Theatre Thoughts: Mental Health

This is kind of a follow on from a previous blog, and I can't start this off better than with this quote from the late, great Robin Williams:

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Working in the arts and creative industries is hard. It's an overpopulated industry with an extraordinarily high unemployment rate. Rejection is a constant, daily fact. And this can be mentally and physically exhausting, especially when this rejection may be based on something that cannot be worked on, or improved, or changed. I often got cut from auditions because of my height, or my weird body proportions meaning I didn't fit into an existing costume (I have a long body and short legs, and I'm a touch under 5'4")

Across all of the creative industries this is the case. Writers will have manuscripts turned down time and time again with often little or no explanation more than "It's not what we're looking for at the moment." Dancers will get cut from auditions with no explanation or reassurance. Fair enough, the people holding the auditions, assessing the manuscripts or whatever, have their own agenda and issues, and they are not there to boost the egos of people who don't suit their requirements; but something I've noticed is that there is very rarely anyone there who can support those people.

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It's mentally, and physically exhausting. To have to pick yourself up from a 'no', and go straight to the next audition with a smile and your A-game.
I remember one day, getting a 5a.m. train to London from the Northern town in which I lived at the time, for a day of, I think, four auditions. A singing call at about 8:45, an open dance audition at 10am, a closed audition at 2:30 and another singing audition before 4. I didn't get any of them, and had to jump on a train back up North to perform in a show that evening. I had to plaster on the smile and make-up, and give each element my all, despite being drained of energy and tired to my bones.

This is a regular occurrence for many performers, writers, artists. And it surely takes its toll on physical and mental health. Constant rejection, constant energy and constant sales, when the product you're trying to sell is yourself, and being told that yourself isn't good enough is heartbreaking.

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And even when the impossible happens and you do get a gig, it's usually not a forever job. In six weeks, nine months, or a year, the contracts will be up for renewal, or the cast will change, or the show will close. The book sales will dry up and another book has to be written and pitched, the painting will sell but another has to be created. There is no stability and no sense of longevity. Even for the lucky ones who seem to jump from one job or commission to another, there is still impermanence. It's the permanent fact of life in the creative industries.

Having to pick yourself up and dust yourself off time and time again is so fatiguing. And you hear the same platitudes over and over again; "It wasn't meant to be", "Something will come along", "Their loss", etc. etc. which can become wearying in its own right, despite being meant with the best intentions.

There are lots of mental health charities which use the arts as a source of therapy, and this is wonderful. Participating in dance, painting, writing, etc. is proven to improve mental health. But what if these creative outlets are the source of your income and identity? What then?

What do you think?


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