Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

A How-To Guide For the Adventurous Actor Pt. II: Touring

pixeltracker

A How-To Guide For the Adventurous Actor Pt. II: Touring

After I received my BFA in Acting, I had three acting jobs in a row that were firsts for me: my first outdoor theater (/dallas/article/A-How-To-Guide-For-the-Adventurous-Actor-Pt-I-Outdoor-Theater-20171121), my first job as an understudy, and my first tour. All of these out-of-the-box experiences have helped to make me a more confident, prepared, and knowledgeable actor; I needed that extra push to expand my artistic boundaries. But if I had known what I was getting into, if I had been more prepared, then it might not have been quite so scary or frustrating to begin with. So, if you find yourself about to go on tour, read on.

Last year I was cast in Nebraska Theater Caravan's east coast tour of A Christmas Carol. I was set to leave my home in Dallas, Texas at the beginning of November and not come back until January. Going on tour sounded like something reserved for a handful of pop stars to me, so I was intimidated. Turns out, it wasn't a glamorous jet-setting adventure, but an incredible learning opportunity for an actress just out of college.

I arrived in Omaha for the two-week-long rehearsal process knowing not a soul, but pretty quickly realized that the theater industry is a small, small world. I had six degrees of separation with so many members of the cast. I had even acted in a show with someone's sister a few years earlier! After meeting these new people, I have added friends to my national network, and the web of theater artists that I know has continued to grow. It's an amazing feeling, being intimately connected to friends and fellow actors all across the country.

Touring casts usually form very tight-knit bonds. After all, if you're on a tour, the people with you are the only constant. They are your surrogate family. Get to know them, trust them, and love them. Then, when you've grown your cast bond, and you feel the loyalty and the love surrounding you...get over your FOMO! By all means, get to know your fellow actors, but don't feel you have to go out every night to do it. Do not be afraid to make time for yourself. I had a friend who took a bath with Epsom salts almost every night (an especially nice treat for a dancer on tour). When I needed some alone time I would try to schedule it with my roommate - she would go hang out with a friend and I would put on house-hunting shows and doze. Taking care of your mental and emotional health means finding little ways to make yourself happy. Bring your favorite pillow, play your Gameboy on the bus, or bring lots of your favorite flavor tea. Wear ribbons in your hair if that's what you're into (I am)! Little pick-me-ups are not only ok, but necessary. Because we were in A Christmas Carol, we played "Secret Scrooge." Finding a gift waiting for me in my bus seat really perked me up on a long travel day.

Next up, the practicalities: what to pack, and how to pack it. Packing deserves its own section, if not its own article, but I'll give you the overview. It takes a large amount of strategizing to get everything you need into one suitcase while still being able to carry the darn thing. Remember nobody cares if you only have three pairs of pants or only one sweatshirt. Nobody will see you except your cast-mates anyways. Bring fewer outfits than you think you need, and that'll save you room to pack more underwear and socks, cause let's be honest, fresh underwear and old pants is so much better than the other way around. Also, bring more workout clothes and fewer jeans. Trust me, you will end up living in workout gear, and why not when it's comfier and easier to pack anyway! Do pack one or two nicer outfits, though, for when you want to go out somewhere swanky.

Try to pack things that are versatile. Make sure that you can mix and match tops and bottoms with ease. When the majority of your clothes are a neutral color like black or grey, it makes them easier to pair together. Even with the mixing and matching of pieces, I still got sick of all my clothes, so if you're a girl like me who always wants to feel cute, bring a necklace or bright lipstick so you don't get too bored with your look. Also remember when you change locations you may change weather. Just know that you might get on the bus or plane when it's 75 and off when it's 35. Don't only pack versatile colors and styles, pack climate-versatile layers. You'll want to bring a swimsuit and flip-flops no matter what season it is. Hotels sometimes have pools and/or hot tubs that you will want to take advantage of. You might even find yourself in Clearwater, Florida, about a 20-minute drive from the beach, just like we did. Pack ziplock or plastic shopping bags to store damp swimsuits and spill-hazard toiletries.

I strongly recommend packing yourself a rehearsal tote or backpack and never unpacking it. Even the very first day you arrive for rehearsals, you might have a fitting or a dance call. You always want to know where your essentials are - have your show undergarments, shoes, bobby pins, hairspray, makeup, water bottle, a snack, and your tour badge in one location. Keep that bag within reach all the time. Don't stow it away under the bus, or if you're flying don't check it. (Also if you're flying, don't check important medications). You never know when you're going to go straight to the venue. In your main suitcase, put pills, toiletries, workout and sleepwear on top of the suitcase. These are the things you'll want easy access to. If you know you're going to need something big, make room for it and don't let others talk you out of it. My two lifesavers on this tour were my yoga mat and my hotpot. Both took up a decent amount of room, but both were essential to my comfort. Only you know exactly what you need.

