Flying High, Down Under: Part 7: The First Time is the Hardest

It’s days like this that I wish someone would just tell me what to do. Tell me what the rules are. Or guidelines. Whatever they’re called. As I sit here, bundled up in my comfy clothes and steaming my face, I sit in the knowledge that I’m battling a cold. My neck aches and my ears have been clogged for days. My nose is leaking BEHIND my face. Not out the front, but down the back of my throat.  The kind of drip down your throat that is just annoying and makes you feel like you’ve got a sore throat in the morning, but then you drink water and realize it’s just the constant drip of liquid making your throat slowly raw.

Ew. Sorry for the vivid description. But I just need it to be clear that there IS something off in my physical body. However, I can still sing. I still have a voice, and I could manage to get through my show. In fact, I’ve managed to get through the last 3 shows, even though my ears are clogged to high heavens.

But my dilemma is, should I? At what point is it “professional” to show up, and do your show giving 100% of what you have that day (even though the reality of that changes each day) because that’s your J.O.B.…. or call out of your show because you need to protect your fellow cast mates from yourself, and not push your system to the point of dragging this out longer than necessary? Which is being professional, and which is being the opposite? A failure to your profession?

There are several different opinions out there, and they all make sense to me. I’ve heard that it’s the same rule that applies to working out in the gym— i.e.: if the sickness is solely above the neck (like stuffy nose, sore throat,etc), then you should go to work and do your job. And if it’s below the neck (like coughing up phlegm and gunk, and body aches and fever), then you need to stay home and rest. But both of those opinions are in relation to yourself.

The thing that makes this acting business so dicey is that our jobs often require that we are sharing the same personal airspace as each other.  Like super personal.  We are not separated by cubicles in an office, where I can keep my distance, and wear one of those silly paper masks around my ears. Hell no. In my current job, I have to kiss my co-star (Aladdin) more than once during the show. KISS. On the Lips.   So… there’s that.

If I choose to go to work and get through my show (because I can, and that’s my job), does that mean that I should?  If I put my fellow actors at risk, and my common cold becomes a cast-wide tsunami of stuffed ears and leaking noses behind faces, then how does that impact the show?  How does that make me a “professional,” and not just an asshole who tried to tough it out?

I don’t want to be the asshole who only thinks of herself, who only cares about her reputation as the “professional” who comes through all the time no matter what… and oh yeah, please don’t breathe on me if you’re sick.  How hypocritical is that?!

Then there’s the timeline of sicknesses to consider… I’m not a doctor, so maybe someone who is will read this and tell me… but when am I the most contagious? At the beginning of cold? or when the symptoms are the most severe? or only if I’m sneezing and coughing? When is the most critical time for me to stay home for 1) the sake of other people’s health and 2) the sake of my body needing rest?

I’ve heard that an average common cold can last up to 2 weeks.  There’s no way in hell that I would be okay calling out of my show for 2 weeks. That’s crazy talk. That’s like the equivalent of a vacation in Bali. So… if I’ve already decided that I don’t want to live as a hermit on vocal rest for 2 whole weeks while my cast mates do that show 8x a week without me, then what are the best options?

I’ve got my performer’s remedies. I’ve got the professional hospital-grade face steamer, and the extra Vitamin C and Zinc, and turmeric, olive leaf extract, and Apple cider vinegar, and manuka honey, and bee propolis, and miracle bath (with hydrogen peroxide and epson salt), and salt water gargle, and fresh ginger tea.  (See more on these below). I’m also eating healthily, drinking lots of water, sleeping in late, meditating, and binge watching the TV show Penny Dreadful (which is awesome, you should watch it).  I think I’m passing my time wisely.

But tonight, I am missing my first show of Aladdin.  This is the first time I’m calling out of the show. It will be going on… without me there. And my heart feels squished and sad. I really don’t want to miss the show. I feel like a new parent, who’s hired a babysitter for the very first time. And I don’t like it.  Yes, I have freedom and time to myself, but I feel anxious too… I have the same kind of insanely moronic parental questions bouncing around my brain, like, “but… but how will my child Survive without me?!”

The first time is always the hardest. The first time getting a babysitter for your newborn… or the first time calling out of a show and leaving your role in the capable hands of your understudy.  It is hard, but at the same time I am excited for her to experience the journey of Jasmine, and sing for all of those smiling faces. I’m juggling that excitement with a personal fear that I’m letting people down.

And that’s why I wish there was an official guidebook. Rules of the Theatre. Can somebody please write it? Tell me that I’m doing the right thing, staying home and taking care of myself, and simultaneously taking care of my colleagues?

I am not a lazy sack of bones. I’m not irresponsible. I’m not unprofessional.

I am a performer with a wish to keep herself and her loved ones at work healthy and happy and stress-free. (That’s what I’ll keep telling myself, and after this first-time-calling-out-heart-squishing-anxiety passes, then I hope it’ll sink in!)

May this rambling post highlighting my irrational, Egotistical, personal-responsibility dramatic issues, give you the permission you need to let go of the reins.  Everything will go on fine, without your controlling grip.  So take time off to let your system BE where it is, observe any emotions that pass through you (and accept them and release them), feed your body with healthy food and nature’s remedies, and lots of water.

Everything will reset, if you allow it to be. Encourage your body towards wellness, calmness and clarity of mind and spirit. And trust in yourself and the babysitter.  Your baby will be fine. And you will be fine.  The show will go on.  And your squished heart will eventually settle, and will thank you for taking the time to get yourself back to feeling like yourself.

Here are some of my remedies that I’m using to get healthy faster!

health and wellness medicines


About Arielle

I am a California-bred, NYC-based Broadway actress, singer, and artist. I love to take photos and write poems, read, travel to new places, and see inspiring movies. I love to eat delicious food, especially with loved ones. I’m interested in the human experience, how we grow, and what connects us all. I like when people walk around smiling. I aim to be one of them.

6 Responses

  1. Jackie

    Hi Arielle! I’ve been reading your blog posts rather frequently, and I love how you address topics of working in musical theater that aren’t commonly talked about. I’ve always wondered the process an actor/actress goes through when they catch a cold or sickness, and it’s really interesting to have some insight. I’m always told that getting rest, even though it makes me (really) anxious, will help me to spring back in full force again! Regardless, I hope you feel better soon, and that you’re back on stage fully recovered. And even though I’ve only seen you perform via my computer screen, I hope to one day see you live! Thank you for inspiring me to sing and perform, for you’re truly amazing at what you do. :))

  2. Rebecca G

    I hope you feel better soon! My mum, my sister and I are flying over to Sydney from Perth again in December to see the show for a second time because we loved the first so much. We can’t wait to see you in the show again!

  3. Elizabeth Hope

    Hi Arielle! Thank you so much for an amazing show tonight and for making me feel special at the stage door. Watching you shimmer (literally- your costumes are so beautiful and shiny) and fly the magic carpet was sheer joy.
    Thank you for the photo and for the encouraging words at the stage door. I’m glad you’re loving Sydney and I hope to one day fly to NYC (continent swap one day maybe?).
    Anyway, I’ve loved reading your blog and thank you for tonight. Fingers crossed I can go to Aladdin once more before you leave Sydney!

  4. Ine

    The fact that this troubles you so much shows how professional you are. So never doubt that. Whatever you do will be the way to go. Sometimes your body (and mind) need a rest. Especially the mind, because most illnesses come from our head/emotions first and then they appear in our bodies.
    The more afraid you are of not getting over a cold, the longer it can take. It’s annoying.
    Hope you got better fast!

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