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Careers Clinic: How do I save my voice for a run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I started a sketch comedy night with some friends, which has gone from strength to strength over the past year. Out of this came our first Edinburgh Festival Fringe show which we have brought up for the full four weeks. The show itself is going well (it’s not hard to fill our small venue) but I can’t say the same for my voice.

We have several topical songs in the show which, as the only person in it who can play an instrument and hold a tune, I’m responsible for. I’m loving doing the music, but we are only at the end of the first week and I am already feeling my voice get hoarse and cracking on some of the notes.

In spite of this, we are getting good reviews and the comments about the music have been very encouraging. We even had a producer in who suggested that I properly consider doing musicals as a career development after the festival.

My worry is that if I can’t even hack singing for one hour a night for a week, how would I ever cope in a West End show?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE For performers, there are many advantages to doing a full run at the fringe. You may be seen by potential agents. You can make connections with producers, directors and other potential collaborators. You might even become the breakout act of the year. So much for what ‘might’ happen.

Whatever does happen, just doing those four weeks is a big benefit itself. Like you, many performers will have their first experience of doing an extended run of the same show, night after night. It can be a big shock to the system, but it is also a real indicator of what professional life is like.

Physical and mental stamina are just as important as the ability to sing or act. Despite recent positive moves in the training sector to put more focus on these skills, they can still fall under the category of ‘things we don’t know we need until we actually need them’.

An obvious example in recent years has been the parachuting of TV or pop stars into touring musicals. The famous name might well bring the punters in, but the inability to cope with the rigours of performing up to eight live shows a week has meant that not all those star names have been able to last the course.

In terms of getting you through your own ‘baptism of fire’, you need to put a short-term and a longer-term plan in place. If you are serious about taking on musical projects beyond the fringe, it is definitely worth investing in some regular vocal coaching or even a musical theatre course.

But in terms of the current show, try to put a routine of vocal and breathing warm-ups in place for each show day and then rest your voice as much as you can when you are not singing. This would be part of the regular routine for most professional musical companies, but the more homespun nature of fringe shows means it often gets forgotten.

If vocal warm-ups are new to you, don’t do the first ‘supercharge your voice’ exercise you find on the internet. Find something short and safe by a reputable coach that will help your current situation rather than make it worse. The British Association of Performing Arts Medicine has a selection of good vocal, mental and physical health factsheets on their website.

Above all, stay positive. As with other kinds of marathon, on the other side of this fringe ‘wall’ is a lesson in maintaining a good routine of vocal and physical health to sustain you for the rest of what I hope will be a long career.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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