What’s In Your Backstage Bag?By Ty Unglebower • Jan 20th, 2010 • Category: An Actor's Advice
In theatre, as in life, one cannot prepare for every single possible contingency. Things happen that catch us off guard, and that is the way it goes. But there are certain common things that can happen to an actor which may be minor in and of themselves, but wreak havoc on a performance. Ergo being specifically prepared for those things is prudent, even if they never happen. (Though tech week and opening nights tend to make them all more likely for some reason.)
Some things that I try to always keep on hand in the dressing room or in my bag when in a show:
- Tissues. Obvious and practical. Plus not every dressing room is going to already have them, believe it or not. A sneezing fit is especially irksome when one is in make up. Maybe make yourself a hero and get enough for everyone in your dressing room.
- On the subject of sneezing and head colds, I keep anti-histamine with me most of the time in a theatre. Non-drowsy, naturally. Because I never know when a new paint, or a dust covered forgotten set piece that is suddenly moved will rub me the wrong way.
- Eye drops, for similar reasons, are good things for an actor to have on them. It may seem like a small matter, but the eyes are important features for the sighted actor. Even if the audience cannot see them up close, the other actors on stage can, and puffy or red eyes can be more of a distraction than you might think. Plus, we tend to adjust our faces in subconscious ways when our eyes are bothered, and those adjustments can be seen by the audience.
- With so many nerves being in various degrees of health during shows, especially opening night, some sort of antacid is not out of order.
- Cough drops. This is a big one for me. The super potent kind that you can barely stand to have in your mouth. I hate them as much as the next person, but if they are potent, you know they are going to work, and few common ailments are as catastrophic to a performance than a hacking cough. Recommended over cough syrup because of the latter’s tendency to cause drowsiness, and the fact that drops are more convenient. You can pop one in your mouth from anywhere, even back stage.
- And of course water is highly recommended. In moderation, to whet one’s whistle. You don’t want to be visiting the bathroom between every scene.
- Moving away from the medicinal, I try to keep several pencils on me. A quick blocking change, or last minute line cut may have to be noted on your script for quick reference during final rehearsals. Or a change made during a performance. (Even though you are off course off book by then.)
- Speaking of book, having an extra copy isn’t a bad idea either. Just about anyone I know, myself included, keeps their script handy for back stage reference even once they are off book. Just as many people have experienced the exasperating inconvenience of having their script disappear when another actor, who has lost their own script, grabs it, “just for a minute.” Have two copies, in case yours should decide to elope with someone else.
None of these things I have suggested are anything less than obvious. But that is why I suggest them. The items are so mundane, and people feel so confident that they can do without them all because it’s “not a huge thing,” that their complacency becomes their own downfall. Just purchase these items, throw them in your bag, and forget about them. Better to suddenly remember you have something like a cough drop when you need it, than to suddenly realize you don’t and can’t find someone who was smarter than you and came prepared.
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Ty Unglebower is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and tooxyz.blogspot.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.