so you're going on the road
Advice on what to pack
Of course it's an obvious topic for the site to have a page discussing preparations for going on tour. But my real impetus for doing this article, and doing it well, is that I will have a new ASM this year. Her name is Meaghan, and she was the stage management intern assigned to us at the Guthrie for the first year I was on tour. She's now moved up to ASM, and this is her first tour. Upon being offered the job, she mentioned in her first email to me that she would be checking my blog for tips on how to prepare. That's a good idea, but it occurred to me that I'd never taken on the more difficult task of really nailing down everything I pack, and discussing it in a format that would truly prepare someone who was using it as their primary guide for what to bring on their first tour. Here was the perfect opportunity to force myself to do it thoroughly and in a timely manner.
Naturally this list is based on my personal needs on my personal tour. I have tried to keep it as general as possible, but for reference I will give you a few pieces of information about the tour that Meaghan and I will be on (The Acting Company's 2010-2011 national tour), so you can see where we're coming from, and maybe where you might make adjustments based on the type and duration of your own tour.
The Tour in Question
This tour is a national bus-and-truck tour. We have a single 53' truck and two entertainer coaches (commonly known as "rockstar buses"), one for cast and one for crew. On this tour the stage managers travel with the crew to advance the show. We're not technically required to assist with load out, but the ASM is encouraged to, and I have always done so because I'd feel like an ass sitting in the nice warm bus watching TV or sleeping while everybody else is doing manual labor until 2AM. So there's a component of truck-packing in addition to regular stage management duties. When we have one-nighters, where we close the show in one city and have another show the next night somewhere else, we sleep on the bus for a maximum of six hours on the way to the next venue, and wake up at the loading dock and start over again. The number of nights spent in hotels vs. on the bus varies with each year's schedule, but when we're in hotels it's usually for only one or two nights.
While some things on this list may be specific to stage management, for the most part they would apply to anyone going on tour. I have separated the list by which bag I carry the items in. Some of this is purely personal preference. Also, I'm a notoriously light packer (I like to say I consider the weight of each object in my bags as carefully as if I were launching it to the moon), so I only have one suitcase. Most people have two. I think in most cases they do that to carry more clothes.
I generally bring 9 sets of clothes, plus a few additional items to create variations based on temperature or how fancy or casual I need to dress. I bring enough that I have the flexibility to plan my wardrobe for the week so I'm not wearing a nice blouse when loading a truck, or an old T-shirt when going to an opening night reception. My suitcase has a great expandable compartment perfect for separating dirty and clean clothes.
One important thing on a tour like this: if the hotel has laundry, do the laundry! My packing plan requires I have the opportunity to do laundry about once a week, and I've never run out of clothes, but I've come very close. Sometimes it requires doing laundry at the venue, if the local wardrobe crew will allow the show crew to do personal laundry in the machines (most are very understanding that you live on a bus and all you want in life is to shower and wear clean clothes, but some venues have policies, and in every case if the show or venue actually needs the machines for work that has to come first). You know what happens when you assume: you have to wear dirty smelly clothes! Don't assume you can do laundry at the venue (especially if you're an actor), and don't assume the hotel has laundry. Sometimes when I've been cutting it close I've called ahead to upcoming hotels to confirm that they have guest laundry, and that it's available 24/7 (cause you will be doing it at 1AM in most cases). I know other people brought so many clothes they only had to do laundry a couple times on each leg of the tour, but for my method, the bottom line is, if the opportunity for laundry exists, take it!
sweatshirt, sweaters, rain jacket
A few outer garments to help give you options for different weather.
