can Be Completed in under 30-minutes! 

The TOP 10 ROADBLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS FACE (PART 1)

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Happy New Year Folks!  As we see the horizon of a New Year many of us have our sights on exciting new goals.  We’ve made resolutions that we’ve been able to stick to thus far and we have high hopes for the promise of the coming year. Unfortunately, as we continue along our path we may find that some of these resolutions are a little harder to keep than we thought or we may get frustrated at not hitting the mark for all of our goals right away.  The following is intended to help you work through the rough points, stick to your resolutions and reach your goals.

Recently, Deidre Goodwin and I did an interview for Theatre Cast: a  webcast where theatre teachers and professionals share a passion for theatre trends and share practical advice and tips. We talked about our work in developing The Broadway Warm-Up and shared stories of our experiences as  performers and teachers  At some point in the conversation, I mentioned  that I could name about 10 obstacles or road blocks that I have seen my students come up against consistently-regardless of how far they are along on their career path.  At this point, a listener of the program wrote in and asked me to go further on that topic.  I took some time to look at this and came up with the top 10 roadblocks that I see students consistently face. I realized each “roadblock” is surmountable the moment we are able to acknowledge it in a supportive way and find a way to address it.

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TOP 10 ROAD BLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS CONSISTENTLY FACE IN REACHING THEIR GOALS ( PART 1)

 10. SEARCHING FOR APPROVAL FROM SOURCES OUTSIDE OF YOURSELF BEFORE GAINING YOUR OWN APPROVAL

Many times I will have students coming to me hoping for me to tell them if I think they have what it takes to reach their goals. I found that the only real answer is to suggest that they take a look at themselves and ask that very same question. So many times we are tempted to search for approval in auditions, rehearsals, performances or in our day to day life. If we can begin to grow that sense of approval and worth within ourselves we’ll find ourselves continually nurtured. Confidence will soar and our performance will flourish as a result. Value the input of your mentors and teachers but trust that you and you alone can determine your worth.

9. DIFFICULTY EMBRACING THE BRILLIANCE OF THE PERSON YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER IN A UNIQUE WAY- TRYING TO REPLICATE WHAT OTHERS HAVE ALREADY PUT OUT THERE

To me, part of the wonder and brilliance of life is it’s absolute uniqueness. Each one of us has our very unique qualities and our very unique ways of expressing ourselves to the world. So often, I will find students trying to replicate a performance they’ve seen  on YouTube or heard on ITunes and most of the time it’s obvious right from the start. They may not even realize they are doing it, but they’ve gotten it into their heads that there is one way to put a particular piece across and they aim to replicate it. The result is generally fine—but less than inspiring. When I discover this happening, I will try to find a way for the student to break the mold completely and find their true voice in the song- both on a technical level and as an actor. Invariably, the performance will flourish and the actor and audience will feel more satisfied when this kind of work comes into play. Bring your own unique voice to the table – it’s the one thing you have to offer that no one can take away from you!

8. FEAR OF TAKING A RISK

“If you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”- Tony Robbins

By definition a risk is a situation involving exposure to danger. It seems quite natural that most of us instinctually avoid risk at all costs. However, as musical theatre performers, we’ve already committed to the idea of taking a risk at some level. When we walk on to a stage or enter a room for an audition we’ve taken a leap into the world of of being vulnerable and free ourselves up to act and react authentically and in the moment. Let’s commit to that idea in a full way.  To be clear, Risk taking is not throwing caution to the wind and going in to an audition unrehearsed expecting brilliance.  It’s challenging yourself to be fully present in the moment , trying a new piece of material or making a bold choice. When you take a smart risk as a performer you will inevitably leave the performance feeling fulfilled, rewarded and exhilarated and 9 times out of 10 your audience will walk away with the same feeling.

7. BECOMING HYPER FOCUSED ON ONE AREA OF WORK THAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT WITHOUT ACKNOWLEDGING AREAS OF GROWTH AND STRENGTH ALONG THE WAY

I’ve seen it over and over.  A student will get super focused on belting a certain note in a song or become so hyper aware of a section of their instrument that needs some developing that they will completely lose track of the growth that they are making as an overall performer.  Then they will start to become frustrated, lose interest, lose motivation and lose focus. When we  focus on one specific area and lose track of our creative instrument as a whole, the work starts to become less satisfying and more and more of a chore.  I think it’s always important to have a realistic view of the goals we wish to reach and check in with those goals on a regular basis.  At the same time,  try to remember that you are developing your whole self on several different levels and you want to continue to acknowledge your growth and strengths along with your opportunities for improvement. The results can be surprising.  I’ve seen students step away from working on an area that’s been challenging for them and begin to really focus on building their instrument as a whole.  Then, a few months later they will come back to a piece of music that seemed impossible for them earlier and it will be a piece of cake.

6. DIFFICULTY COMMITTING TO REGULAR PRACTICE

We’ve all heard the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?…”  Well,  there’s no way around it, practice is key element for anyone looking to master their craft.  Most of us have great intentions but  when it comes down to it may find it difficult to commit to a regular cycle of practice.

I find there are several elements that may get in the way of a steady practice cycle. The first is committing to too much too soon.  If you haven’t been in a regular practice cycle it is going to be quite a shock to your system to suddenly commit to practicing 1 or more  hours a day working on vocal exercises running through repertoire and cooling down. Try starting small. Commit to 10 minutes 3-4 times a week. Half the battle is actually beginning to practice. Chances are, once you start, you won’t want to stop and may end up doing more practice time than you committed to. If you do more, that’s great, but consider your practice fulfilled once you’ve done your 10 minutes. Do that for a month and then expand your commitment to 20 minutes 5 times a week… you get the idea.  Before you know it you will have eased yourself into a regular practice pattern.

