Hey there Bazlingtons! Are we well? And good, and healthy? These aren't just pleasantries (though it is pleasant and we care about you all lots) it's a deeper question. So, riddle us this: as an actor, you must disappear into a role, behave, act in a way that is not yourself, right? (we promise it won’t be the simplistic all the way through) but in this split personality, and the divide between actor and role, issues, trauma even, can fester and grow - and a need for support and awareness of this issue, is only just coming to light. It’s often tamped down, the run is only six weeks or whatever, no I don’t need to talk about it, I’ll lose my focus, etc, but as we all know repression is dangerous, and the repeated action, say of playing a reprehensible or disturbing role, in a eight show week can make the tear wider. Something of a hushed-up side effect of the acting industry had stayed hidden somewhat in all this recent, modern ownership of mental health in the population generally, so why has this effect on the acting profession been so ignored?
Fantastic imperatives such as National Mental Health Awareness week are great, but they are soon over, and the issue isn’t - 1 in 6 people will have experienced a mental health issue this week alone. A nationwide, worldwide issue, there's so much to be said about stigma, seeking help, and helping each other - and we want to focus on a particular issue that's come to light. We here at Baz have talked about mental health and the arts - what defines an 'artist’ in our blogs before, and the view that’s normally held water is that there is an element of 'madness' to the creative mind, and so it is upheld, solidified as a stereotype and we all move on, yes? Well, no. In this era of social media and blogging, many actors, artists and musicians have been honest and frank about their struggles - and how issues, far from the necessary evil that makes one a genuii, can hold you back. The romanticism surrounding the chaotic and often harsh realities of mental health has, not surprisingly, not done the stigma any favours. However, in this blog we want to look past the set, costume, stage, lighting- and to the time away from the spotlight - and to the strain of the profession - as art can sometimes imitate life.
So. We want to talk about actors. Here at Baz we are a close-knit yet open and frank community - we love the actors we work with- and it is an imperative that we always provide a safe, open, equal and secure environment for our actors to do their best most honest work, and not at the cost of their equilibrium. Our most recent work at Wilton's Music Hall, where we R&D our version of The Trial with hearing and D/deaf actors was, like most of our work, planned before we entered the rehearsal room - but we found it necessary, more than, to hold regular talks, debates and invite members of the D/deaf community into our rehearsal room and process, learning a great deal about the struggles that community faces in order for our story to do them justice, at the cost of an audience feeling uncomfortable, but ultimately, informed. As a company, we're looking at works and classics that show the truths of life: the struggles, the faults - in our production of dreamplay we had actors stretch themselves to the limits of their limitless abilities, in a safe and encouraging environment in order to bring raw, true theatre to our audiences.
Drama, or to refer it by Aristotle's definition of 'tragedy' is, 'the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself . . . with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions.' Well. That sounds jolly. And boy did they get serious in their catharses: Ancient Greeks pushed the boundaries of plot and storyline to still shocking lengths and this has not abated throughout the centuries. Great actors of the ages have emulated the madness of King George VI, King Lear, Ophelia, Oedipus, Medea, Hedda Gaebler, Lady Macbeth and Yerma - all roles that and transported us with their talents and skill - but to do so every night? It's a given, it's what the actor must do - but have we ignored the wear and tear of the repeated action? With the classics, there is a distance that can be afforded - after all, who nowadays can relate to a king or queen? (open statement: we'll leave it at that, ahem) but what about roles that are not so desirable, or so distant and 'safe' in their academia?
After the turn of the century we were treated to many an undesirable - from Dickens' wronguns, to Pinter's despicables, theatre and writing in general is littered with baddies. Whilst this is the prerogative of the writer, and in most cases, a necessary stock character, these bad apples are, at least in the modern pantheon, meant to get us thinking, meant to show us the worst of the world to educate us. The boundaries of these 'lessons' we'll talk about another time, our focus is on the actors - imitating murderers, both real and imagined, peodophiles, abusers - every night on stage and the effect it has on the psyche - for too long now, perhaps the idea of the actor as many things, has omitted the one of vulnerable to toxicity and damaged mental health.
So - what can be done? Apart from a constant and encouraging year-round movements, charities and Mental Health Week, as we mentioned earlier, which boasts a fantastic hashtag full of positivity, bravery and ownership of issues. This is all fantastic, but Baz were delighted to learn of Equity, the Actor's Union, launching Arts Minds, a fantastic new prerogative that listened and provided a space to share issues within a community of artists and peers. It's a fantastic step forward, and with it, no few column inches to the strain of mental health for actors, such as Lyn Gardner’s inciting article on the strain of mental health on actors for The Stage. Indeed, last year's Fringe Festival brimmed with plays that tackled depression, PTSD and a host of often maligned issues - and this year looks to be no exception - it seems we are finally ready to open up debate, share, and heal.
Cheers to them, and here's hoping the directive spreads - whilst we still have some way to go, these little starts, little patches of stigma, judgement, repression and ignorance on mental health and creatives will start to grow more green, overgrown and bear more fruit.
Talk soon, exciting news to come!