I almost forgot this one, cause it doesn't apply to me, but it will for Meaghan. For me, I try to make sure that almost all my clothes are presentable enough that when I'm calling the show from front-of-house I look suitably dressed for the theatre. Maybe not as nicely-dressed as I would choose to be as a theatregoer, but at least not looking sloppy when appearing in front of the public. Meaghan's show-dress requirements will be different: black, black and more black. That doesn't mean your entire wardrobe has to be black, but at minumum you'll at least need black shoes, a black pair of pants (with a black belt sturdy enough to support a headset, plus any tools or flashlights you care to add to it) and a sweatshirt or long-sleeved tee shirt to change into right before the show.
hat (warm hat, baseball hat)
I'm not really a hat person, but in the winter in Minneapolis it's kind of a life-or-death situation, and in the rain I like wearing a baseball cap and windbreaker rather than carrying an umbrella. Last year I carried two baseball caps, because I had my Acting Company hat (which is quite nice) for promotional purposes, and my new favorite hat, from the Minnesota State University Moorhead Dragons (which was our first tour stop), just because it's awesome. It was so awesome that Nick and I both bought one and once we left Moorhead had to take turns deciding who could wear their hat so we wouldn't look stupid wearing the same hat. I pretty much always wore it for load-out to keep stray hair and sweat out of my face -- and rain, which seemed to occur with uncanny frequency during our load outs last year.
I bought one initially because our apartments in Minneapolis don't come with one. But every now and then we'd find a hotel that didn't have them either. Invariably mine is better than the one provided, so I usually use mine even if there's one on the wall in the hotel. This is the one I have. It's bigger than the really small travel ones, but smaller than a regular one, and I like that.
folder for important paperwork
Receipts, mail, bills, pay stubs, travel itineraries, programs from the show -- you will pick up a lot of loose pages over the course of months on the road, it's a good idea to have a place to keep it where it can't fall out or get lost. Mine zips up. You could also dedicate an entire compartment in your suitcase to this if you have one, but a folder is easier to pull out and dig through. I just repacked mine for this year's tour and in its nascent state it comes with: stamps, a blank check, an envelope, and some return address stickers. That's pretty bare-bones, but I'm mostly a paperless person, if it wasn't obvious!
For when you someday actually go home. I keep these in my suitcase when away from home to keep them out of my way, but the important thing is knowing when to put them back on or nearer your person. DO NOT leave them in your suitcase if your suitcase is staying on the truck during a vacation or layoff week (this I almost did). When playing in/near New York DO NOT leave them at the theatre when you decide you'll take your suitcase home the next day (this one I know from experience). And it's also probably not a good idea to keep them in there when you fly, because if the airline loses your luggage, that sucks, but it would suck more not to be able to get into your apartment. I put them in my carry-on so I they can go through the metal detector without being loose, but also so they stay with me.
jewelry, watches or any other fashion accessories
I call this my "jewelry road box." It's a mess. If you care a little more than I do, you could do better. I just occasionally might want to wear a necklace or a ring or bracelet or something. I also keep spare hair ties in here (I also keep a bunch in my kit, but these are just for my use).
lingerie bag, detergent, dryer sheets, quarters
I keep all this stuff in the dirty laundry compartment of my suitcase. I have a small zipped pouch to keep quarter in. When doing laundry, I use my pillowcase as a laundry bag. This also serves to clean my pillowcase.
I travel with two pairs of shoes: First there's my work shoes, which have composite toes for safety. They're also black, so strangely they function both as my packing-a-truck shoes, and as my dress shoes. And I didn't even plan this, but they worked out great as snowshoes in Minneapolis. The other pair are white running shoes, which I prefer for comfort on days off and days I won't be packing a truck. Luckily my suitcase has a side pocket just barely big enough for my work shoes, so I can keep whichever pair I'm not wearing in there without getting my clothes smelly or dirty.
Entertainment and Comfort
pillow or favorite blanket, stuffed animal, etc.
For me, where my favorite pillow is is home. I can adjust to sleeping pretty much anywhere instantly if it's with me. Sometimes I even carry it on the plane. It takes up a fair amount of space, but the quality-of-life improvement is worth it.
Pretty much just resistance bands for me, in case I feel like being in shape.
