Welcome to Stage Door Shrink, a regular column aimed at helping performers chortle their way to a #win.
Being ‘show fit’ means that whatever is required of the performer to successfully perform 8 shows a week, needs to be kept at peak level, all the time.
This includes your voice, your body shape, your cardiovascular fitness, your ‘look’ and your mind. This is equally as important when you’re in a show as when you’re looking for work. Musical theatre people love a fitness bandwagon. Here are some wagons I’ve hopped on (and off) in the last 18 months at Wicked:
#paleo, F45 training, Spiralizers, Grill’d burgers with no buns, American Apparel black tights, Mindfulness, Nike Frees, raw vegan cakes, #skinnygirl, green juices and Acai bowls (which only lasted a week-those things are both pricey and sloppy).
The harsh reality is, all else equal, the better you look, the more employable you are. Therefore, my advice is, don’t stop hopping on wagons until you find one that works for you.
Growing up in my family, we stayed fit by doing ‘Praise Step Aerobics’ on VHS in the living room. Yep – all 6 of us praised Jesus through song, grapevines, triple knee ups and bike shorts. Fitness trends may be fleeting, but your cardio/physical fitness cannot be. You never know when you will get that call to do a 2 hour dance audition with a couple of days notice. The number one tip is: always BE ready, then you won’t need to GET ready. Psychologically, exercise is great for your mental health. There is strong evidence that exercise can alleviate the effects of long term depression, and prevent relapse. When we exercise, Serotonin is released in our brains. This Neurotransmitter (NT) is responsible for mood stabilisation, sleep and appetite and is the same NT that anti-depressant drugs help artificially release in the brain. So exercise will not only help you look better, you will feel and sleep better too.
Mentally well people acknowledge and take responsibility for what they can control, and let go of what they cannot. That means, taking healthy responsibility for your diet, exercise and fitness. Focussing on health and fitness is great, but this goal can quickly turn destructive. Remind yourself that comparison is the root of much discontent. Measure your current progress against your former self, not someone else. If you can dead lift more now than you could a month ago, you are winning, who cares what #skinnygirl over there can lift.
My expert this week is Musical Theatre leading man and Fitness entrepreneur Josh Piterman. Josh moonwalked his way into his high school musical Fame, playing the whitest Tyrone Jackson on record. After graduating from the University of Ballarat Musical Theatre course, Josh toured with The Ten Tenors before playing the lead role of Tony in West Side Story, Corny Collins in Hairspray in The UK, as well as The Drowsy Chaperone (MTC), Kismet (TPC) and An Officer and A Gentleman. Feeling as though he had other knowledge and passion to give, Josh started PITFIT, a functional fitness and training program aimed at the specific needs of performers at all levels. Knowing the discipline and diligence required for sport and training, Josh translates this approach to performing and show fitness.
Here are Josh Piterman’s practical tips for staying show fit:
Find an exercise regime you enjoy.
If you don’t love it, it will become a chore and a burden. Cycling, swimming, yoga, Cross Fit etc… Just love it. I recommend blending high sweat and low sweat, i.e., things that stress the body in a positive way and things that de-stress the body (i.e., weights/circuits with yoga/meditation).
Food is fuel.
Diet is very important for maintaing energy. Be on top of your food preparation and nutrition. I see a mix of people who under/over eat. Under eaters will commonly lack energy in a show, therefore they turn to lollies to get through. Stick to a low GI diet for sustained energy. Don’t skip meals. Don’t cut out food groups. Yes, sometimes when you need to get leaner, you may need to lower carbs etc, so, know your own body. Stick to whole, real foods. Whilst it is important to blow off steam at the end of the week and have a glass of red and a pasta, make sure that isn’t your habit several nights a week.
Work to prevent potential injuries.
Prevention is always better than rehabilitation. Having a business catering specifically to performers, means that at PITFIT we see a lot of the same types of injury and focus specially on preventing them. Dancers all face the same problems-mainly hyper mobility. We work on treating hyper mobility without losing flexibility. You need to train functionally so you can think about the way your body moves and hold shape when you’re dancing.
You need a team to help you.
If you’re in a show, you’re doing ‘game day’ 8 times a week. Unlike athletes, performers do not have a team of Dieticians, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists, Psychologists and Strength Coaches helping them perform at their best. Because performing is an ‘art,’ the concept of athleticism is not catered too. The responsibility to look after those things lies with the individual.
Consider extra fitness training.
Doing ‘just’ the show may not be enough exercise. This depends on the show. It may be enough cardio, but depending on your track or choreography, you may need to strengthen particular parts of your body to avoid injury, jump higher, turn faster, improve stability and do the best job you can. Your body is your weapon, and strength is really important. Your regime should include high intensity interval training. A show is not a marathon-it is a series of short sprints. You need to consider everything you do as something which may get you your next gig. You should also mix up your training, and shock/challenge your body. This will help you burn more fat and challenge your mind.
Aesthetics are important, but functionality is prime.
For something like commercial dance, the way you look is huge. This is also true in theatre in general. However, if you are a dancer and aim primarily for aesthetics, you have missed the boat. Sports science tells us we have to work functionally to enhance athletic performance. Aesthetics must always be blended with functionality so that everyday you know you are getting better at your craft. Achieve this via strength and conditioning training and continually going to dance class to improve your technique.
Not in a show? Does mean you’re in an ‘off season’.
You never know when your next audition will be. There is pre-season and season. You want to smash that audition. Keep up your skill. Be that guy in the audition at the front of your game. Performers are typically all or nothing people, but you can’t train yourself to show fitness in a couple of weeks. Maintain a good base level and amp it up for down when needed. I like the 80/20 rule. Keep on top of diet and exercise 80% of the time and you’re doing pretty well.
Stress relief is primary.
Approach this in a positive way via meditation and yoga. Look after your mind-it is the epicentre of everything we do and can get in the way if not addressed. Consider seeing a Performance Psychologist. Meditation is also great and helps with weight loss as it lowers your cortisol levels (stress hormone). When in show, the level of adrenaline we deal with every night is akin to a minor car accident. You need to bring yourself down from that high. There is a noticeable connection between someone’s physical fitness and their mental health, that is documented.
You need to drink 1L of water per 20kg of body weight. This is key to looking after your body and your voice. Tea, coffee, red wine and beer do not count. It’s easier to track your daily intake if you just count water.
Release work is huge.
Get yourself a foam roller and a spiky ball and release that myofascial tissue, this is essentially a form of self massage. Foam rolling also increases blood flow to your muscles and creates better mobility, helping with recovery and improving performance. On that note, don’t start with stretching your cold muscles, this will lead to injury.
If you need to talk to a Psychologist regarding food issues, I highly recommend Body Matters in Sydney bodymatters.com.au
Visit Josh’s website pitfit.com.au for more information
If you liked this advice column, why not check out Rachel Cole’s previous Stage Door Shrink article How To Blitz Your Audition
Rachel Cole is a Research Psychologist masquerading as a Swing & Nessa Rose Understudy on the Australasian tour of WICKED. She likes to think about what makes people tick. She also likes: Podcasts, politics, pepperoni pizza, property, puns, puppies and cheap things. If you know of a political podcast full of puns we can listen over a cheap pepperoni pizza while we walk a cheap dog looking at cheap property, we might just be fast friends.