Working as a professional performer for the last 10 years (from West End to subsidised regional theatre to international touring as a singer) this has given me a great insight into the physical demands on the Performing Artist in an industry that is constantly presenting new challenges. I had good, solid training in musical theatre at Mountview Academy and found Alexander Technique to be particularly helpful in maintaining a healthy voice and body. This knowledge served me pretty well in my first few years as a professional performer but then a new challenge presented itself. I started to be cast in actor-musician productions where I would not only be an actor/singer/dancer but also a trumpet player. As a serious hobbyist, I was a very capable player but had never had any kind of formal training. The demands on actor-musicians are extensive and rarely are we given any more rehearsal time than a standard production. So whilst learning an entire score of music, all my lines and all my choreography, the last thing I would be thinking about is the relationship between my head and my neck. The damage is usually done during this intensive rehearsal process but carried through into performance where it is repeated night after night. I spent 6 months in the West End doing 8 shows in 6 days per week without taking a single day off. I lost the bottom range of my voice, resonance at the top and lived with near chronic pain every day of it.
This may sound like I dislike my job, far from it – I love it! However, I have had a steep learning curve in dealing with the physical demands of it. Whilst on a 9 month tour, I had a massage about once a fortnight and realised how important this had become to my physical well-being. Many of my colleagues in the 30-strong cast suffered from some kind of repetitive strain injury and, despite the pain in other areas, often the greatest concern was how it affected the voice. I decided that this fast-growing industry needed a therapist who understood the unique demands of each actor-musician: the trumpet player who cannot lower her larynx for the low notes because the back pressure from constant muted playing has forced it to rise; the cellist developing hip problems from supporting the instrument on the inside of one leg to play standing up; the flautists and violinists who struggle to straighten their necks from the constant one-sided tilt and the list goes on… I had a passion for learning more and, since there was no one really better placed than someone who had experienced the pressures first hand, I took the necessary time out to train as a professional Massage Therapist. A range of actor-musicians and singers made up the bulk of my case studies.
My personal goal is to bring a holistic approach to an industry that is constantly looking for quick fixes to just ‘get them through the show’ and highlight that prevention is better than cure. Alexander Technique teaches that we ‘not do’ what is causing unnecessary tension and pain. I now believe that when this is not practical or where tensions have developed despite our best efforts, massage therapy can really help ‘undo’ the damage and prevent potential career-threatening injuries.