Laptop charger (with the long cable, as well as the 2-prong adapter)
backup hard drive
2 thumb drives
I keep one formatted as FAT32 for cross-platform compatibility, and one in HFS+ so I can run Mac applications directly off it. I never do that, but I figure as soon as I reformat it, I'll need it.
iPhone cable and charging adapter
At this point it's so ubiquitous, even if you don't own an Apple device it's probably a good idea to carry one as a stage manager. I get a lot of use out of lending it to people. In my luggage I also keep a second one that has a USB extension cord on it to make it about 6' long. If doing a sit-down it's nice to keep this in the hotel, because it's long enough to use in bed, and then I have my other one if I need to charge or sync to my laptop at the theatre. Occasionally I'll also keep the longer one plugged in in my bunk. I really hate moving chargers.
USB, Firewire & Ethernet cables, USB hub
Basically every computer cable I might need to hook anything up to anything (including USB-B (like for printers) and USB-mini B (like for cameras and phones) type connectors. I prefer cables that are retractable.
misc. audio cables
I pride myself on having pretty much any consumer-grade audio adapter, going in both directions between male and female. Every now and then this pays me back in a display of stage management awesomeness. Sometimes it's for personal use, sometimes it's just a matter of being able to play music off someone's iPod in the rehearsal room, and sometimes it's actually used in performance.
screen cleaning kit
I love my screen cleaning kit. I've always wanted to blog about it, but I can't find anybody who sells it. It has a bottle of cleaning fluid and a wiper with a brush on one end and a replaceable lint-free cloth on the other.
Extra business cards
I keep a few in my wallet, but I keep more in my backpack, and sometimes even more in my suitcase to replenish those. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes you get in a situation where you're giving out 10 at once.
box of pills
Mostly Advil & Tylenol, with a couple aspirin that are basically just there in case somebody has a heart attack. We keep several stocked first aid kits at the theatre, so I don't need to share these that often, except when separated from my company-provided stash. I also usually keep another bottle of Advil in my toiletries, as a refill and for myself.
pack of gum or breath fresheners
favorite pen & pencil
I like Sensa brand pens and pencils, but they're ridiculously expensive. The pencils were discontinued some time ago and are usually even more expensive on eBay. I've had the pen for like 10 years. I just got the pencil last year, and I love it. No one else touches it. My name is engraved on the steel barrel to make it harder for people to be like, "no, I didn't steal your pencil, I just happen to have the exact same one!" But I hate taking blocking, and having a really comfortable pencil makes it bearable. I was looking all over for a decent case for them, and happened to find it in a really unexpected place -- as part of a pack of cheap rollerball pens in the bargain bin at Staples. They stay in my backpack because they're not allowed out of my immediate possession.
sweatshirt or rain jacket if appropriate
In the event of inclement weather sometimes the layers migrate into my backpack.
For load-out. I use these.
This is one I've been bad about, mostly because I wear glasses and I don't have prescription sunglasses. But this year my goal is to wear contacts more often, which will make sunglasses more useful. There were many times I wished I had them.
I have flashlights everywhere. The one that's in my bag (or possibly in my pocket) is usually my best/favorite one.
I have this one. Don't forget to move it to your checked luggage when flying!
some sort of snack for hunger emergencies
I like almonds.
A sealed coffee tumbler is very handy on the bus. Our buses have coffee makers, and the venues almost always have coffee. And with the schedule you'll probably be keeping, you'll want coffee!
My toiletries bag sometimes travels inside my suitcase for longer trips. Day-to-day it gets clipped on the outside of my suitcase or backpack with a carabiner, to save room, and so that it can be easily detached when getting on the bus. I keep it in my bunk instead of under the bus, so I can use it when I get up in the morning or before bed (though generally I've found it easier to wait for an opportunity to shower at the theatre instead of trying to do anything in the tiny bus bathroom). The other reason I keep the bag outside of my suitcase is because I've usually just taken a shower when we're checking out of a hotel, and my loofah is wet. My bag has this lovely mesh pocket on the outside, which is great for stuffing the loofah in it so it can dry. So naturally I don't want to stuff the bag inside something else (or face-down in my bunk, which has unfortunately happened occasionally) while the loofah is drying.
This is always the one thing I forget to pack!
With one of those plastic toothbrush covers on it. I also like to keep a couple of those portable disposable toothbrush things around, too.
Optional. I sometimes omit this for space considerations.
Yeah, I do actually wear makeup sometimes.
