BWW Blog: Natalie Toro - Nah...We Actors Don't Get Sick
Are you kidding? It's a nightmare when you have to sing anywhere, a show, a concert, your sister's wedding...Jeez...this is when I want to throw myself off of a bridge. It never fails. You could be fine for a whole year, then when you have a performance of some kind, you find that little tickle in your throat, that faithful friend that rears it's ugly little head and starts to say "hello..."
Then your mind starts to play with you. Is it allergies? Yes, of course, it's just allergies. But wait a minute; allergies can turn into a cold, or worse, a bronchial infection! The stress level gets so high that its no wonder that you are left in a heap of hysteria cause you know, come half hour, you gotta go on and sing pretty.
I will speak for myself, obviously, it's my blog, but whoever is reading this and is a singer will probably agree with me. IT SUCKS! Yea...we have understudies to be able to "go on" when you can't. But for me, I am such a perfectionist. That truck better have dragged me 47 miles down a dirt road in the rain and sleet and snow. Then I will drag myself into that stage door like a bloody stump before I call out of a show. I am old school, the kind that no matter what, the show must go on. I remember my first role in elementary school where I played the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. My hand got caught between a heavy metal door and the door jam right before an entrance. Never making that entrance, I ran up the aisle to the back of the house, holding my floppy hat with one hand and holding my mouth shut with my bloody hand. They were at the part at the end of the show where the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man get the gift from The Wizard. I ran to the water fountain and let the cold water soothe the unimaginable pain my fingers were feeling. The Principle and my mother ran up to me and asked what had happened. Holding back my tears, I apologized for running out. I thought I was in so much trouble. Instead, he grabbed a wad oF Brown paper towels and wrapped my fingers in them. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, "Nat, the show must go on. Go in there and finish." Well, I ran back down the aisle. Everyone was just waiting. I jumped up on stage and instead of saying my real line, I said, "12x12 is 144." WHAT??? Where did that come from? I must've been dizzy. I am awful in math, even till this day. Went to the hospital that night and my fingers were broken.
My point is from that day on, the show must go on. So, that is my mantra. But when you are coughing up a lung, your fellow cast mates don't appreciate you swapping spit with them. I can't help it. I have very strong work ethic.
At the Cincinnati Playhouse, where I was doing the world premiere of "Everything's Ducky", I got so sick, it really was a matter of life and death. And I had NO understudy. It was life or death because I somehow got Spinal Meningitis. Who gets that? And HOW? I could honestly say that I might know how death might feel like as soon as I was hospitalized. But was I anxious about the show that night? Hell yeah! It didn't matter that I couldn't move, but because there was no one to cover me and I was the lead, I just had to do it. Doc said no! And because they wouldn't know if it was the viral kind or the bacterial kind, I was under a careful watch. Apparently, if you have the bacterial kind, you could be dead in 48 hours. I think it was the first and only time The Playhouse had to cancel performances. I felt like such a loser. But don't ya know...right after a Spinal Tap and just two days later (I didn't die), I was back on stage. Mind you, I had to stay center stage the whole time cause I really couldn't move. The whole cast was dancing around me. And with all the drugs in my system at that time, I certainly was in another dimension. But I was doing my thing and that's all that mattered.
There is undoubtedly a certain pressure that comes with the gig. But my voice, especially, I believe is her own entity. She has a mind of her own and when she wants to give it all of her glory, well; I am forced to give in to her mastery. But when she is not feeling it, even if it's a little allergy, its like she plays the game of, "What ya gonna do now?" I have a love/hate relationship with her. And this love/hate relationship also includes the steroids you have to be on to get you through the show. And I'm not talkin' about the athletic steroids some people take. It's medication that will let you get through the one performance. It's like a miracle. You have no voice one minute and then poof...you sing like a nightingale. But it is the last resort. It tricks your body. It's not easy for me to take this drug, but if I only have one performance, so not to cancel it, it's again the last resort. You are probably saying now that I am coo-coo for cocoa puffs, but everything I am saying is so true.
I was doing "In The heights" on tour and we were playing Hartford, CT. During the show, that tickle came upon my throat at the beginning of Act One. By the time I sang my solo in Act Two, the entire cast was watching in the wings to see how I was going to pull it off. My voice kept getting lower and lower to eventually going, going, gone. I started to sound like Bea Arthur. While on tour with CATS, I sang Memory with both ears clogged from a really bad cold. The Conductor had to give me a thumbs up or thumbs down to keep me on key. In Superstar, I ripped my thigh muscle so bad playing softball on a day off, that poor Mary Magdalene couldn't kneel down to console Jesus, cause I couldn't get back up. I have coughed my way through the barricades in Les Miz, danced a 60's musical while in a wheelchair with a broken foot in SheBoppin' and even Eva Peron had Salmonella poisoning cause Natalie wanted to save a baby bird from a crow's mouth.
The trick is to not let the audience know. They didn't pay $100 plus for you to be sick. They don't think its possible for you to get sick. But we do get sick. I have a massive cold right now on the heels of an upper respiratory infection. But my responsibility is to the person who drove 100 miles to see the show, or saved up to bring their family of four for their big night out. I get sick...but you will never know! Matzo Ball soup anyone?