Theatre: is it good or bad for mental health?

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During the lockdown, everyone had to go without something important to them. It is all too obvious that our mental health was put at risk during that time. For artists, theatre was one of the last sectors to make a return to our lives after a yearlong wait. 

So, as a performer, I had to go without the escapism theatre had always offered me. I loved playing a part other than myself in a setting far from my own where I knew the outcome of the plot. I got to step outside the stresses of my own head; I loved slipping into someone else’s motives, dreams, and fears for a few hours a day.

I also missed the purpose of theatre. The end goal of a live performance drove me forward week by week as we tackled a new scene or a new number. The impending pressure to pull off something in time as rehearsals became more intense and the date closer. The satisfaction of a round of applause, a tear, a chuckle, of making people feel or think something, was something I didn’t want to live without. 

I already feel lighter knowing I’ll have rehearsals to escape into…

April 2020 and suddenly the world was frozen and productions suspended. My life seemed to lack that end goal. And far from being able to escape into someone else, we all had to stay at home.  

For me, theatre has always helped my mental health and I struggled without it during the pandemic as I’m sure many others did. Now that it’s returning, I already feel lighter knowing I’ll have rehearsals to escape into, and a few precious hours to become a part of something entirely different from my own world. 

It is worth remembering, however, and I check myself, that theatre isn’t always good for our mental health. As artists, we suffer from stiff competition, relentless rejection and an intense pressure to perform. Sometimes it feels like more of a love-hate relationship. Incredible moments of elation, of success, can quickly become disappointments. Your mood can slump for days—if you don’t apply the right mindset, self-care, or seek support.  

Of course, it’s important for any artist to overcome these moods of depression and to realise that rejection is part of the game we are playing. However, pressure to perform is also intense; for producers, directors and technical directors often a whole cast is relying on you to do your job correctly. Mess up on stage and a lot of people are watching. The competition, that can create cliques and abuse of power, is also something we often have to wrestle with.

and the recently created welfare committee will be there to offer support when its theatrical students need it.

This year, a new ‘Welfare and Inclusivity Officer’ has been appointed; they will sit on the DST Exec and oversee the welfare of DST members this year. It is a role never formerly in existence. I believe it comes at just the right time as live performances start up again, auditions are advertised and pressure is put on production teams to create a show within a matter of weeks. Jennifer Lafferty (the new officer) and the recently created Welfare Committee will be there to offer support when its theatrical students need it. 

Mental health and theatre is a fragile alliance, and whilst positive for the majority of artists for the majority of the time, it’s important to know where you can find support, advice and guidance. It can feel lonely being on the outside of a cast you wanted to be a part of and with last year particularly competitive (with limited performances and small cast sizes) I hope no one felt alienated from theatre at DST.

This year, DST offers a chance for students to get away from their studies, worries and even themselves through regular live performances making a comeback. It is just worth remembering to seek the support through our own DST welfare, the university’s counselling service or through pastoral support when you may need it. Please email dst.welfareinclusivity@durham.ac.uk if you’re someone who might need that support.

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Image: Pixabay

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