As an international theatre company, we are fortunate enough to get to travel a lot. I always feel blessed whenever I pack my bag, and we head to the car, the train station, or the airport, because I am getting to live my dream and explore places and history that I might otherwise have never known about. Every time we go on an adventure, I pack my favourite backpack and participate in the jigsaw puzzle of packing the props, clues and costumes into one of the touring suitcases.
It goes without saying that as a touring historic theatre company, we have to pack many props, costumes and clues. However, outside of the job, I get a lot of questions about how it is to live on the road, and what I bring with me. Since none of us can travel right now, I thought I’d re-live my packing days and share the top things I bring with me to make my home wherever we happen to be.
- A hoodie. I know that seems odd for a historic performer, and I know it takes up a lot of space, but it’s a must for me. Every morning when I wake up, I throw on a hoodie sweater to go and get coffee, keeping me warm while I start my morning. I do this every day at home, and the one trip I thought I’d conserve space and go without it….was pretty cold, to say the least. The hoodie is my one comfort item that I bring, and it’s very presence to me crosses the line between “I’m just staying here for a moment” and “I’m comfortable here.” (Check out your very own Live History hoodie here)
- Clothes that match. I mean, clothes that really match. On the road, outside of my hoodie, I am trying to conserve space. It’s easier on a road trip, but when you are travelling internationally by plane, train, taxi, and bus, and most of that includes taking a long walk with your suitcases….you really do want to bring as little as possible, and you want to have multiple uses for everything. Black leggings that work for normal life, gym wear, pyjamas and under skirts? Check. A maxi skirt that could also be a costume skirt if something happens to the suitcases? Check. Shoes that look closer to the 1920s style and are also comfortable to walk in? Check. Also, since the company colours are black and white, I just appear in monochrome most days, whether I’m on tour or not.
- Mini-bands. This may not be for everyone, but I like to work out most days. YouTube has a great selection of no-equipment workouts, and I usually engage in the barre workouts, in the basement on an Airbnb or in the corner of a hotel room, but mini-bands just to take the workout to the next level, without taking up space in my bag. I usually have a set of 3 with me, of varying tensions, depending on how I feel that day.
- A backpack with many pockets. I use a High Sierra backpack (Not sponsored, but I’d love it if they did!), that has so many pockets, it’s caused my colleagues to throw their hands up in the air when looking for that promised piece of gum. However, with a pocket of every size, and compression straps, I’ve been known to fit 7 days of my life into these backpacks and make them fit under the airplane seats (With the strength that comes from using mini bands daily!)
- A toiletries kit. One of the actors actually taught me this at the airport. Get a clear reusable bag and keep all your toiletries in it. When packing, pack this bag either in the front pocket or at the top, so unzipping your bag and pulling it out for airport security is a breeze. On that note, keep your electronics close too, so you aren’t that person unpacking your bag in the line-up.
- Emergency refreshments. We are often moving quickly on tour, or working in places that do not have easy access to food. In what I’ve deemed the “snack pocket”, I always have salty and sweet snacks and my water bottle is always full, so that if we only have an hour or so left and lots to do, I will not fade away and I do not have to interrupt our carefully constructed schedule.
- Basics. It’s true that the suitcases have more room, but they often get checked under the plane, and that means there’s a chance we’ll never see them again. In my backpack (And usually in the backpack of whoever is the lead for that tour), you will find the very basics needed to run the show. It’ll usually be one costume, the smallest possible props and clues that can be swapped out if needed, and two copies of each cipher, just in case. Therefore, if our suitcases are missing in transit, we can run the shows from what we always have in our sight, until we can replace what was missing or retrieve our bags. You’ve probably gathered by now that most of the cast and crew has figured out a way to work period pieces into their regular wardrobe, just in case you are ever sent to pick us up at the airport. We’re the ones in monochrome looking like we stepped out of a time warp….but we are prepared!
- Earbuds, preferably two sets. I love music and I make a lot of phone calls, and as you have gathered, we usually don’t have a set office space while touring. I also have the sound of a box fan downloaded onto my phone just in case I want to drown out some noise. I always have earbuds somewhere in my backpack, and I have found that they live in my ears quite frequently.
- Hair ties I cannot tell you the amount of ties I’ve gone to put my hair up and my hair tie has snapped. However, it’s not just for my hair. Hair ties can make a costume that is too big cinch to the right size. They can hold together a bundle of paperwork needed to get through the border of a new country. They can hold together a broken shoe (because they always seem to break on tour!) or fix a broken prop. I always keep a stock of them, just in case.
- My agenda. I know that seems old-school, but it isn’t just because I work in history. It is because no matter how many universal or solar chargers you bring, and no matter how much you trust google maps or WiFi, technology has a strong chance of letting you down when you need it the most. At the start of every year, I buy a hard-covered agenda and before each tour, I write down the addresses, phone numbers, showtime, and directions of getting from place to place. Therefore, if *knock on wood* our technology was to choose a particular moment to jump ship, we wouldn’t be stranded in a foreign city with no idea what hotel we were staying at or where the venue was.
So there you have it, folks. Hopefully, I’ll be able to stuff this backpack to it’s limits soon, and see you all in the past!
Until then, we have two awesome shows coming up virtually. This Saturday, we have the debut of “Paths of Promise“, benefiting the Ottawa Food Bank, and then on July 4th, we have “Round Table: International Waters”, partnering with Strawberry Blonde Bakery. Stay tuned for more virtual experiences coming soon and stay safe!