I’ve done a few shows in my lifetime, and if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you’ve got to take care of you. You are your own first priority. Now, that doesn’t mean that you should walk around like you own the place and be a total jerk. Nobody wants to be a “diva.” You should always try to please everyone, especially your stage manager. However, you have to accept the fact that you can’t please everyone, especially if that puts you, as a performer, in a place of discomfort, and, sometimes, being a “diva” just means taking care of yourself.
So, what does this mean? As a performer, you are your own instrument. Whether you be an actor, a dancer, a singer, or all three, your body and your health are your most important resources. Being a singer first, I’m going to speak more to that perspective, but this advice can be applied to all performers.
Nobody knows your voice better than you do. You know your limitations, you know what you can do night after night comfortably, and what’s going to kill you after a week of performances. Sometimes, your director is going to ask you to do things that you’re not comfortable with because they think you can handle it. While I encourage working outside of your comfort zone sometimes, you should never do anything that you think is going to hurt your voice in any way, especially in a way that may subsequently endanger your career.
For example, when I was in Oklahoma, I played the part of Ado Annie. The week the show opened, I came down with a case of strep throat. Perfect. When I had auditioned for the part, I chose a song that I could power mix. I had wanted the part of Ado Annie because it would force me to work more on my mixed resonance (which I liked to avoid because straight belting is so much fun). After I got the part, I rehearsed for weeks mixing all of her songs, and I sounded pretty good. No negative comments there. Unfortunately, the streptococcus had left the super high part of my range and the low part of my range in tact, but my middle was gone. Great. So, needless to say, my solo didn’t sound as good as it had in rehearsal. The day of opening, my director came to me and asked me if I could belt the entire song. When I told her I wasn’t comfortable doing that, she said that “she had heard me belt higher than that before.” This put me in a tough position. I understood where she was coming from. At this point, it probably would have sounded better belted, but I hadn’t practiced it that way, so there was no muscle memory, and, due to my streptococcus friend, I knew that I was in serious danger of cracking harder than an iPhone on the pavement if I belted that C sharp. Most terrifying of all, what if I got a node from belting like that with my chords in their already weakened state? I wanted to please my director, I knew she meant well, but I had to protect myself. That night, after two hours of warm ups just for my mixed resonance, I went out there and did what was best for me, I mixed the show. And you know what, it still sounded good and I got a lot of compliments. It may not have been what my director had wanted, but it got the job done and it kept me feeling vocally safe.
Now, this does not mean that you can audition one way then expect to get away with doing something totally different in the show. Let’s say I had gone into that audition and, rather than mixing “Love of My Life” from Brigadoon, belted “Naturally” from Annie Get Your Gun. Then, I would have really had no excuse to have mixed the show. If they had hired me to do one thing, and I had turned around and done something else, that would have given them plenty of reason to fire me. Casting directors are going to expect you to sing in the show the way you sang in your audition. It wouldn’t be fair to try to flip that around on them.
What can be taken away from this? Always do what’s best for you. You know you. Sometimes, it’s easier to just say, “Yes” to your director and do what you have to do. You should continue to try to do everything in your power to give them the desired result, but, in the end, it’s your career that’s on the line, and you have to decide what risks to take. If they have an issue with it, they can always find someone else for the role and that’s not the end of the world. Also, always sing, or dance, or act “honestly” in your audition to avoid issues. Then, you’ll almost ensure a healthy and happy career. So, be a diva. It won’t hurt.
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