Balancing Mental Wellness in the Arts

“Mental Health in Theatre” is a hot-button issue right now as more and more artists begin to speak out about the working conditions and pressure that comes with a life on the stage. This past Sunday, Sarasvàti Productions hosted a panel on Mental Health in Theatre with speakers Larry Isacoff, Krista Jackson, Elena Anciro, Heidi Malazdrewich, Sylvia Massinon of Klinic, and facilitated by Taylor Demetrioff.

The panel covered many important topics, like giving voice to the issues facing mental wellness in theatre, how folks can avoid burnout, the importance of creating safe spaces in rehearsals, not to forget the demands placed on those behind the scenes, and what resources are available for folks needing extra support. In service to the community, we’re publishing more on the incredible discussion that took place so everyone can learn more about what they can do to support each other.

 

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Key Words from the Panel

In discussing what can be done to enact change, the primary focus was on the role of leadership. Many asserted that it is the responsibility of arts leaders to ensure that the artists under their employ are working in safe conditions during reasonable hours. Folks working behind the scenes spoke to the demands being placed on Winnipeg’s theatre community with artists being asked to deliver impossible results outside of the scope of the theatre’s budget or schedule. To quote one panelist, “Theatre is the only profession that has to open on time – regardless of consequences.” This pressure creates an environment where those who speak up are not only going unheard because “the show must go on,” but also have to deal with the threat of unemployment. A common issue is that artists feel “replaceable”: if they voice their concerns with a project or the leadership, they may find themselves out of a job.

Artists also spoke about their issues handling personal struggles or performance anxiety in order to continue with their roles. In several cases, they’ve been asked to push through and were even discouraged from continuing in theatre if they weren’t able to “handle the pressure”. Unfortunately, for many, the experience has been that they are working for leadership that creates a culture of fear and pressure in the rehearsal hall rather than collaboration and positivity. A great example on creating a safe space for everyone was to ask at the start of the process, “What do you need?” Getting everyone on the same page and learning who they could turn to for support was a key player in creating more positive rehearsal spaces.

 

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We also heard from Sylvia Massinon about the resources available for mental health in our community. Klinic has drop-in, short-term, and long-term counselling available on a first-come, first-serve basis – available entirely for free. Women’s Health Clinic also offers free and low-cost counselling available in fifty-minute sessions. Of course, one of the most important reminders for practicing artists is to make time for themselves. Our profession can be isolating – long hours, the pressure to perform, weeks spent inside the rehearsal hall or onstage with limited time for anything else… but it is important for folks to know that they need to be able to say no to a project if it comes at the cost of their mental well-being.

Although there was much more to discuss than we could fit in this panel, we would like to thank everyone who participated for sharing their stories and opening up this important discussion. We will be continuing with our workshop series as the season goes on with our “Queering Theatre” Lecture slated for January 2019. For more on the great events we have in store, join our mailing list!

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