Depending on how long I'm gone, I either buy travel-size bottles or buy empty travel bottles and fill them with my favorite shampoo/conditioner before leaving home, or carry actual full-size bottles. If you're OK with getting random shampoo, you can also stock up on those little hotel bottles every time you hit a hotel.
Sometimes employing the same technique as above by refilling smaller bottles.
This is the one I always leave behind in the hotel, but I did better this past year! Get one that's a bright color so you notice it when you glance in the bathroom before checking out.
My face falls apart if I don't use this one cleanser from The Body Shop. I've tried to live without it, it doesn't work.
razor / shaving cream / spare blades
Travel-sized shaving cream can, of course.
lady products (if you're a lady)
brush or comb
I have a box similar to my jewelry road box, only a little bigger, that holds nothing but Q-tips. It holds maybe 100 at a time.
Come in handy once in a while. I also keep a couple in my wallet, cause I'm a stage manager.
Thankfully I don't need this one much, but if you're sick it helps to know how sick you are.
In My Jacket or on My Person
This space pen.
MetroCard (or hotel key when out of town)
Boarding pass or other travel documents if necessary
I carry a backup pair in my backpack also.
glasses and/or contacts if necessary
And of course any associated products such as contact solution.
The bus bag is sort of nebulous. It means different things to different people. For some it's a fairly large duffel bag with lots of clothes and other items. For me, it's a small drawstring bag that holds just one or two sets of clothes and maybe some pajamas. I also have a cheap emergency flashlight in it. The general point of the bus bag is that it has the stuff in it you need on the bus, so that your main suitcase(s) can stay under the bus. I think in previous years Nick has kept many days' worth of clothes in his bus bag, and only went into his suitcase like once a week. My approach is that my bus bag generally is packed only for the number of days we will go without going to a hotel (usually not more than two). I always bring my main suitcase to the hotel, because that's my opportunity to repack it and often to do laundry. Nick rarely touched his big suitcase at all, which didn't really surprise me because it was HUGE. Sometimes the small size of my bus bag meant that when we were doing a long stretch of one-nighters I would have to yank my suitcase out in the parking lot and grab some new clothes (one of my favorite memories of the absurdity of touring is picking out the day's underwear in the middle of a parking lot in Texas, and in a snowbank in West Virginia).
I got this bag at Purdue, where we opened the tour last year. It's great because it has a separate zippered area which is good for keeping dirty clothes away from the clean ones.
2 days of clothes
I have to admit, my view on pajamas changed during my second year on tour. I used to be all about the comfort of nice warm fuzzy pajamas, and how much I love being in my PJs in my nice warm bunk. While that's great, I found myself sleeping in my clothes a lot more the second year. Mostly this started because we had a lot more one-nighters and long load-outs, and it seemed kind of pointless for just four or five hours of sleep, plus being already dressed would allow me to sleep longer and just step out of my bunk and into my shoes.
Bus Bag Usage
This past year we played a lot of venues with nice star dressing rooms and decent showers, so I started thinking of the first hour or two of load-in as an extension of the previous day. For me, the new day began when I had done my initial setup, and had some time to spare before lighting focus. Then I could bring my bus bag and toiletries bag in from the bus, and shower and brush my teeth, and put on a nice clean set of clothes all at once, kind of like a normal person. I highly recommend it. We did a stretch of four back-to-back one-nighters, and it actually didn't feel disgusting at all. As long as the theatre had nice dressing rooms, we were able to make it homey. Usually if there are two star dressing rooms we make one a wig room and one a crew shower. The wardrobe department travels with many towels for the crew's use, so that's not something we had to carry personally or worry about laundering. I used to not like showering at the theatre, but if it's a star dressing room, it's basically as private as a hotel room. I'm still a little creeped out by more public shower stalls, but in one venue we put a dry-erase sign on the doors of the backstage bathrooms saying it was a private crew shower and if someone wrote "occupied" on the sign nobody could use that bathroom until they were done, and that worked fine.
I hope you've enjoyed this tour of my touring belongings. Obviously this is just my personal style, and I would also make different choices if I were doing longer sit-downs.