So you’ve just ended an intense period of work with a group of fellow actors. 99.9% of the time the actors you didn’t already know become long-term friends and remain in your life, even if it’s intermittent.
You’ll bump into them maybe at casting, you’ll see them when you go to see a show, you might, if you’re lucky, work with one or two or maybe all of them again both collectively and severally.
But the nature of being an actor is at once both communal and solo.
So what does happen when you finish a play and everyone goes their separate ways. Now it’s so much easier to keep in touch with folks, social media, mobile phones and email. None of that was available when I first came into the profession. It was landlines, public telephones, and snail mail. First night cards and telegrams from your agent. So not surprisingly often you just literally lost contact with people. In this day of technology if you want to keep in contact with someone it’s pretty simple.
Having recently completed an amazing job at The RSC, something that will always be special and a production with which I take immense pride in having been part of; but as they say, all good things must come to an end and it did on March 25th, 2017.
I have always suffered, to varying degrees, from depression when jobs finish, especially, theatre jobs. It taps into my predilection towards depression. I suffered a nervous breakdown when I was a young adult kept it quiet for more years than I care to think of. But over those years I have learned to “cope.” Finding activities that keep your mind busy and focussed elsewhere. I write, I draw, I used to play musical instruments. (I must get back into that). These days I write and I create digital canvasses. By and large, it helps to fill the vast expanse of empty time. You go from 100 to 0. Doing everything and anything. Having structured days and evenings, to doing nothing. As an actor you constantly experience the highs of working, engaging with people, reconnecting with actors, and friends you might not have seen for sometime. You’re performing (what you trained to do or have spent a life time doing) and socialising as you wind down.
To the loneliness and isolation of nothing. Very often nothing in the pipeline and the worry of how you’re going to cover your bills. You hope, you pray that ‘something’ will come along sooner rather than later. In the old days, cash in hand work was easy to find. Now even temporary work has expectations of commitment, contracts and minimal shifts to be worked. It’s not that easy, unless you find a sympathetic and supportive employer. Or a reputable agency with plenty of work on the books, but good ones, truly good ones are over subscribed and can afford to pick and choose who they take.
Calling it the post-show blues is a bit like calling Postnatal depression the baby blues. I just as guilty as the next person.
It belittles the seriousness of the condition. Most actors “shrug” it off and try to get on with things. For the most part it “works.” But there are and have been recent tragedies and it doesn’t always stop when you get the next job.
Thankfully it is getting easier to talk about such things. But there are still many, who I am sure, suffer in silence because of the perceived and historical stigma of having mental health issues.
How do actors cope with such extremes? If you’re lucky enough to be going from one job to the next – the average working actor can find themselves languishing in such depressions and each time it hits harder because the joy, the thrill of being employed feels all the more intense, it is all the more precious especially if the interludes between work have become longer.
The starvation and the feast heightened and intensified. I suppose one could say it’s an occupational hazard. One of the many that face the freelance, self-employed, trying to be, jobbing actor.
I’m lucky I have another job to turn my energies to and a potential job after that one. For the likes of an actor like me that’s amazing infamous, unknown female actors or colour over fifty don’t find themselves in a position like this too often. But plenty of actors, old, young, male, female, BAME not BAME do find themselves in despair and fighting off the black dog as it circles around you. I don’t have answers, I don’t have ‘a solution.’ I wish I did.
All I know is that recognising the signs is the first step, talking to someone you trust the second and taking each day as it comes the third.
No pre-loading, no transferring or second guessing yourself, just putting one foot forward after the other and taking your time. Taking all the time that you need.
On a rather flippant final note I do also find the odd glass of red wine in good company or a G&Ts helps too – here’s to keeping and staying well.