A far from Miserable Experience

~by SueLin Kalisch

On Christmas Eve, halfway through my first glass of bubbles, I received a phone call which would begin a hectic but enriching summer experience for me.

“Hi Sue Lin, it’s Lauren from Les Mis here, one of our crew members has hurt her back during the bump in* she’s in a pretty bad way, do you think you can sort her out today?”

I jumped in my car and headed straight down to Crown Theatre with my portable treatment table and my bag of tricks (ok, it’s mainly acupuncture needles, but Shhh!! Don’t tell.) I’d worked on Mary Poppins for their season here in Perth in 2012 so I easily settled into the little room under the stage where I’d spent many hours working pre-show in the past.

Until I worked in theatre, it didn’t even occur to me that performers might need a dedicated Physio to help them stay on stage each night performing. Having now done a second full show season, my understanding of what goes on behind the scenes to bring the show to the stage has increased and I have immense respect for all of the cast and crew that make up the company.

Usually my work would start with reviewing the medical notes from the Physio who’d looked after the show before me and to chat to them about anything I needed clarified. I would also start thinking about anything new or different I could try with any of the team who are carrying chronic injuries. Just like in the clinic, If I have a patient who I feel has plateaued or I’ve become stale in my treatment, having someone else take a look at them is a great way of getting new ideas or highlighting something I may have missed.

Next I attend a full dress rehearsal or a Preview show to get an idea of the physical requirements of the performers (and of course enjoy the show!). It’s not until you view the injury list, and then watch the show that you realise how physically demanding it is to perform 8 shows, plus a rehearsal each week, and many of the performers will often cycle to and from their accommodation each day.

A typical treatment list for an afternoon would see me treat between 10-15 patients over 5 hours and vary from back or shoulder pain from lifting and shifting sets, ankle, knee or hip pain in the dancers, neck and vocal release work for singers and maybe some overuse injuries from tricky choreography or holding unusual props. There are no breaks during the shift and I’m seeing people one after the other so I have to think quickly and be really efficient in my assessment and diagnosis. I reckon that this in particular has helped me to become a better Physio to my patients (although perhaps a little intense at times)

I’m hoping to work with some specialist Physios on my next trip to Melbourne to learn more about treating singers, actors and performers and the unique conditions and treatments they have as I’ve really enjoyed my experience working on Les Miserables and hope to do more of this type of work in the future.

* ‘bump in’ is the term given to the period of time the crew spend unpacking or setting up the stage at the theatre venue. Often the crew work around the clock lifting and shifting boxes to ensure everything is set up in time.