12 Rules For Making Theatre With People Who Have Anxiety
This fun-time list was inspired by my own recent experiences with anxiety, and various conversations with people about how it fits into the kind of work I do (most of whom are credited below). It is not meant to be exhaustive or definitive: suggestions for more “Rules” are welcome. It is intended for theatre directors or companies who are new to working with people with anxiety, or who have been working with them for a while but are unsure about what access provisions they can make for them. It has a specific focus on rehearsing and performing shows, since it didn’t seem like that info was out there. Enjoy!
- Start each rehearsal session (ideally morning and afternoon) with something calm – meditation, yoga or just stretching and breathing.
- Honour their requests to work alone, even if group activities are planned. It won’t be productive to force interaction on them if they don’t want it.
- Avoid games and warmup exercises where people can’t sit down until they’ve done the thing well. This creates a lot of potential performance anxiety around being perceived as inadequate. (Contributed by Emma Baskeyfield)
- If they are contributing less suggestions than others, ask them how you can make a framework where they can make offers more easily. This might involve allowing more input in an informal or one-to-one setting, or working / writing alone, rather than improvising or talking to the whole group on cue. Quietness doesn’t mean apathy or hostility to the process.
- Conversely, loudness or humour doesn’t always mean confidence or arrogance, and can be a different kind of anxious reaction. Find an outlet for excessive nervous energy without sandbagging or shutting them down.
- If they have a concern about a problem, challenge or task in the rehearsal process, LISTEN. No matter how seemingly unimportant or unfounded the worry might be. NEVER dismiss them outright. Once the anxieties have been noted, discuss strategies for ameliorating them, but DON’T BE A FIXER. Even if a simple solution is visible, allow them to process their worry about the problem in their own time.
- Create and share a very clear rehearsal schedule well in advance, but offer the most flexibility possible within it. If a session is being unproductive, consider a long break or calling it a day, and making time up on more productive days. (Cribbed from MAYK’s mental health policy, written by Alice Holland)
- Allow time off for doctor / therapist appointments, however much notice is given, and don’t discuss what they were for unless invited to. (As above)
- Be extra clear about when and how payment will happen. (As above)
- In moments of stress/conflict, spell out exactly what you mean. Someone suffering from anxiety will likely put the worst possible connotations on ambiguity. (Contributed by Mimi Thebo)
- Don’t EVER tell them to “calm down”, “relax”, “chill out” or “don’t panic”.
- Try and apply all these rules to everyone on the team. Being singled out as a special case can cause a lot of discomfort and awkwardness for people with mental health issues. If done right, these principles can make everyone more productive.