The second element that may interfere with regular practice : LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Many of us live in urban areas and don not want to disturb our neighbors or live with roommates. We may want to practice but find it difficult to find a proper time and place to really let our voices out. For my students living in urban areas, I suggest a few solutions: If you are living with roommates, it might help to come up with some sort of a schedule. Most likely your roommate would not mind having an hour or so per week of private time in the apartment even if they are not a performer.  Make an  agreement that both of you will plan to be out of the apartment for one hour per week at a specific time ( they would be using the apartment when you are out  and vice versa) .  You can then plan for that to be your rehearsal time. As for the neighbors, I recommend being as upfront as possible.  Try knocking on the door or leaving a note and letting them know you are a performer and will be rehearsing from time to time . If at any point the noise is a problem invite them to please let you know.

A third element that generally gets in the way of regular practice is not knowing what to do or a general lack of focus. I recommend to my students to work with the vocal exercises that we have recorded on a given week along with the recording.  I suggest for them to to do the exercises along with the recording and listen to the things we talk about in the lesson as sometimes you may hear an idea in a different way upon repetition. This element of not knowing what to do is actually one of the inspirations for The Broadway Warm-Up.  I had so many students asking me for some sort of a set and efficient warm-up that could get them ready for a show or audition and found myself making repeated recordings for people. I finally decided to come up with a better solution.

In terms of working  repertoire, it’s always tempting to strictly work on new material and let some of your older material suffer. Try to get in the habit of running through at least one or two of your old stand by’s a week and see what fresh insight you can bring to them.

Try to look at your practice time as a regular gift you can give to yourself . It’s time that you are taking away from any of the day to day drudgery to be creative and nurture your artistic self.

COMING SOON: TOP 10 ROAD BLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS CONSISTENTLY FACE IN REACHING THEIR GOALS ( PART 2)

Anyone Can Whistle… but can anyone SING?

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“So, can you teach anybody to sing? Or is singing a natural gift that someone needs to be born with?”

If I had a penny for every time someone asked me that question… well let’s just say I’d have more than a few dollars. The first time I was asked, I proudly answered, “I can teach anybody to sing!” and at the time I believed that answer 100%. As the years have gone by and I have become a little more experienced, my answer has refined itself into something that I feel I can stand behind with a little more grounding, “I can teach anybody to sing BETTER.”

Usually, when someone asks me that question, they are really asking, “Can you teach ME to sing?” Having never worked with them before, it’s a tricky question to answer in the moment as there are many factors that go into working with a vocalist. However, I find that most people begin to understand what their potential might be when I relate it to the idea of an Olympic Runner.

Most of us are born with some basic ability to run. There are certain people who are naturally born to be Olympic runners. Their bodies are just made for it. From the day they were born they had the strength, stamina, speed and agility to be one of the fastest runners in the world. They have long powerful legs, their movements are efficient, they’re naturally aerobically fit. Some of those people discover their talent, hone their gifts and go on to win Gold Medals.

There are others whose bodies might not have the same natural gifts but with proper training, persistent hard work and dedicated practice will go on to win races and achieve those very same Gold Medals. These are the people who are committed to training their instrument to be the absolute best it can be. They will quite literally go the extra mile in order to reach their goal. These people take the raw materials they have been given and maximize their potential. They may not have been born with a gift for running, but through passion, persistence and training have overcome obstacles to achieve their goal.

Then, there are runners that fall into every category in between. There’s the naturally gifted runner who doesn’t have the desire to train every day. There’s the runner who is not so gifted and strives for the gold , but lacks the focus to train consistently. There’s someone like myself who loves a good walk or spin on the elliptical , but really will only be inspired to actually run if there’s someone chasing me… you get the idea.

In training a singer , we are dealing with an instrument of the body. We must develop strength , flexibility and agility similar to the way an Olympic runner would in preparing for any race. The primary difference is that the majority of the muscles that we are dealing with in singing are internal and not visible– so they are a little more challenging to access. We also must take into account the mind and spirit of the performer. How quickly a vocalist progresses can vary greatly depending on their motivation, their intelligence, their creativity, their confidence and their passion- to name a few.

A voice teacher can help to train the muscles and develop coordination. We can teach proper vowel structure and breathing. We can help the student develop their ear and match pitch. We can expose them to great music and vocalists and inspire their spirit and creativity. At the same time, we must recognize that we are working as a teammate with the student and there are several variable factors at play. Some of those factors include the student’s willingness or ability to practice on a regular basis, the way and speed in which their mind receives information, the connection between teacher and student -how well they communicate and how comfortable they are with one another, the student’s willingness to try new ideas and stray from their comfort zone. There is also that fantastic moment when after months of exploring an idea, for one reason or another, the clouds part and something just clicks.

One of my favorite moments as a teacher is finding my way into a students way of thinking and into their hearts and helping them to unlock the voice that has been waiting there for them all along. I’ve seen gifted singers who had lost their inspiration regain their spark and create magic. I’ve seen people go from not being able to match pitch, to singing songs full out and booking jobs in the ensemble of Broadway shows. I’ve seen people who thought that maybe, they just might have a voice, come in for a first voice lesson and discover that not only did they have a voice , it was something to be reckoned with and something to be shared.

When someone asks me, “Can you teach anyone to sing?”, I can confidently say, “I can teach anyone to sing BETTER.” Where we go from there , well that’s the fun part: discovering how far you can go if you put your mind to it. : )

If there are any topics you’d like me to address or questions you’d like me to answer, give a shout out by contacting Kim@broadwaywarmup.com

Be Warm,  Kim