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Park plays 

Think theatre is just showing up, putting on a costume and saying some words? Try Shakespeare by the Sea, where actors tread, push, lift and tear down the boards.

click to enlarge McCormack in her workout gear. - MELISSA DUBÉ
  • McCormack in her workout gear.
  • Melissa Dubé

As such an incredibly good-looking person, I'm never surprised to be asked, "Kat, how do you stay in such great shape?" (Note: No one has ever actually asked me this.) Though unbidden, I am now happy to tell you my secret: Theatre. I know that some of you may be skeptical about this and believe me, I was too. For years I had stuck to strict diet of innumerable baked goods and was sure there could be no better option. Alas, I was wrong.

Last year marked a first for me in my professional acting career, outdoor summer theatre. I was cast at Shakespeare by the Sea, a company that has been performing in Point Pleasant Park since 1994. Their season is comprised of two Shakespeares (one comedy and one tragedy) and a comedic musical retelling of a classic fairytale as a family show. I was excited---what could be better than lazing about the park all summer? I envisioned myself napping under the trees and frolicking in the sun with singing woodland creatures.

Sadly, this was not to be. Friends and colleagues who had worked for SBTS before began to ask me what I was doing to prepare for the season. Other members of the cast began to email around suggestions for getting in shape. "Fools," I thought. The only thing I needed to work on was my faux British accent (a must for acting in any Shakespearian play). Little did I know that I would soon become a huge, sweaty mess of sunscreen and dehydration.

Let me explain how a season with Shakespeare by the Sea goes: Rehearsals start in early June and are from 10am to 6pm every day except Monday. Days are spent yelling Shakespeare, singing 48-part harmonies and learning choreography that is comprised solely of jumping jacks and swordfights. Nights are spent playing shuffleboard and drinking to excess at the Resolutes Club.

In July, the family show and the comedy open so in addition to rehearsing for the tragedy all day (which opens in August), there are eight shows a week to perform. And not only do we perform, but as there is no physical theatre, we set up chairs, set pieces and heavy lighting equipment. And then tear it all down again after the show. This business seriously cuts into shuffleboard time.

All in all, there are nine weeks of rehearsals and over 70 performances crammed into three months. So needless to say, my wandering British dialect and backpack full of Ah Caramels! was not enough to prepare me for my first season of outdoor theatre in Heat Stroke City.

I spent most of the summer trying not to vomit onstage and hoping the audience wouldn't notice that my shins were sweating (because yes, that's a thing). So after closing night in September, when I was asked back for the 2012 season, I decided that I would use the winter to turn myself into some sort of outdoor theatre machine that could sing, dance and act in any weather without breaking a sweat. I had huge hopes of undergoing some sort of montage-like transformation that would involve me punching meat, eating raw eggs and inspiring huge crowds to run alongside me.

But where to begin?

I checked with my castmates and co-workers, trying out what they were into with varying success. For instance, director Jesse MacLean swears by Bikram hot yoga. I went to a couple classes and spent most of the time trying not to rip my own skin off. My friend Keagan (whom we call Muscle Jim) is a Crossfit fanatic; I literally spent one day watching him work out and was too fatigued to continue.

Even just going to the gym was tough to fit into my schedule. The trouble with trying to stay in shape during the season is that there is literally no time to be found between all of the rehearsals and performances. When you're outside in a park from 10 until 10 every day sweating your entire genetic makeup out, really the very last thing you want to do is wake up early and go sweat some more inside some douchey air-conditioned gym.

To get around this, my buff BFF and castmate Kimberley Cody and I decided to figure out a short full-body workout that we could easily do within the park on our lunch breaks. We figure performing is generally cardio enough, so we focused on strength training. The result was a quick circuit training program designed for two people to do at a picnic table. Why two people? Because I'm clearly so lazy that I need someone else to make me do it. But surely I'm not alone in this, so for all of you other lazy actors out there: You're welcome.

This circuit is meant to be done in quick succession with no breaks between the positions. Take a two minute rest after the first set and repeat the whole thing two to three more times.

PLANK: 60 to 120 seconds
With your feet on the picnic bench and your hands on the ground, hold yourself up in plank position, trying to keep your entire body straight.

CRUNCHES: 10 to 20
Lying on the bench, do regular crunches with your arms crossed over your chest. Don't lift your lower back off of the bench.

AB LEG LIFTS: 10 to 20
Still in lying position, hold onto the bench below your thighs and lift both legs until your feet are pointing to the sky. Slowly lower them without letting your feet touch the bench.

DIPS: 10 to 20
With both your arms and legs straight, put your hands on the bench and your heels on the ground. With your legs straight out in front of you, slowly lower your butt to the ground. Make sure your elbows are pointing behind you.

PUSH-UPS: 10 to 20
With your feet on the ground and your hands on the bench, slowly push yourself up into plank position. Keep your back straight.

STEP-UPS: 10 to 20
Standing on the ground and facing the bench, quickly step up onto the box with one foot and then the other. Quickly step back down, one foot at a time. Alternate which foot leads.

BOX JUMPS: 10 to 20
Jump from the ground to the bench with both feet together. Try to land on the bench in a standing position. Jump back to the ground with both feet together.

And there you have it: the perfect workout to get you ready for a summer of yelling over rustling trees and sweating from your earlobes. Just remember: no matter how fit you are, you will always be upstaged by a dog off-leash.

Kathryn McCormack is a professional actor based in Halifax. Catch her this summer in Point Pleasant Park, performing in Alice of Wonderland, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Titus Andronicus with Shakespeare by the Sea.

The season opens July 1.


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