The actor’s diet
I was sitting in a studio the other morning, during the recording of an Audiobook, and the session was repeatedly stopped as my stomach was grumbling, and the noise was being picked up by the microphone.
This made progress understandably slow, caused frustration and can potentially be costly – there’s only a certain amount of studio time booked, and my fee is fixed, which means I would be out of pocket if the session were to overrun. I knew what the problem was, and it was my responsibility.
You see, I’d made the schoolboy error of skipping breakfast, and my stomach was now telling me – and my producer in the booth – that it needed fuel if I were to be able to carry on concentrating and reading clearly without sounding like I had a bassoon accompaniment.
Not ideal in the situation, but rectified in this instance by an early lunch and a properly-fuelled session in the afternoon where I made up for lost time and my energy levels were sufficient to complete the book slightly ahead of schedule. Phew.
Eating properly is important in all walks of life, of course, but it might not be obvious to those outside my profession just how much the food we eat and when we eat it can affect one’s ability to do the job – and can also adversely affect other actors around us.
Many years ago, I was playing a dying knight, whose head was being cradled by my leading lady in a touching, opening scene. As I’d turned to face her to utter my dying words, the poor woman got the full force of my breath, stinking of the garlic and chilli bread I’d enjoyed with my lunch, and she’d turned away in an effort to save her eyebrows being burned off by the toxic cloud. I was mortified and vowed it would never happen again.
Food is important. There are some areas of the budget where to cut costs is counterproductive, catering being high on that list. Acting on stage, even in sedentary roles, may not appear to require a huge amount of energy, but trust me, you don’t want to get caught sugar low in performance.
In a musical I did at Christmas, there was one show where I watched my leading lady just wilt and physically crumple toward the stage in instalments, right in the middle of a huge dance number. I was able to hold her up till the end of the number, and made it part of my warm up routine to badger her to make sure she’d eaten.
I’ve been in several situations where actors have fallen asleep in the middle of scenes, even snoring and farting while doing so, which is hilarious for the audience, briefly, but detracts terribly from the intended job, as well as being disrespectful both to one’s colleagues and to the paying public. Most people wouldn’t dream of affecting their performance by going onstage after a few drinks, but it’s just as reckless to go on without a sensible meal inside you.
Little and often, that’s the way. Avoid garlic, beans and Jerusalem artichokes and you’ll be fine and fragrant, and never, ever, skip breakfast.
Trust me, I’m an actor.
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