Monday, October 27, 2008

Singing with a cough

(Here’s another entry written en route to the desert last week. Things have been a bit unsettled around here, so I’ll get to current events in a little bit...)

Another trick I employed during Giovanni tech week (and performances) was my “cough drop trick.” It’s hardly original, I’m sure, but it always seems to catch some folks off guard.

I came up with this trick in 2006 when I was singing Ainadamar performances in NYC. I had the typical winter cold (I used the get them pretty regularly, and they would really stick around. Why I don’t any more is for another post...), and it had started to settled in my chest as a pesky unproductive and uncontrollable cough. I will never forget the moment... We were in the middle of Lorca’s gorgeous “statue aria,” when the stage was quiet and darkly lit, except for a light following Kelly. We “Granada Girls” were all grouped behind Dawn, with me just over her right shoulder. Kelly came up to her, and as she did, we were all brought into the light as they shared a wonderful quiet moment. And then it hit me. My chest started to spasm, and I needed nothing more than to just cough, loud and long. But I absolutely could. not. I held it in, eyes watering and body shaking, for what felt like five minutes but was probably only 45 seconds, until we all broke away and spread to all corners of the stage.

I should say here that this was a production where once we were onstage, we were on until the end; we walked on at the “places” call and walked off after the bows. There were no real “exits,” just small entry points upstage left and right. Our staging for the end of the aria fortunately led me in a big circle around the stage, ending up right by the USR exit! It was still dark on stage, so I slipped out, praying that my mic was off, and I coughed and coughed. The poor stage manager was so confused and concerned, knowing that she wasn’t supposed to see any of us for another 30 minutes! I drank some water, dried my eyes, and surreptitiously slipped back onstage. Only one of my castmates, and no one in the house - not even the front of house stage manager! - had noticed. “Crisis” avoided.

But we had two more performances to get through, and my cough wasn’t going away over night. How could I make sure this didn’t happen again? I might not be so lucky the next time. I had no pockets on my sleeveless costume, so nowhere to stash a cough drop... or was there? Cough drops are sticky, after all. So, before each show, I stuck a cough drop to my skin just under the shoulder strap of my dress. Whenever I wasn’t singing, I would turn upstage and, as gently as possible, pull the cough drop off and, yes, pop it into my mouth. Now, I know, I know... this is kind of gross! And it hurt!! But I never coughed onstage again.

I had to use this trick again during Giovanni, and the stage crew was endlessly amused watching me fussing with my cough drop in the wings just before I’d go on. But I also had an unexpected ally in my Masetto. (No, he did NOT help with the cough drops!) He knew I was struggling during the dress rehearsal, and he had seen me turning upstage more than once to cough and grab a “Ricola moment.” During the trio with Giovanni just before the party scene, our blocking brought us all far stage right. When Giovanni passed me to Masetto, DC whispered in my ear “Go off” and pushed me into the wings! I was a bit confused, but not nearly as much as - you guessed it - the stage manager! I got some water from the table and started to relax, thinking “Thanks, DC; good thinking! Now I’ve got about five minutes to settle myself before we all go back on for the party scene.” Except... I still had to finish the trio! The SM got my attention, and I got to the stage just in time to stomp past Masetto in a huff and take Giovanni’s hand to go to the party. When we all exited (together, as staged) on the other side of the stage, DC and I started laughing while poor Giovanni said, “What happened?! What was that all about?” Quick thinking from a concerned colleague saved me from another on stage coughing fit, and got everyone’s adrenaline pumping a little bit!

I’m sure this won’t be the last time I use this trick. I just hope I never have a cough while I’m in a costume with a high neckline...


Anonymous said...

Thankyou for posting this, I have a cough currently and I have to sing on Monday night in front of A&R :/ I hope a cough drop helps me as well as it did you!

ACB said...

By Monday you'll be fine! Just do all you can to NOT COUGH between now and then. Coughing will really cause swelling in your cords, which, as you know, means less flexibility and strength in your singing.

Steam a lot. Sleep with a sugar free Cepacol next to your bed so you can pick it up as soon as you start coughing. Drink water when you feel the coughing urge start. I absolutely live with Ricolas in my mouth at all times when I have a cough!

Good luck!!

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