Surviving Tech Week with Chronic Pain

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  • Izabella Mirza

Tech week is both dreaded and eagerly anticipated by every theatre-maker in America. It's so exciting to see the show you've been working on for weeks finally come to fruition! You get to add real props and furniture to play with, lights and sound which make everything a little more exciting, and costumes that pull even more character out of the actors- it's the show's elements coming together. To do all of this, however, means long days, many hours, and less than ideal physical spaces.

Whether you're running backstage or building cues from a tech table, being in tech week takes a toll on your body and mind, no matter how fun it can be, and when you live in chronic pain, everything hurts just a little more. There are things you can do to make tech week easier, though, and your body will thank you!

1. Tell your stage manager: If your pain is "invisible," as in if you look able-bodied, tell your stage manager about what you're dealing with at the beginning of the rehearsal process, or as soon as you meet them. This way, the SM team, which is usually at least two people, can keep an eye out for you and offer quick, discreet assistance if you need it. They're pros at making sure the cast and crew are taken care of during a show- it's part of their job- so make sure the team knows and are prepared for best and worst case scenarios. Keep them updated in tech too with how you're doing, and if you may need some help on a particularly rough day.

2. Keep heating pads with you: You can keep bigger ones if you're sitting, or smaller ones that can be tucked in compression clothes if you're more active depending on your role with the show. Heating pads can also provide relief on breaks, if that's your only opportunity to use one, to loosen up muscles and ease what can become excruciating tension if left alone. Even if you're not struggling with chronic pain, having some handy to relieve tense muscles can make a world of difference on hour ten of fourteen!

3. If you have a prescription, make sure you stay on schedule: If your chronic pain requires a prescription to take, make sure you stay on schedule because tech is the last time you want to mess up your medicine accidentally. This may mean setting an extra reminder for yourself, but it's well worth the alternatives of feeling sick during what's already a really intense time! If you're especially prone to forgetting, keeping a couple of extra doses with your tech stuff can help if you leave the house in a rush and forget!

4. Watch what you eat and know how foods affect you: If you live with chronic pain, you're likely already aware of how different foods can affect you, and you may already have a specific diet, but if not this is a great time to tuck into some protein-rich, healthy options. Knowing how foods, like dairy, which can cause inflammation, can make the pain worse- and that's the last thing you need. This doesn't mean you should make a drastic dietary change in the middle of tech, but it may be worth opting for almond milk in your coffee or a protein bar instead of chips.

5. Bring a change of clothes: Even if you change from blacks to blacks, or from a costume to more comfortable clothes on short breaks, having a change of clothes can help- especially when you realize your jeans were pinching your back and the second pair you brought feels so much better! Clothes can restrict us and tug or pull in ways we don't realize- no matter how comfortable they look- so having a change of clothes, or even shoes, can relieve pressure points and make your body feel a little fresher. It's also worth bringing extra blankets and hoodies because many people find their pain is more intense in colder temperatures.

6. Keep a comfort/survival bag: This is pretty standard practice for a lot of theatre-makers already, but a bag of heating pads, lip balm, soft things, essential oils, ibuprofen, or your favorite drink (etc.) can go a long way in making tech a little more bearable. Chronic pain takes a huge emotional toll on a person, and especially an exhausted person, so be kind to yourself. Bringing a chocolate bar or a stress ball can help distract you in some tougher moments can make the day feel easier.

7. Communicate with your doctor: Stay in touch with your medical doctor or team- it may be worth checking in just before tech week to see if they have any pain-specific suggestions. This can also help if you need their assistance after tech or a referral for something to help relieve some of the pain once tech ends. For instance, if your chronic pain can be alleviated with a procedure like a medical massage or an appointment with a chiropractor, a doctor able to give you a referral, or an appointment already set, to relieve some of the effects, can make life a little bit easier.

The list of how to take care of yourself and your pain in tech week could go on and on- bringing tea to work, using essential oils, keeping muscle rollers with you, and so much more can help you focus on your work and not your pain. Ultimately, you have to find what works for you, and how you feel best taking care of yourself. Whatever it is that makes tech week easier for you: do it; the show and your health depend on it.