“Try to come early for the heat experiences!” This line jumps out as I read the e-mail confirmation for my upcoming Gentleman’s Retreat at the Spa at Mandarin Oriental in New York City. Heat experiences? I think: Lady, you have no idea who you’re talking to. Let’s compare my profession with other high-stress jobs: Stockbroker? I laugh. Emergency room doctor? I snicker. Fireman? Well, maybe that’s as stressful as being a Broadway understudy.
As a principal understudy in the Broadway company of the Tony-winning musical Monty Python’s Spamalot!, I’m on call for five different principal roles, which means I must know the lines, lyrics, and stage movements for five different actors. There is, of course, an upside: I get to do five times as many jokes as each actor does and hopefully get five times as many laughs. But with that comes five times as much anxiety.
I’ve performed with a month’s notice, a day’s notice, 10 minutes’ notice, and no notice at all. My phone rings, and I hear the words I live for and also most fear: “You’re on.” My heart rate—and blood pressure—skyrocket. My mind ramps up: How much time do I have? Do I remember all of this guy’s stuff? Geez—did I remember to eat today? Now that’s a heat experience. In the acting business, this is referred to as getting shot out of a cannon. When a doctor runs into the ER in the middle of the night, he usually doesn’t have an audience of 1,400 people staring at him and saying, “Hey, wait, who’s that guy?”
I booked my Mandarin retreat so that it would immediately follow eight straight performances covering for show star David Hyde Pierce, who had gone on vacation. Acting is all about timing and details, and David’s role of Sir Robin demands an abundance of both. David’s big number in Act II is what’s known as a patter song, which is a very fast-paced tune with lots and lots of words, each of which must be precisely timed or the whole number collapses like a house of cards. You can’t just sing a patter song—you have to nail it.
After performing eight shows in six consecutive days, my head is still spinning as I make my way into the Mandarin’s marble-lined reception area an hour before my first treatment. I surrender my shoes, which are placed on a tasteful wicker tray, and receive the spa-issue slippers. Then I review the day’s itinerary: an 80-minute deep-tissue massage, followed by an 80-minute facial, and then a pedicure—what more is required to turn any hard-core New York workaholic into a bona fide metrosexual?
After slipping into my sleek spa robe, I wander into the “heat experiences” area. The steam room is a round, tiled sanctuary with a huge amethyst geode in the center. Small star-shaped lights twinkle in the domed ceiling, and the room periodically fills with clouds of eucalyptus-infused steam. Rounding out the Mandarin’s heat experience is an invigorating rain forest shower and a vitality pool, which is basically a hot tub big enough to teach a scuba class in. I could be happy just hanging out here for the afternoon, rotating from steam room to shower to pool. But I have a schedule to keep and my treatments await.
I am sipping tea in the relaxation room (yes, there are rooms dedicated to this) when Wafa, a lovely and very professional female therapist, retrieves me for my massage. First I sample the various aromatherapy oils to select the one my body needs most—kind of like deciding between a winter-weight 15W-40 or a summer-weight 10W-30. Eighty minutes later, thanks to Wafa’s strong hands, I am back in the relaxation room with a vague smile on my face and an inability to make any sound except for “Mmmmm.” I could easily be mistaken for a psychiatric ward patient who has taken just a bit too much Thorazine.
Next comes the facial. As an actor, I must admit that I pay a little more attention to my face than most men do, but as Anna launches into her consultation, I start to feel a little self-conscious. “The skin under your eyes looks dehydrated,” she points out. “Do you drink enough water? Wear sunscreen?” She goes to work, and 80 minutes later I am back in the relaxation room, munching on a fresh strawberry and glowing. One quick tip: 80 minutes is a long time, so be sure to visit the bathroom first or you may find yourself running down the halls of the spa with goop all over your face.
While many spas spare no expense to make a strong visual impression, only the very best have the high-quality staff to back up that facade. Even my pedicure from Anabelle is first-rate and turns out to be a good way to end the day—after being lulled into a pile of mush for three hours, having my feet sanded is a good wake-up call. Anabelle is also attentive to my mental health: As I stare disdainfully at the stack of fashion magazines next to the foot tub where my feet are soaking, she shakes her head, clucks her tongue, and says, “You want me to get you the paper? Sports Illustrated?”
Later, the Hudson shimmers in the afternoon light as I make my way back to the locker room. I look forward to letting the calming effects of this retreat sink in, and believe there is also a lesson to take away. Why not incorporate some of these heat experiences into my everyday life to counteract the others in my career? The next time the heat is on me, I’ll try to remember how a different kind of heat can chill me right out.
At that moment my phone rings, and I am greeted with the words: “You’re on.” I had 60 minutes … and had a great show—very relaxed.
Jimmy Ludwig is an actor and filmmaker who is currently a cast member of the Tony Award–winning Monty Python’s Spamalot! He also runs his own film company, Back40 Films, which is developing his second feature-length screenplay, A Face in the Rock, based on the historical novel of the same title.
Mandarin Oriental Star Spas
Tokyo: As with Mandarin New York’s spa, the view alone is worth the visit to the Spa at Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, which opened in December and overlooks the Imperial Palace. Even while sitting in the sauna, behind shaded glass walls, you can watch Tokyo buzzing beneath you before heading off for a Shiatsu.
Chiang Mai: The Spa at Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, modeled after the ancient palace of Mandalay in Myanmar, features treatment rooms large enough to be considered palatial themselves and a teak lobby with a seven-tiered roof that symbolizes the seven steps to Nirvana. The spa offers therapies adapted from those used to treat the royal family of Lanna, the ancient kingdom that encompassed northern Thailand and northwest Laos. The spa also specializes in ancient Arab mud therapies, and it has a comprehensive Ayurveda center. —Shari Mycek.