Let’s have a brief conversation - one-sided, of course, since this is a blog post :-) - about stress and physical injury in the theatre.
This is a topic that most artists - performers in particular - avoid, and for a few reasons:
Injury is scary and no one wants to think about it.
Everyone has stress and no one wants to look like the “complainer.”
Injury has become stigmatized as something shameful.
We wear our stress, and ability to handle it, as a badge of honor.
There are others as well, but I generally see these as the biggest reasons this topic is avoided. People don’t want to talk about these things, but if we don’t talk about them they become these big scary monsters that we hope we won’t have to endure.
But we do.
Stress and injury will affect everyone at some point, so let’s just talk about it.
Injury Is Scary
Yep. Yes it is.
No one wants to think about injury and what that might mean for the disruption of their lives, routine, and career.
However, in avoiding thoughts about injury, there is a tendency to cut back on self-awareness. People often end up adopting an attitude of:
“Oh, that doesn’t hurt that much. I can totally keep going full speed.”
…And that’s probably the best way to become injured in the first place.
There’s a fine line to walk between pushing your body further in order to accomplish something and/or grow in a skill set, versus pushing your body further than it is properly prepared to go. But at the end of the day it’s you who knows this difference.
Awareness of yourself and what your body is telling you is incredibly important. Try not to overdue it. Take breaks. Stretch properly. Make use of a day off. Drink water. Breathe.
And if you feel yourself getting increasingly stressed out in your mind, that will likely translate into your body as well. That’s a fantastic indication that it’s time to give your body (and mind) a break.
Be kind to yourself.
Everyone Has Stress
But that does not invalidate your personal stress.
It is healthy to speak about what is stressing us out. If it wasn’t, therapy wouldn’t be so common, particularly amongst Millenials and the younger generations. Talking it out can be a fantastic way to relieve what’s on your mind.
And let’s not forget, if it’s on your mind then it will likely manifest as stress in the body as well.
Theatre is a business where everyone is always high energy and high stakes, and therefore stressed the Eff out all the time.
So in those moments when your personal stressors begin to feel overwhelming and you need to get it out, it can feel like you have no right to complain. Thoughts like “I mean, Daniel’s mom just went into surgery for cancer this morning and he’s still here and functioning normally” begin to creep in and we begin to invalidate ourselves.
Nah brah, you gotta talk that out!
*Note: I apologize for “nah brah” - it just felt odd, yet somehow right, in the moment.
Find that person in your life who will not judge you for your need to talk and will lend the type of listening ear that you require - whether that’s just an ear, or someone who will give advice, or someone who will provide active support or reassurances or hugs, etc. This can be a friend, family member, therapist, or unsuspecting stranger on the street…perhaps not the last.
But do what you need to do for you. I guarantee you that everyone else is - or at least should be - as well.
Injury and Shame
(My friend and colleague Becky Grace Kalman wrote a great post about this on her blog a few months ago - it’s worth the read.)
This one goes especially for dancers, but I think everyone feels this phenomenon as well.
Most people in our business and culture do not want to admit to themselves that they have limitations. By the same token, people also don’t like admitting that they are aging. Physical injury can be a reminder of both of these things.
And when you’re a performer, everything becomes amplified.
Somehow we have adopted this notion in our business that an injury - once publicly known - defines who we are and how we are seen for the remainder of our careers.
That’s a tough idea to have circulating in the back of your mind all the time as you try your best to constantly become better and stronger and acquire more skills, yet remain young and spry and uninjured. This is certainly not a recipe for additional stress and therefore further injury possibilities…nope, no way…
But to an extent, this notion is true. Any injuries we sustain, whether they be vocal or physical, will remain a part of our personal stories. They will not define us, but they will be there as something we have experienced and have - hopefully, with the right care and training - overcome.
And it’s ultimately you who controls this narrative.
People talk, but whatever let them talk. Words that other people exchange have no bearing on your actual story and journey. That’s about the truth of what is happening with you.
Everyone will experience injuries of some sort, minor or major. Everyone will age. Everyone has physical limitations. But humans are adaptable creatures and survivors, and we can always find a way to continue forward even if the path now looks a little different.
But the shame culture must end. It isn’t healthy for anyone. We are all so much more than that.
Badge of Honor
To an extent all Americans do this, but it is super enhanced in the world of theatre.
Ask a theatre artist what they’re up to and they list 15,000,000 things they are, or have been, doing. They say things like “Gotta keep busy”
We do a million things because we are artists and no one pays us enough and we need to find a way to make it in this current socio-economic climate (see my earlier post: No Rest For The Wicked). But that doesn’t necessarily mean we should be happy about the stress that all of this work brings!
Don’t get me wrong - we can have periods of time where we are doing a large number of things that are all positive and wonderful and career-building, and we can be super happy and thrilled and #blessed.
BUT. Even the good kind of busy comes with stress.
“I’m busy” doesn’t have to be a happy thing. “I’m busy” might very well equal “I’m stressed AF,” and that’s okay too. We don’t have to kill ourselves with our stress to prove that we’re worthy of something.
You are. You’re worthy. I believe you.
I could talk about this point for hours, but I think I’ll leave it here with the major points.
Stress and Injury
They are related, and we should acknowledge that.
We should also talk about this more as a community. When we don’t, stigmas grow and fear begins to creep in.
Stress and injury are not positive things, but they are natural and common. They will occur. But we can be in control of the narrative and how we handle these elements with some awareness, preparation, and thought.
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. And don’t forget to breathe.