I want to make theatre. I don’t want to have a nervous breakdown. Can you help?

Convener(s): Katherine Maxwell – Cook

Participants: Morna Burdon, Alyn Gwyndat, Mhairi Steenbock, Julia Tansky, Debbie Kent, Steph Allen and a few others I didn’t catch the name of. 

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

A nervous breakdown can be the best place to be – on the verge – to make good work.

Madness and genius going together

Driving you to places you wouldn’t normally go to.

The Wellcome Trust are supportive funders – less stressful than ACE – more ‘how to’ sessions – they are very open with feedback on applications etc

They seem to be on your side.

Everything can feel like a fight – need to have someone on your side

Can feel like you are working on your own – need to tap into forums and networks to discuss issues.

Tonic programme/Matt Ball very helpful in supporting newish artists.

In France if you have worked for 44 days as an actor you get paid from the Government for the rest of the year. They see more value in actors in general.

If you have a day job it’s difficult to find emotional and mental space to make work.

It would be good if there was some kind of bursary scheme to help you out while you look for work/make work.

It’s about the value of what we do.

How long is it before we crash and burn?

It can be about class – some people have money from their families to help them out. Can be more difficult for others.

Would be good if you could apply for money in some way to buy you time.

Difficult to make/put on work in certain time frames – ie British Council deadlines or ACE timelines of how long it takes to make shows.

Making work is difficult in itself.

Making decisions like – only making work if you have enough funding behind it to make it happen without having a nervous breakdown.

About valuing the work.

No point in doing work that you’re unhappy with and not getting paid for.

Could make work when you want and how you want to.  Give yourself lots of time.

Is training preparing you enough? Less than 25% of Equity members worked for more than 11 weeks in a year. Would be good to find out more about the ‘business’ side of things when you are training.

What are our expectations?

We need people to make theatre with.

Don’t dash off a project that won’t satisfy you.

No-one’s forcing you to do it. There is a reason why we are doing it.

Getting together with other people to encourage you.

Getting together with other performers to play but not necessarily making a show. i.e. The Actor’s Bothy – Glasgow or The Actor’s Kitchen in Edinburgh.

You could start up your own impro group to keep your toes in the work.

You can make simple work quite cheaply and you never know what might come of it.

Difficult with the ups and downs.

Good sometimes to stop pretending it’s all ok – need to be honest with each other. We do get lonely and scared – need to support each other, help each other – that’s very important.

Remind yourself of what you’ve achieved.

What is your definition of ‘making it’?

Theatre projects can be intense, emotional experiences. It’s ok to say it’s hard.

Easy to feel like a failure – especially compared with our friends who might have more ‘normal’ careers. Need to remind ourselves that just because we haven’t ‘made it’ it’s not because we are bad at what we do – it’s a tricky profession.

Meet up with a co-artist once a month or so to share how you are doing. Sometimes better if the other artist is working in a different artistic field, so as not to compare yourself too much with the other person. Good to have someone just to listen to you.

Good for people to know that we are normal people – who want to be recognised for what we are doing.

How tied up is your identity in acting/being an artist? Do you say I am an actor or I am working as an actor?

Can get sidelined into a different day job – but maybe this is a good thing? Are you restricting yourself from doing other sorts of jobs?

Someone who got voted temp of the year with their temping agency, in the same year won an amazing theatre prize for their lighting design.

Can you hold onto some of yourself when you are performing?

Some performers can be very vulnerable on the stage i.e. Ursula Martinez. This can be quite draining on you.

I can draw on all the resources I have but still not put ‘myself’ on the stage.

You could ask yourself – what would be good enough in one year?

Difference between success and performance.

You have to learn to become the best measure of your own work – to be your own best critic.

Do your families understand what you do? If not need to find other support networks that do understand.

Can be a clash of values – difference being self fulfilled and earning a good wage.

Doubt/uncertainty is the norm – maybe some of us find security in uncertainty.

Working as a PA (as I do sometimes!) – you are facilitating someone else not having a nervous breakdown – what can I learn from this?

Find other sources of pleasure – i.e. going for a walk or finding a totally different hobby.

Have other things going on in your life.

Could a few people share a PA? Use a time bank or skills share website.

Learn from previous projects and trouble shoot.

Have realistic time scales and make sure funding is in place for projects.

Write a ‘nervous break down diary’ – write all your worries down in it – like the Artists’ Way morning pages.

Do yoga! Or whatever your body likes. Keep your body physically active.


Thank you everyone.