Not all hotels are created equal. Some will have laundry rooms, some will have fridges and microwaves, and some will be within walking distance of grocery stores and restaurants. Seldom will you find all three. If you're running low on clothes and your hotel doesn't have a laundry room, you may need to spend a day at a laundromat. Pack lots of quarters, detergent pods, and a laundry bag. If you have no fridge or microwave, you'll have to purchase meals and snacks that fit these requirements. Many of my friends bought a big bag of clementine oranges to take with them. These are great snacks, and had the double benefit of being a daily dose of vitamin C. If you packed a hot pot like I did, you can make a cup of ramen even without a microwave. Sometimes your hotel might be on the highway with nothing around. When you're within walking distance of amenities, utilize the opportunity to go to a grocery store. Remember, you can't have food on demand when there's nothing around unless you've packed a lunch a day in advance. Walk places that are less than a mile away to avoid Uber charges. Check with your accountant to determine which of your tour expenses, including Uber and food, are tax deductible! Keep all your receipts in a little bag or a pocket of your suitcase, or use an expense tracking app.

Stay healthy! I got sick at the end of tour and it was truly torturous. There is nothing worse than riding a bus for hours, immediately entering a new venue, and being expected to smile when you sing and dance, all while you have chills and aches. Get paper prescriptions from your doctors before you go so you can refill them anywhere in the country. Take zinc and vitamin c and sanitize your hands. Have cough drops with you. Drink lots and lots and lots of water. Rehearsals and bus days are probably going to be early mornings, so prioritize getting enough sleep. Sleep will become your main pastime. When I wasn't at the theater, you could find me napping. You have to combat that exhaustion somehow, especially if you're like me and you have a hard time sleeping on the bus. Go to bed early and get up early. Even if your roommate beats you to the shower, you can start packing up, go to the gym, or go eat. Better to be up for a while than feel frazzled getting on the bus.

Make time to work out. Those tiny little hotel gyms can be blessings in disguise because the random selection of equipment means you have to vary your routine. I love the elliptical, but not every hotel has one, so I learned a little about weight-lifting, and I tried intervals on a treadmill. Don't be afraid to ask the tour fitness buff for help or tips, and don't be self-conscious about making time for workouts. For instance, I am a yoga instructor and yoga lover. One day I organized a trip to a nearby studio that offered the first class for free. Six people ended up coming with me, including one who had never done yoga before. It was a really nice way to bond with cast-mates while also motivating each other to stay healthy.

You'll see a lot of new places. Touring can be a really cool opportunity to see things like zoos, museums, and landmarks if you ever get enough time off to do it. There will also be places you see that aren't much to see at all. No matter where you are, the show is your priority. Most tours start with a short rehearsal process, so especially early in the tour, you may need to take time to go over your words or vocal parts or choreography. Even after the rehearsal period, don't lose sight of the fact that your job is to be an "actor," not a "tourer." Even the student matinees are shows just like the rest of them, so don't slack. Be on your game and enjoy being a working actor! Relish the opportunity to perform, feel the relief of having a job...and then bust out your camera and self-tape some auditions because an actor's job is never done. Bonus: you've got readers galore!

Being prepared to go on tour is about so much more than being good at acting. In a non-touring show, you behave professionally at the theater and then you go home to your life. You go cook your meal and vent to your significant other or best friend. On tour, you are required to be always on your game, because your job doesn't end when you leave the theater. Getting on the bus on time, being polite at all times, watching your language, being quiet during quiet hours, it's all part of your job. Because of the kind of person I am, I felt a lot of pressure to uphold that polite and professional persona everywhere I went. While a welcoming work environment is key, no one can live a polished, professional life 24/7. It can be exhausting to always be scrutinizing your own behavior. Finding time to let your hair down is vital. Trust that if you need some alone time to go punch your pillow or call your dad, no one will judge you for it. It can be an emotionally volatile time and everybody knows it.

I'm a very independent person, and I forgot how taxing it is to be at the mercy of others for scheduling. Not having a car, not being able to choose where to eat, or not being able to go to the dressing room any time you want can be frustrating. The name of the game on tour is patience, gratitude, and forgiveness. Seriously, if you remember nothing else, at least remember to have a good attitude. It can be a struggle to wake up every day, put a smile on your face, and be really kind to every single person, but if you let go of worry, judgment, and ego, kindness will rush in to take their place. People will make mistakes that bother you, but mistakes are unintentional and human, and unless it's deliberate cruelty, it's not worth getting upset about. Spread love and cheer whenever possible.

I hope I can make it a little easier for young actors to anticipate moving outside of their comfort zones, because I can say from experience that it is both an inevitable and absolutely integral step in their journeys. I learned so much about myself from my time on tour. I can sometimes take perfectionism to unhealthy extremes, but this tour reminded me not to sweat the small stuff. I connected with an incredible group of performers and staff that come from all walks of life and all corners of the country. I helped bring the joy of theater to thousands of audience members. If you're well prepared and you know what to expect, touring a show can be an incredibly valuable and rewarding experience, so don't be afraid to take the leap.

Photo credit: Nebraska Theater Caravan


Related Articles

Buy at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More

From This Author Jo-Jo Steine