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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

How can we better support people with mental health needs when they're touring / working away from home?

Chris Goode - 15 January 2017

WHO WAS THERE

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I decided to call this session in delayed response to a really difficult experience several years ago, of experiencing a mental health crisis while working away from home, on a solo show, meaning that I had no company support around me. It was a dangerous situation and when I reached out to my host organization for help, the response was so inadequate as to make matters worse.

I was really surprised at the time that, for example, my dressing room at that theatre had a list of useful local numbers, and also a list of registered first aiders in the building, but there was nothing I could have used as an initial point of contact for mental health support. Of course there's always Samaritans, MIND etc but a real issue for me was the isolation of not being in a supportive relationship with the theatre that was my temporary workplace.

It seemed to me there's probably loads of people who could potentially be in the same boat, and I figured it might be good to see if we could start a conversation leading somewhere concrete to try and make sure the precariousness around touring and working away from home is minimised.

Thoughts from the room:

- obvious need for support from colleagues who are also on the road (where there are any) - it wouldn't hurt for everyone to be better informed

- but there should be someone like a designated first aider at the theatre, so that people who may find it difficult to disclose their situation to company colleagues can access support via someone on the outside

- it's not necessary for the go-to person at the theatre to have expertise or any therapeutic role themselves - they just need to be a designated point person with the right contacts, a basic understanding and the right approach.

- in fact there is already Mental Health First Aid training of which most of us weren't aware - see www.mhfaengland.org/ for example

- partly this is all indicative of how for many of us there simply isn't an HR department to be in contact with and to look out for us

- someone within the company, especially with larger companies, should also be designated as a contact person - maybe the company manager or stage manager

- often when touring the experience is of arriving at a venue and there's no one even to greet you, so you have no idea who you might even begin to connect with if a situation arises

- could this be led by venues asking ahead of time: what are your needs? e.g. a questionnaire before you arrive.
- one issue with this is that mental health crisis can affect those with no history of needing support & who wouldn't predict this as a ‘need’
- equally this is something that could be initiated by the touring company where appropriate, as part of their touring pack or a rider
- some venues also produce welcome packs for visiting artists, which could easily include contacts etc for mental health, local support groups
- mental health risks ought to be included on standard risk assessments

- a problem with users filling in a form ahead of arriving at a venue is the situation around disclosure - knowing who has read what you said?
- also, riders and risk assessments very often just land with technical staff, who may not be best placed to help

- the idea (already in use) of a wellbeing contract for companies in rehearsal and production - so everyone knows what their expectations can be and how best to support each other
- this could also include budgeting for cancellations etc so that it's possible for people to say they're not ok to do the show on any particular occasion

- there's a huge difference in what's possible between your own ‘home’ space and being out on the road

- an important part of this is also post-show / post-tour care
- this might include the idea of ‘text buddies’ - if the director or producer can't be on the road, they can regularly check in with a few designated people after every performance so as to monitor how things are going and be aware of any emerging / potential support needs

- if company care is such an important part of the mix, should we question whether it can be seen as good practice for people to be touring on their own?
- clear feeling in the room that this is an impractical sanction and the responsibility ultimately ought to lie with the venue as part of a wide programme of better venue/artist relationships - though a strong culture of mutual care within companies is also an important element

- a note that we have mostly talked about performers, and especially the risks associated with particularly difficult or gruelling shows, and also the specific problems that can arise in interactive work; but:
- the nature / content of the work is not necessarily an indicator or predictor of people needing support
- it's not just performers who are at risk - very often the most demanding roles in the company are company managers, stage managers and technical crew - there is an expectation that they are the ‘rock’ & would often themselves be the default go-to person for support - so we need to make sure that they too are being supported properly


The end of the conversation clearly brought us to a place of wanting to make sure that this useful dialogue turned into real action. Various next steps were proposed / offered, and both before and after the session I personally received a number of messages talking about existing initiatives, & it would be good to connect with what's already happening rather than duplicating provision or confusing messages.

At any rate, I'm personally keen to commit my company (Chris Goode & Co) to taking a lead going forward on how this session becomes actionable. Anyone who wants to, whether they were at the session or not, is really welcome and encouraged to contact me if they'd like to be a part of that effort, or, again, if they're aware of existing initiatives / provision or other examples of best practice.

I can be contacted at chris@chrisgoodeonline.com or on Twitter @beescope.

Thanks so much to everyone for such a thoughtful and progressive conversation.

Chris xx

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COMMENTS: 4

Amy Clare Tasker

16 January 2017

Chris, thanks so much for this report! I didn't make it to the session, but I'm really interested in what you've brought up here.

Could you please say more about the wellbeing contract mentioned above? I've started a new company and I hope to tour our first show in the next year or two. Bringing in a wellbeing contract now would put us in a better place to care for each other when we do eventually tour.

I'll also tweet to you, but I thought it might be useful to ask and answer the question publicly on this page… Thanks!
Amy
Rebecca Manson Jones

16 January 2017

I wasn't in this session but I'm very happy to be known as a company and a person who will do this too.
Rebecca Manson Jones

16 January 2017

I wasn't in this session but I'm very happy to be known as a company and a person who will do this too.
Caroline Williams

17 January 2017

Also happy to sign up and be informed of anything you action about this. C xx

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