The Agony and the Ecstasy (or: When You Think Your Show Might Kill You but It’s Worth It)

This post is about performance plus travel. It’s also about fear.

Last month I took my show to Singapore, where I performed at two international schools. As I mentioned in my Restart post last year, it takes time to recover from travel+performance+travel.

It took over two weeks for me to recover from jet lag this time, which makes sense, since there’s a 15-hour time difference between Singapore and Los Angeles. Not to mention that I:

  • performed an 80-minute solo show for audiences of mostly teenagers
    • once at the ungodly hour of 8:30am (after a 7am tech!)
    • once at 4:15pm after the audience had been at school all day (so I had to “bring the magic” even more! keep ‘em awake!)
  • was wearing a back brace for an injury that’s healing slowly
  • performed the show again only three days after our return to Southern California
  • am not a youngster


  • was convinced that I was dying on our first night in Singapore and thought my husband would have to bring my body back to the States in a coffin.


Sit back, dear reader, and learn from my mistakes.

We flew from L.A. to Taipei to Singapore. At the end of the first leg (14+ hours) my ankles, calves, and shins were so swollen that they felt tight. This has never happened before and I’ve been on hundreds and hundreds of airplanes throughout my life. (My family moved a lot while I was growing up.) So when we got to Taipei, I walked around and then propped my ankles up on our carry-on, because my lower legs were freaking us out.

After we arrived at our digs in Singapore (a day after leaving L.A.), we walked to the nearest supermarket to buy food and hopefully work out the water retention in my lower legs. (At this point we still thought it was water retention.) Back in the apartment, I asked my husband to massage my ankles, which felt good…and then red spots and bumps started appearing on my ankles and shins.

My immediate thought was: blood clots. Thus, logically: thrombosis. (Are you a worst-case-scenario predictor? Howdy, pardner.) I was determined not to panic, so I did the adult thing: I researched the swelling, spots, and bumps on the internet.

Reader, never do this. Never look up disturbing symptoms on the internet.

The more I read, the more I realized the end was nigh.

As more spots and bumps appeared further up my legs, we researched hospital locations. Luckily we were a 10-minute walk away from several medical centers and facilities. Would they accept our insurance? Unlikely, right?

I started worrying about having brought my husband across the the world only to die on him. How would he get my body back? What’s the procedure in Singapore? How much would it cost? Would I die at the hospital? How much money would medical treatments cost before I kicked the bucket?

Finally, at 8pm, I said “I think it’s going to become an embolism and we need to go to the hospital.” We were both flattened with weariness, but we got dressed, my husband used Google to figure out the walking directions…and then I was hit with a tidal wave of fatigue SO STRONG that I changed my mind on a dime and said “Let’s go to sleep, and hopefully I’ll be alive in the morning. If my legs are still freaking me out we can go to the hospital then.” My husband agreed—we were both in a stupor of exhaustion. We went to bed, I propped my ankles up on piles of clothing, and passed out.

When we awoke at dawn: my ankles and calves were back to their normal size. The spots and bumps itched in patches along my legs, like no-see-um bug bites.

False alarm.

Woohoo! Time to see Singapore!

Have I mentioned that I’m allergic to MSG? I can have it, just not a whole lot. You know how airplane food is super-salty to begin with? Perhaps I ought not to have chosen Chinese meals over Western meals on the flights over, especially when I wasn’t feeling sufficiently hydrated. MSG allergy + dehydration = swollen legs, perchance?

Beyond the swelling, maybe the red spots were indeed clots, but they must have been superficial, because I’m not dead.

Or maybe they were bug bites. (Bugs are addicted to my blood. This is a documented fact.)

It was a wonderful trip after the first 24 hours. Here are pics if you’re curious.

The show was warmly received at both schools, which have gorgeous theatres and very  professional tech support. A dear college friend of mine flew from Tokyo just to see the show, which boggled my mind. When the showbiz portion of the trip was over, my husband and I went sightseeing for a few days and got to know and love Singapore for many reasons, not the least of which was the food. I have a new favorite breakfast: kaya toast “Set A” with kopi-c. (Look it up. Glory.)

Just to be safe, I bought compression stockings for the flights back. My ankles and lower legs did swell again, but not as badly as the first time, and I was diligent about stretching and moving them regularly on both flights. I also drank an alarming amount of water. (Passengers got to know me well as I repeatedly walked down the aisles to the restrooms.)

Back to the point: it took me over two weeks to recover from the jet lag, and by jet lag I mean the entire experience—including the fear of death in an unfamiliar place. Of course, Heather Woodbury’s excellent advice re: post-performance detoxing absolutely applies here (see Tip #5 in my January post). But so does this: be mentally gentle, kind, and compassionate with yourself after you’ve taken your show out of town and while you’re traveling with it. You’re being brave every time you perform and every time you do it somewhere new. You’re not “supposed to” bounce back from long travel times in any direction, and you’re not “supposed to” bounce back like it was nothing once the trip is over.

You didn’t just travel. You disrupted your normal routine while possibly looking into the maws of death in a place where you do not live just to make your show happen—your show that you performed all alone—which as we know can make us feel like our entrails are spilling out of our bodies. Performing and traveling are each exciting (woohoo!) and tiring (gah…). But together? Oh pookie. Please take it easy afterward and don’t expect to “get back to normal” for a while. It’s okay. You’re not lazy, selfish, or weak. You’re in recovery. It’s from a good thing, but good does not equal easy.

Did I follow my own advice after Singapore? Did I at least do it after the show in Southern California that followed three days after our return from Singapore?



And I regret it. Oh reader, I so regret it. Please learn from me and give yourself any and all leeway that you can after any trip with your show. No matter how much you love to travel, as I genuinely do, and no matter how much you enjoyed the destination, as I genuinely did.

Especially if you sincerely believed you might die upon arrival in the host locale.

When you take your show on the road (or through the clouds), you might have some anxiety about it, and the anxiety might become actual fear if your health starts acting up. Even if you grew up traveling as I did, the fear might affect your rational mind because that’s what fear does. So, celebrate yourself for having been invited to share your art in a new place and for having the joy and guts to take it there, and mentally nurture yourself the whole way through and afterward.

And don’t look up weird symptoms on the internet.

BONUS: A hilarious account of what it’s really like to create and perform a solo show:

[Edited 05/30/16. Bonus added 7/28/16. -EL]

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, so please draw any and all reasonable conclusions from that fact.  

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